Dissimilar settings but similar tales

HYDERABAD Jan. 3. They came from distant lands, dissimilar social settings and different cultures but they came together at the Asian Social Forum under way here, to share their life experiences, a long saga of struggle to retain their own lands, whether it is Palestine, Puddukottai or Narmada Valley.

In a heart-rending narration in the session, "People's Voices'', they testified how globalisation has gone berserk and market forces have mauled and mangled their lives dispossessing them, snatching away their basic rights over land, water and forests.

They came to raise questions — who are these market actors and agents? Why should we allow them to dominate us, control our lives and shape our destiny? What right they have to make food and education inaccessible to us, to alienate us from our land and forests and to pirate our intellectual property rights of natural environment?

Frail looking Geeta, a victim-turned activist, narrated the plight of the Adivasi and peasant communities of the Narmada valley. As many as 200,000 families in 245 villages, tribals and peasants from a 250 km stretch of the Narmada River valley stood to lose their livelihood resources and socio-economic fabric due to submergence of their homes, farms and forests. A majority of them depend on agriculture, fisheries and on forest resources for their sustenance and livelihood.

Of the 45,000 families to be displaced, as officially recognised today, there was no plan to allocate alternative land for more than 35,000 families, even with a progressive-looking rehabilitation policy, as the Governments have openly declared the non-availability of land. All this could have been assessed before the project was approved and aid granted by the World Bank. This was not done. The dam was pushed ahead in violation of the bank's own policy as well as the rehabilitation policy under the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award. Thousands of Adivasi families are to be uprooted without the land-for-land provision being implemented. The implications were far reaching ranging from social, economic, ecological, health to nutrition and security.

Sharif Mohammed Omar Khalid literally transposed the packed audience to Palestine. In and out of prisons and schools for more than 15 years, "both strengthening my resolve to resist'', Khalid returned to Palestine only to witness a series of "Israeli land thefts''. Under the Sharon's "Seven Stars Plan'' a series of settlements and industrial zones were built along and straddling the Green Line with the purpose of robbing Palestinian land and harass Palestinian labour in factories similar to the Mexican border's maciladores.

He went on to explain how 1,362 dunums (four dunums = one hecatre) that Israel deemed necessary for security reasons, was robbed from people of his native town of Jayyus. "Security and globalisation are harmless, comforting words that shroud destructive agendas. In the name of security umbrella, Israel confiscated tens of thousands of dunums of Palestinian lands and enforced a policy of closure that renders sustainable economy nearly impossible. This closure and the separation wall which we call apartheid wall, currently being built in the West Bank, destroying centuries-old olive trees and other fruit bearing plantations, is only a small and integral part of the project to erase and destroy us''.

Corporatisation of lands

Back to Tamil Nadu, Addappan, a Dalit farmer from Perungadi Panchayat of Thirumayam taluk in Puddukottai district, came up with his tale of woe — corporatisation of common land. Landless Dalit farm families were threatened with eviction from a 100-acre common land in the village which has been their livelihood for many generations. This was part of the Tamil Nadu Government's policy of giving away two million hectares of rain-fed land to corporations on a 30-year lease. It facilitated a large-scale entry of corporate plantation companies.

Perungudi and Poovanampatti have a population of 5,200 people among whom 2500 are Dalits. The village has in common about 150 acres of non-assessed poramboke land of which more than 40 landless families, a majority of them Dalits have occupied 100 acres. They raised grains, cereal, pulses and minor millets for the last four decades. It has tanks and water way links to them. The geo-physical location of the common land played a vital role in maintaining the socio-economic and agro-ecological balance of the village. But this is the very land declared as "waste'' and proposed to be taken and leased out to a corporate.

Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Paul Divakar of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights were present.

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