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Who gives a DAMn?

Last week the Narmada Bachao Aandolan finally found its way into our daily conversations. But that’s only because a Aamir Khan visited the site. Somehow, this doesn’t bode too well, says R. Krishna.

The government is always charged with inefficiency and lethargy. But from time to time the behemoth shows that it too can act swiftly. Last week, a known outlaw stepped the line yet again. This outlaw had the gall to attempt to take her own life. “Damned Woaman! No one is above the law”, the government said. The Democratic, Secular, Socialist government of India, for the first time in many years, acted swiftly. They lodged an FIR and put her under arrest. This outlaw was Medha Patkar.

The cost of development:
Let me not assume that the reader knows who this Medha Patkar is. Successive Indian government have had a fetish for large dams. Remember, how our Geography books describe the Bhakra Nangal and Hirakud Dam proudly? These dams have bought water to to otherwise arid areas, and helped generate electricity… in other words they play an important role in development. This development, however, comes at a cost. Some geologists disapprove of such constructions, becuase large dams tinker with earth’s fault lines and may even result in a reservior-induced siesmicity. Plus, large tracts of land (agricultural and forest) get submerged under water when the dam is built. Many people lose their homes, heritage, culture, and livelihood. The government, thus, has a moral and legal obligation to the people who get displaced by giving them adequate compensation. The government easily pays a measly sum to the people (mostly tribals who live in forests), gives them a peice of land and feels that it has done enough. They conviniently ignore that they even have to train the displaced people to survive in the new environment they have been forced into. (It’s like asking a CA swtich jobs as a Doctor without giving adequate training). Medha Patkar essentially brought these aggrieved people who got displaced together to demand for their rights. And going by the results she has been largely unsuccessfull, atleast in the short term.

Strength of Numbers:
I am not about to lambast the government over its lacksaidical attitude. “Please do justice”, is a statement of the weak. Justice has and will never be given away by anyone like charity. It needs to be taken. Even in courts, those who have been wronged have to strive hard to gather evidence in order to get justice. Even Medha Patkar is under no illusion that justice will be given the displaced people. By holding dharnas and morchas and fasts, she compels the government to take a look at the plight of these imporvished people. Unfortunately Medha’s group still isn’t powerful enough to take justice becuase the group consists people who are not part of any vote bank. Rather the beneficiaries of the dam are a larger vote bank.

Are We Responsible?
On the surface it may seem that we can’t help the Narmada Bachao Aandolan apart from, maybe, sympathising with the movement. But as the Jessical Lall case showed, the media and the urban middle-class, and the youth are three factors that can bring about change. And even if one of these three becomes proactive, the government is bound to take action. In effect, our bystandergiri or chalta hai policy or aisa hi hota hai syndrome is responsible for the plight the displaced are facing.

What about the media? The day after Medha Patkar was arrested for going on a fast unto death, I opened the the morning papers hoping to read reactions. Time of India, Mumbai, instead, considered B-grads getting a crore, more important than a trivial issue like Narmada Bachao Aandolan. Hindustan Times, Mumbai thought it was not imporant enough and relegated it to the 9th page. DNA too didn’t mention anything on the front page. Only Indian Express, put this news item on the front page.

Fact is, that the media is in an even more powerful position to help those wronged by the system. And by not coming out strongly against the government, the blood on the media’s hands is thicker.

Youth What?
The greatest power the youth holds is that of rebellion. We are still uncorrupted by the practicalities of life and hence are open to new possiblities. But societal matters have ceased to interest us. The point is not whether we can affect change. But such issues need to be discussed and argued about in public. I was surprised that this incident bought little or no reaction from any of my friends (until Aamir appeared on the scene). There was no call for a change. No idealistic declarations. Have we lost the energy to rebel? Or is ‘wearing mini skirts’, ‘smoking cigarettes’, and ‘having sex when you are fifteen’, the only signs of rebellion? Agreed, these are expressions of rebellion, but this change doesn’t contribute to the society in any way. To be truthful, I am of the same ilk and equally responsible. By writing this article I am just trying to redeem myself of some of the guilt.

Ironic that I am listening to Matisyahu’s Youth right now. Here’s what Matisyahu sings:
Young man, control in your hand
slam your fist on the table and make your demand take a stand
fan a fire for the flame of the youth
got the freedom to choose
better make the right move
young man, the power’s in your hand
slam your fist on the table and make your demand
you better make the right move

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