Sardar Sarovar Dam
50 Million people
Go on, Government, quibble.
Bargain. Beat it down. Say something.
I feel like someone who's just stumbled on a mass grave.
Fifty million is more than the population of Gujarat. Almost three times the population of
Australia. More than three times the number of refugees that Partition created in India.
Ten times the number of Palestinian refugees. The Western world today is convulsed over
the future of one million people who have fled from Kosovo.
A huge percentage of the displaced are tribal people (57.6 per cent in the case of the
Sardar Sarovar Dam). Include Dalits and the figure becomes obscene. According to the
Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes it's about 60 per cent. If you consider that
tribal people account for only eight per cent, and Dalits 15 per cent, of India's
population, it opens up a whole other dimension to the story. The ethnic 'otherness' of
their victims takes some of the pressure off the Nation Builders. It's like having an
expense account. Someone else pays the bills. People from another country. Another world.
India's poorest people are subsidising the life-styles of her richest.
Did I hear someone say something about the world's biggest democracy?
What has happened to all these millions of people? Where are they now? How do they earn a
living? Nobody really knows. (Last month's papers had an account of how tribal people
displaced from the Nagarjunasagar Dam Project are selling their babies to foreign adoption
agencies. The government intervened and put the babies in two public hospitals where six
babies died of neglect.) When it comes to Rehabilitation, the government's priorities are
clear. India does not have a National Rehabilitation Policy. According to the Land
Acquisition Act of 1894 (amended in 1984), the government is not legally bound to provide
a displaced person anything but a cash compensation. Imagine that. A cash compensation, to
be paid by an Indian government official to an illiterate tribal man (the women get
nothing) in a land where even the postman demands a tip for a delivery! Most tribal people
have no formal title to their land and therefore cannot claim compensation anyway. Most
tribal people, or let's say most small farmers, have as much use for money as a Supreme
Court judge has for a bag of fertiliser.
The millions of displaced people don't exist anymore. When history is written they won't
be in it. Not even as statistics. Some of them have subsequently been displaced three and
four times-a dam, an artillery proof range, another dam, a uranium mine, a power project.
Once they start rolling there's no resting place. The great majority is eventually
absorbed into slums on the periphery of our great cities, where it coalesces into an
immense pool of cheap construction labour (that builds more projects that displace more
people). True, they're not being annihilated or taken to gas chambers, but I can warrant
that the quality of their accommodation is worse than in any concentration camp of the
Third Reich. They're not captive, but they redefine the meaning of liberty.
And still the nightmare doesn't end. They continue to be uprooted even from their hellish
hovels by government bulldozers that fan out on clean-up missions whenever elections are
comfortingly far away and the urban rich get twitchy about hygiene. In cities like Delhi,
they run the risk of being shot by the police for shitting in public places-like three
slum-dwellers were, not more than two years ago.
In the French Canadian wars of the 1770s, Lord Amherst exterminated most of Canada's
Native Indians by offering them blankets infested with the small-pox virus. Two centuries
on, we of the Real India have found less obvious ways of achieving similar ends.
The millions of displaced people in India are nothing but refugees of an unacknowledged
war. And we, like the citizens of White America and French Canada and Hitler's Germany,
are condoning it by looking away. Why? Because
we're told that it's being done for the sake of the Greater Common Good. That it's being
done in the name of Progress, in the name of National Interest (which, of course, is
paramount). Therefore gladly, unquestioningly, almost gratefully, we believe what we're
told. We believe that it benefits us to believe.
Allow me to shake your faith. Put your hand in mine and let me lead you through the maze.
Do this, because it's important that you understand. If you find reason to disagree, by
all means take the other side. But please don't ignore it, don't look away.
It isn't an easy tale to tell. It's full of numbers and explanations. Numbers used to make
my eyes glaze over. Not any more. Not since I began to follow the direction in which they
Trust me stroy is there