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Letter to the Editor, Times of India: Narmada Bachao Andolan

September 16, 2012

This guest post by CHITTAROOPA PALIT is the text of a letter to the editor of the Times of India, which the paper has not published

Subject: Rebuttal to the story “Reality bites: Khandwa’s made-for-TV protest” published in Times of India.

Dear Sir,

We are shocked to read the story “Reality bites: Khandwa’s made-for-TV protest” in your esteemed newspaper, which has been published with prominence. The story is false and fabricated. The journalist did not meet any Mehtab Singh but she quoted him. The journalist did talk to my colleague and senior activist of NBA Mr. Alok Agarwal but chooses not to quote him. It may be noted that the OB van and a team of your own group Times Now was there at satyagrah site all the time covering live from 6th September but none of these issues were raised.

It is really very hard for the common people to resist the anti people activities of the state. This time we can win this battle due to firm determination of oustees and strong support of people all over the country and media. Our rebuttal is given below. We request you to publish it with same prominence as the article in question.

Regards,
Chittaroopa Palit

Jal satyagraha: An authentic struggle of oustees

The Jal satyagraha protest in Village Ghogalgaon in Khandwa ended after 17 days on 10th of September, with a victory for the people of the Omkareshwar dam.

The State had to lower the water level in the Omkareshwar reservoir from 190.5 meters to 189 meters, to abandon its plan to increase the water level to 193 meters, and to announce that it would comply with the Supreme Court judgment of 11th May 2011, requiring allotment of a minimum of 2 hectares of land to each displaced cultivator family. The victory was possible because of the determination of the protestors, the presence of a sensitive media which carried the voices of the people all over India, intervention by alert opposition parties, and huge support pouring in for the protestors from all over the country.

There has been jubilation and celebration. Now there is criticism, this time about the authenticity of the movement by a journo in the Times of India, who by her own admission visited the area only 4 days after the waters of the Omkareshwar dam receded and the protest was over, and whose article by her own admission is based on hearsay. What is the criticism? That only 3 out of 51 Jal satyagrahis sat in the water, that the water was barely two feet deep, and that the entire struggle was a hoax conjured up for television.

To put the record straight, these are the brief facts. On 11th May 2011, the Supreme Court directed allotment of a minimum of 2 ha. of alternative land to each cultivator family affected by the Omkareshwar dam. The Apex Court has repeatedly held that this should be done before submergence. After the judgment, 2500 cultivator families affected by the Omkareshwar dam filed land applications. However the project authorities decided to submerge the area and flood out the people without allotting them land, so that there would be no one left to rehabilitate. Thus, on 23rd and 24th of August the authorities raised the Omkareshwar reservoir beyond 189 meters, submerging around 1000 acres of crop lands and standing crops of mirchi, soyabean, cotton, painstakingly planted by the farmers, in many cases after incurring considerable debt. For two days the villagers agonized on how to respond to the illegal submergence being wreaked by the State. They understood that it was a life and death battle. Finally on the 25th of August evening, the villagers, on their own, took a decision to undertake Jal satyagraha, and informed the NBA activists. Within a hour, the activists arrived, and Jal Satyagraha commenced.

For the next 17 days, 51 people consistently sat on Jal satyagraha, getting up only to bathe, go to the toilet, eat the food served to them at the river bank, and to sleep for three hours every night on the river bank. We sat shivering in the freezing water in the middle of the thunderstorms and down-pours of late August and early September. Our hands and feet developed wounds and bled, attracting droves of fish who attacked our limbs. Cobras fleeing from the rising waters ran into us. Three times, the waters reached nose level and we nearly drowned, the last time on 9th September at 5.30 p.m. on the eve of our victory. However not a single protestor, aware that perhaps this was the last moment of their lives rose to escape the waters. This was in full view of the media, and can be corroborated.

The protest was not designed for the television. The protestors were in the waters for 12 days before the first OB van arrived in village Ghogalgaon on the 5th of September: the CNN-IBN and Times Now teams. In the next few days, ND TV arrived as well as Aaj Tak, ZEE News, India TV, News X, ABP News etc. The OB vans were posted at the village 24 hours until 10th of September. If the protest was a hoax and a sham, and only 3 protestors were sitting in the water, how did the coverage show 51 persons sitting in the water? The journo has also got her geography completely wrong. We were not sitting in a canalbut in the Omkareshwar dam reservoir which one can see from the photographs. On 10th of September when government reduced the water level by 1.5 meters, water receded at satyagraha site. Since the journo came only after the waters were drained out, she has not been able to understand the situation. She chose to ignore what Alok Agarwal, NBA activist who she contacted, explained to her. And she quoted Mehtab Puri, who she did not meet.

The Jal satyagraha of the people of the Omkareshwar dam for their rights is one of the many life and death struggles which have been waged by the common people of India against dispossession, over the years. Like all satyagrahas, it offered dissent to power, truth, pain and love. It expresses the longing to belong, and the hope that they would be heard and not hurt. This struggle was won because their voices of the poor and struggling people was carried all over the country by the media present at the site. This has upset the State and others whose interests are hurt by the victories of common people, and who are threatened by extensive coverage of people’s struggles by the media. That is why the attack on the integrity and the authenticity of the struggle. The Jal satyagraha was a public event and is open to public comment and public criticism. But the criticism and the attack must not be motivated, ignorant, malicious or imaginary.

Chittaroopa Palit

Narmada Bachao Andolan
2, Sai Nagar, Mata Chowk,
Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh – 450 001
Telefax : 0733 – 2228318
E-mail : nbakhandwa at gmail dot com

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Melanie permalink
    September 18, 2012 11:15 PM

    TOI is extremely sensitive to criticism, even of the simplest kind! This is a clear case of a journalist not doing her home work and the paper backing her shoddy coverage instead of apologising for the misreporting. I am glad that Kafila picked up this story.

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