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Sardar Sarovar project-affected continue sit-in on day four

Social activist Medha Patkar, along with villagers and dam oustees of Sardar Sarovar dam from Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh, protests on November 17, 2019, in Bhopal. )

Social activist Medha Patkar, along with villagers and dam oustees of Sardar Sarovar dam from Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh, protests on November 17, 2019, in Bhopal. )   | Photo Credit: PTI

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1200 protestors have been holding a sit-in outside Narmada Valley Development Authority office

Kusum Adivasi, an agricultural labourer, has found herself at the same protest as her former employer, Sashikala Patidar. Back in Nisarpur, the two lived miles apart. But in the past three days here, they’ve slept beside each other on the street, shared meals and even cried in unison: Medha tai aaghe badho, hum tumhare saath hai (Medha aunt stride ahead, we’re with you).

“We are equals at this dharna. Caste, class or gender don’t define us here. Our common injustice, that has united us,” says Ms. Adivasi, flapping a drenched sari she’s just washed, before flinging it wide across the median on the Jail Road here to dry.

While Ms. Patidar lost two acres of fields, a pucca house and three goats to the swelling backwaters of the Narmada, her labourer for two years lost her livelihood. Cooped up at the same relief camp now, in Dhar district, the two set out to hunt for work together every morning. In fact, finding it is easier for Ms. Adivasi — used to gruelling labour, long working hours and taking no offs.

Out of work

On Day 4 of the sit-in by 1,200 Sardar Sarovar project-affected persons outside the office of the Narmada Valley Development Authority on Tuesday, the two and 100 others from Nisarpur tehsil, nominated by village elders to represent them, spelt out issues confronting their communities: incomplete rehabilitation, inadequate compensation and food crisis at relief camps.

At first, traversing five districts, and charting 350 km to reach Bhopal seemed a costly affair, as they’ve been out of work for months. Thanks to excess rain on top of submergence of fields, farming and fishing have slumped locally, impelling oustees to take up construction work at rehabilitation sites, if at all, for meagre wages.

Just to make sure their voice is heard, villagers from Kotda, Koteshwar, Karondiya and Katnera in the tehsil pooled in travelling fare for their representatives. “Since there is no work, we don’t have money to travel to even Indore, 170 km away,” says Lakshminarayan Patidar, of Nisarpur. “So, those back home decided to support us for one-way travel for the sit-in. ”

Each paid ₹130 for the bus travel to Indore, from where they boarded a train’s general compartments to reach Bhopal, free on request to the Railways. Besides, a truck from Barwani carried wheat and rice enough for ten days, five gas cylinders, stoves, two cauldrons, first-aid kit, tents, mats, computers and printers, microphone systems and flags — all donated by villagers.

Women’s participation

Pointing to a greater participation of women, Ms. Patidar says it’s because they have borne the brunt of displacement and the loss of livelihood. “Women take care of children, their education, the ill, the old and the infirm, meals, cleaning and feeding cattle. But the means to provide all these have collapsed. Yet, we have to play our roles. We are under immense stress, and our presence here is important to make our families heard.”

There is at least one representative at the sit-in from each of the 178 affected villages in Dhar, Barwani, Alirajpur and Khargone districts, said Mahendra Tomar, member, Narmada Bachao Andolan. “The most, 110, have come from Picchori village.”

“We will continue our satyagraha until our 40 demands are met,” he said. “And the affected will take part in it on a rolling basis. If they want to return for whatever reason, others will take their spot.”

As the mercury dipped to 16 degree celsius on Monday night, the Municipal Corporation distributed 279 blankets, 20 mattresses and 15 mats among the protesters. They have made available three water tankers, three mobile toilets and two public toilets for them.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 6:10:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sardar-sarovar-project-affected-continue-sit-in-on-day-four/article30019680.ece

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