Monday, April 27, 2015

Let No Acquisition be at the root of a New Politics

There has been firing on adivasi peasants assembled to peacefully protest on the morning of 14th April and then again on 18th April at a dam being constructed on the river Kanhar in the Duddhi taluka of Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. The submergence is likely to cover dozens of villages in U.P., Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.  The dam site is some 180-200 kms south of Varanasi, about 60-70 kms east of Singrauli. 

What we are writing here is based on the reports of Roma Malik of All India Union of Forest Working People  (AIUFWP), Dilip Kumar 'dili' of Vidya Ashram Sarnath, Ritesh Vidyarthi of Bhagat Singh Chhatra Morcha Varanasi,  Ravi Shekhar and Ekta of Lokavidya Ashram Singrauli, Siddhant a journalist of Varanasi and a team from Chhattisgarh consisting of Sudha Bharadwaj and others, who all visited the site immediately after these incidents and also before them. Sandip Pandey, Medha Patkar with a team from Varanasi, and a team from Delhi consisting of Kavita Krishnan and others have visited the site meeting protesting peasants and the administration. The struggle is in need of  as much support as it can muster.

The entire area is in a state of terror maintained by the State of Uttar Pradesh by placing there many more police than the number of protesters. All roads have been blocked and an official campaign let loose against outsiders that is people like us. Women have been the main target, very heavily beaten up by police lathi-charge. There are people in jail and in hospitals. There are people who are missing. There are reports that many have been killed but without confirmation so far. One of their leaders Gambhira Prasad was forcibly lifted from right outside the house of the famous PUCL secretary and senior High Court lawyer Ravi Kiran Jain in Allahabad when he was there for consultations. And this by plain clothes men supposed to be police men from Sonbhadra. And under these conditions the administration is making promises to the villagers, nothing of course in writing, about remunerative package deals, which is so difficult to believe for anyone.

The project dates back to 1976 and has gone through all kinds of stages through promises, protests and repressions. The government says that the project is for irrigation purposes, which nobody believes. This for two reasons. One, the entire area of south Sonbhadra and Singrauli is full of upcoming industries, power and mineral projects and many others. They all need huge amounts of water, assured supply of which is possible only from reservoirs created by damming rivers. Two, the speed and urgency with which the work has started disregarding not only people's living conditions and needs but also requirements of environmental clearances and social impact assessment.
There have been two main institutions organizing the peasants there. One an NGO at Duddhi led by Maheshanand and the other AIUFWP led by Roma Malik.

In Varanasi an umbrella forum of social activists and organizations called Sajha Sanskriti Manch has started bringing together the various organizations and individuals interested in extending support to the struggling peasants and adivasis from the villages near the Kanhar dam.

Vidya Ashram suggests that all the practical steps of support and organization need a companion campaign and dialogue on a possible India in which there is no land acquisition. We shall discuss the ideas of swaraj, democracy, well-being, social equality, end of disparity, progress and everything which may help paint the picture of a world which is built without acquiring any land from adivasis and peasants, all transfers or exchanges being voluntary and in the public eye. Just as all politics today agrees on acquisition of land differing from one another only on which land, how, what compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement and many other issues, the new debate ought to have the base line of NO ACQUISITION and a constructive dialogue on the nature of possible buildable futures.  

Vidya Ashram

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