‘Dear Medha Patkar, this govt is worse than the British but please break your fast’

Her indefinite fast entered the 12th day on Monday and as her condition worsens, yet another appeal is made urging her to end it, having served the purpose of drawing attention to the displaced.

Photo courtesy: PTI
Photo courtesy: PTI
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NH Web Desk

In a moving open letter to Medha Patkar, physicist, socialist leader and activist Sunilam points out how ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’, the longest non-violent movement after Independence, has ensured rehabilitation for 14,000 families and how 605 of them received a compensation of Rs 60 lakh per hectare.

But Sunilam urges Medha Patkar to end her fast and not wait for the hearing before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, August 8. Her life, he points out, is precious and she should not punish herself and suffer permanent impairment. Read the translated excerpts from the letter:

Dear Medha Ji,

Please recall our entreaty when you proposed an indefinite fast this time. I had voiced my opposition to all indefinite fasts. I have thrice been on fast for 13 days each and have suffered the physical consequences, the damage it does to the body. Having also witnessed from close quarters the agony of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, who underwent dialysis every second day, I would not advise indefinite fast to anyone. We had a long discussion on this issue in the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and decided that we would never resort to it. That is why I had requested you to reconsider the decision.

I understand that you have taken recourse to indefinite fast as the last resort. Your fast is meant to draw the attention of both the ‘Sarkar’and the ‘Society’ to the plight of people affected in the Narmada river basin. And you have succeeded in making the Government sit up and sensitise at least some sensitive sections of society.

But I must share with you the conversation I had with an old friend with an interest in political issues. He felt that the present Government is worse than the colonial British Government. The British Government would genuinely be concerned every time Mahatma Gandhi went on a fast. They would initiate a dialogue every time. But this Government does not believe in any dialogue with people who oppose them. They believe in finishing off the opposition, he said. I agreed with his assessment.

You have spearheaded the ‘Narmada Bachao’ movement for the past 32 years. This undoubtedly is the longest, non-violent movement after Independence. It is thanks to your sustained agitation that more than 14,000 of the displaced have been allotted land. When land acquisition for the Narmada Dam project started, compensation was paid in thousands of Rupees. It is again thanks to the movement that at least 650 of the displaced have received Rs 60 lakhs per hectare by way of compensation. It is also thanks to your movement that some restrictions have been placed on the illegal mining of sand in the Narmada basin.

Madhya Pradesh Government has now been forced to announce a special package of Rs 900 crore after you began your fast. You also succeeded in persuading the judiciary that compensation for land used for canals should be equal to the compensation for land used for the dam. Needless to say the Narmada Bachao Movement has played a stellar role in changing the Land Acquisition Act in the country and inspired countless other people’s movements across the land.

I have no desire to embarrass you. But the fact is that you have earned the respect of not just the common man but also of politicians, bureaucrats and even police officers. They have seen your ceaseless work against injustice; they have heard you speak eloquently to uphold the cause of the oppressed; they are familiar with your prolific writing in giving voice to the voiceless. That is why you have earned their respect. And I have personal knowledge that they are concerned at your deteriorating health.

Ever since you began your indefinite fast this time, there has been a churn. Organisations from 42 countries have extended their support. When we demonstrated at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, more than 20 MPs wrote a personal letter to the Prime Minister and appealed for comprehensive rehabilitation of the displaced. Madhya Pradesh Assembly has been adjourned a number of times over the issue and in the on-going session of Parliament, the issue has been raised five times.

All of us are hopeful that the Supreme Court will give appropriate orders when the case comes up on Tuesday, August 8. We hope the apex court will order the state government to ensure that none of the families in 192 villages suffer this season. It may also direct the state government to initiate talks. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold Justice.

But on behalf of everyone, allow me to request you once again to end your indefinite fast. I believe you have no right to take a personal decision on this issue. You are unquestionably the leader but your life also concerns everyone. And nobody wants to lose you or see irrepairable damage done to your organs.

Please do not wait for August 8. Please do not wait for the hearing before the Supreme Court. Please end your fast.

Dr Sunilam

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