Lesser known history of struggle against Sardar Sarovar dam, as told by two Adivasi leaders

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The Adivasi area located in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Photo: Rohit Jain

By Nandini Oza*

‘LaDha Narmadecha’, my book in Marathi, is based on the oral history of two senior Adivasi leaders of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Keshavbhau Vasave and Kevalsingh Vasave. It has just been published by Rajhans Prakashan, Pune. This oral history consists of long interviews with the senior activists.

The oral history of Keshavbhau and Kevalsingh deals with the lesser known history of the struggle against the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project (SSP) that is to displace/submerge 245 villages on the banks of the mighty river Narmada in the States of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Thousands of other people are being affected as a result of related works like the project colony, canals and the downstream of the dam in the State of Gujarat. Over five lakh people are to be displaced or severely affected by this project in the three States.

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Keshavbhau Vasave  at the Right Livlihood Award function in Sweden in 1991. He and Medha Patkar received the award on behalf of the Narmada Bachao Andolan

The narration by Kevalsingh and Keshavbhau gives insight into one of the most powerful movements of the country against one of the most controversial mega dam projects of independent India. It spans over several decades of this struggle to save a river and for life.

One importance of the oral history is that besides the struggle against the mega dam, Keshavbhau and Kevalsingh share their own lives as the senior activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. They talk about their community, culture, traditions, beliefs, sustainable livelihood they once practiced on the banks of the Narmada and challenges there in.  They talk about the impact the dam has had on their lives, the trauma of displacement and the life in the resettlement sites post submergence of their villages in the dam waters. They reflect on their struggle against destructive development that has gone on for many years now as well as the future challenges.

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River Narmada, the life line, the big giver and worshiped as a mother by the Adivasis, Farmers, fishing and other communities living on its banks. Photo: Nandini Oza

One reason for bringing out the oral history of Keshavbhau and Kevalsingh at this juncture is that their struggle against their personal as well as collective dispossession is still very much on. Attention needs to be drawn and support needs to be given to them in every possible way so that the serious pending issues of those already displaced by the SSP are taken up urgently and earnestly towards some resolution.

Furthermore while Dalit literature/ biographies/ autobiographies are available, there is not enough of such work as far as Adivasi leaders and their contemporary struggles are concerned as narrated by them. Hence it is important to bring to the fore the struggle of people in the Narmada valley from which lessons can be drawn by future struggles for equality, justice and sustainable development.

Making roof tiles
Living in harmony with nature, Adivasi communities make roof tiles themselves from natural resources. Photo: Rohit Jain

This is particularly necessary when we as a nation march ahead ruthlessly with the slogan of “development”. The oral history of Keshavbhau and Kevalsingh reminds us what “development” means to the Adivasi, indigenous, and farming communities of our country. And what is it that they believe constitutes development. It also reminds us that beautiful and flowing rivers across the country are being irreversibly destroyed by building dams and more dams.

20374769_1438322212914898_877706826991924862_n“LaDha Narmadecha” gives insight into all of this and much more by sharing the enduring struggle of the people of the Narmada Valley against the destructive Sardar Sarovar Dam and to save from its shackles the revered river Narmada.

*Independent researcher and activist, formerly with the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Blog: http://nandinikoza.blogspot.in/

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