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  • India: the Submerged People

    April 16, 2007
    by Stefano Valentino


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    Inhabitants of Bhadal village on the Narmada river (Copyright Stefano Valentino)

    A bunch of men and women greet us from the bank while we sail down the Narmada, one of the seven holy rivers of India.

    Their black eyes express a compound of incredulity and resignation in the face of the pitiless evidence: the purifying waters that for 2000 years have been opening to the dead the gates of Nirvana, the paradise of Hindu, are now becoming a hell for the living ones.

    A hell where the demon has a triple name: “Sardar Sarovar Dam”. That is the largest of the 30 super-dams that have condemned the valley to flooding and one of the 4000 dams erected all over India, immense tanks where the rain that falls only two months a year is stored.

    Dams carry development, but also devastation. Approximately 50 million people (10% of the national population) have been forcedtoleave their landtomake room for the water basins of the country.

    It was back in 1961 when Jawaharlal Nehru, first Indian president, inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar. The wave of euphoria following the independence from England did not allow to foresee the conflict that was to oppose the India of   “tomorrow” to the India of  “yesterday”.

    Today, the vicissitude of Narmada reflects in emblematic way the drama of a people who is forced to sacrifice its roots in the sake of globalization.

    While we flow down the river we see the few little houses, grabbed hold to the banks, which survived the ravaging stream.

    The peasants defy the gravity law in ordertopick up the few plants which succeed to sprout on the steep pastures.

    The fertile soil of the valley was flooded by one hundred meters of water. And so were the villages of Kakrana and Jhakrana. Not even the temples have been rescued. Only those on top of the hills will recall to posterity the legends of the past.

    That is how one of the most ancient rural settlements in Asia is disappearing: an uncontaminated oasis in the heart of  India, enclosed between Vindhya and Satpura ranges, where for millennia the aboriginal tribes have lived in symbiosis with the forest.

    That is how the small peasants who need just few litres of water to cultivate a rice sod are disappearing forever: forced to flee to allow the government to increase water and hydro-generated power supplies.

    The winner of the water game here are the big plantations which feed the megalopolis,  steel factories and hi-tech companies that, fromBombay, conquer the world.

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