Arundhati joins stir against Maheshwar project
BHOPAL, Aug 28 - The struggle of the Dalits against the construction of the Maheshwar hydroelectric project received a boost with celebrated writer and Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy not only joining them but also promising support of other writers and artists to their cause.
Addressing the first sammelan of the Kewats, Kahars and Dalits to be affected by the Maheshwar project at Toksar village in Khargone district yesterday, Roy expressed her happiness that the most oppressed sections of the society in the area had come together not only to fight the "destructive project" but also to struggle for their own dignity. She said that many intellectuals, writers and artists were supporting the movement and were taking the voice of the displaced people to all corners of the world "because the people of the Narmada valley are fighting with perseverance and unity".
The sammelan was held under the aegis of the Ma Narmada Kewat Kahar, Dalit Sangathan, an offshoot of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NDA). The sangathan was formed in Sitoka village nearly a month ago at the instance of the Kewat, Kahar and Dalit leaders of the NBA who felt that those dependent on common property resources of the village and riverine economy must have their own forum within the NBA to represent their survival issues. These communities are leading comparatively prosperous lives. They quarry sand - earning up to Rs 200 per day per worker - besides fishing and growing cucumbers, melons and rice on the river draw down.
This stretch of the river as the Narmada winds through the plains of Nimar has the best fishing areas in the entire valley with substantial populations of Kewats and Kahars. In fact, if the river rises even by a few metres due to impoundment, these sand quarries and draw down agriculture will disappear forever and thousands of people will have their livelihoods ruptured, accord ing to NBA activist Chittaroopa Palit. Yet, they have not even been counted in the list of those to be affected by the project, Palit says.
Mr Alok Agrawal, leader of the struggle in this area, said that this struggle against destruction had to be accompanied by a process of reconstruction which should include the building of not only alternative energy and water systems but also a different society based on equality and freedom for all.
Noted English musician Pablo played the clarinet and Arjun Raina performed Kathakali during the sammelan. The rally was attended by filmmakers Sanjay Kak and Jharna Jhaveri, affected persons from the Tawa, Man and Sardar Sarovar Projects, and NBA supporters from England and France.