‘There’s only darkness in our lives’
Villagers in Badwani and Dhar refuse to celebrate Diwali. With nothing to cheer about after the loss of their homes and livelihood, the villagers organise rallies, protest marches
The villagers in the Narmada Valley have nothing to cheer about, after all more than 40,000 persons in 192 villages are yet to be rehabilitated. With the hope to highlight their condition, most of the villages in Dhar and Badwani districts in the Narmada Valley refrained from celebrating Diwali.
On the eve of Diwali, the villagers marched with torchlights along with Medha Patkar to underline their unsettled lives. “The villagers have no access to their fields, electricity has been cut off in parts of Misarpur and Pichaudi. Instead of rehabilitating villagers, the government wants to give ₹5 lakh to each household and put an end to the agitation. The fishermen near the dam have lost their fishing rights. Farmers have been left in the lurch and traders have been left to fend for themselves. They are helpless and resentful too. Poor people are made to run around. There is no celebratory mood in any of these villages. It is a ‘kaali Diwali’ for us. While everyone is celebrating Diwali, the villagers are going bankrupt (diwala),” said Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan.
Exactly 17 years ago in 2000, these villagers and protestors had opted to term their festival as ‘kaali Diwali’ or lightless Diwali, after the Supreme Court gave the go ahead to the project. “Then we had protested in Bhopal, but this year we are in the villages,” added Patkar.
“We have to think – who gets the benefits from the dam? The project was conceptualised for drought-hit areas like Saurashtra and Kutch but the water has been diverted to cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara. So, on one side people are still waiting for water in Saurashtra and Kutch, on the other in Badwani, they are displaced. They have lost their livelihood,” points out Himanshu Thakkar, the convenor of South Asia Network on Dams River and People (SANDRP).
“Government has snatched our means of bread and butter. Our agricultural land has submerged. Now we do not have anything to do. It’s nothing but darkness. How can we celebrate Diwali?” was the general sentiment amongst villagers.
Hira, a fisherman in the valley, said his house was marooned, but yet the government wasn’t willing to consider that he needs to be rehabilitated. “Therefore, I haven’t received any compensation. Earlier, we would grow watermelons too, but now we can’t do that either. The government has snatched away my right to fish, so what am I supposed to do? How can I think of celebrations ?” asks Hira.
— With inputs from Shirish Khare