Narmada Bachao Andolan


What happens to the movements that stand against the violence perpetrated at the lesser privileged? Read on to find out the glory and the grit.

Today, we celebrate non-violence, we recognise it as the only effective means to counter violence. We exist very proudly as citizens of a nation whose independence was made possible through non-violence. Whether Gandhi would be happy with the palpable threat of violence in every city of every state is debatable, but we will somehow ironically still continue to bask in our non-violent glory. Let us face it – we are obsessed with reminding the world, “Hey, we may be using violence to illegally occupy parts of our country, but remember how we got the British to leave?” It is true that India was the birthplace of large scale non-violent resistance movements that should fill us with pride. But it has been 72 years since Independence and yet, every year on this day, our imagination and knowledge of non-violence does not stretch further than Gandhi, and the Independence Movement.

Post-Independence, we have seen incredibly inspiring and resilient non-violent movements aimed at guaranteeing human rights and protection to everyone. These, too, are a part of our history, and if we are embracing non-violence we have to mobilise against violence as well. It is surprising then, to note that none of these movements has received the support or recognition from a nation that prides itself for non-violence. All hope is not dead and there is one non-violent movement, partially ongoing, that we should be very proud about. Yes, you guessed right. It is the 35-year-old Narmada Bachao Andolan. Even though it did not achieve what it set out to do, the Movement challenged the very core of our developmental model. It recently made the front pages again, on the 69th birthday of our Prime Minister. To celebrate, the Gujarat Government raised the level of water to 139 metres. In 2010, when the Supreme Court allowed work on the dam to continue, it warned the Government that the dam’s height should remain below 90 metres. At this height, according to India Today, the backwater has partially or fully flooded 192 villages in Barwani, Dhar, Alirajpur, and Khargone districts, along with one township in Madhya Pradesh. The Narmada Bachao Andolan was a movement unlike any other – it was all-encompassing.

It was brave enough to ask the most difficult question – is violence against the poor, not violent enough? And it turns out, violence against the poor and marginalised is not violent enough. It would be violence if the dam construction was not allowed and, as a result, Coca Cola lost 30 million litres of water daily. Could you imagine the outcry? Coca Cola not getting water would be the gravest of injustices! Words would be flung around about our economy coming to a halt. What about our humanity coming to a halt? 32,000 of the 40,000 displaced families are yet to be rehabilitated. The three state governments involved (Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra) filed false reports with the Supreme Court, claiming that all the required rehabilitation had been achieved. The fund for this rehabilitation had been spent and we now know that an amount of INR 1,500 crores was scammed in the process.

The people that lost their land for Sardar Sarovar were not “normal” people. They were people already living in the fringes and, surprisingly enough, that was enough for them. They were not making demands; they were just living their lives until they were asked to give up those lives for the greater good of the nation. The worst outcome of violence is death, but this is beyond death because it makes life frightening. So, this year when we think about celebrating and recognising nonviolence, we should give equal thought to how much violence we are condoning in the country by not questioning it. We should celebrate the Narmada Bachao Andolan for educating us that this, too, is violence.

Feature Image Credits: The Week

Pragati Thapa

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