India: Standing Neck Deep in Water to Protest

Fifty one residents of Ghongalgaon village of Khandwa district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have launched a ‘Jal Satyagraha’ protest by standing neck deep inside the backwaters of Omkareshwar dam on Narmada river. The term Satyagraha (insistence on truth) developed by Mahatma Gandhi is a particular philosophy and practice, which is also known as nonviolent resistance or civil resistance.

Usha Hegde reports about the protest:

51 people are staying submerged in water for the 14th day in Madhya pradesh protesting against government decision to opening all the gates of Omkareshwar dam, which will cause their villages to be submerged. They are demanding proper rehabilitation.

Tales of Narmada blog is constantly updating the news of the protests with pictures. Down To Earth has also posted many photos.

Screenshot of the video showing the protest of the evictees of the Omkareshwar Dam project

Screenshot of the video showing the protest of the evictees of the Omkareshwar Dam project

The protest has been organized by Narmada Bachao Andolan, a social movement consisting of tribal people, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists against the dams being built across the Narmada river. The Indira Sagar dam project at Narmada was initiated in 1984 and protests against the dam started when the people of the Narmada valley to be displaced began organising themselves in 1985-86. The down stream projects of ISP are Omkareshwar, Maheshwar and Sardar Sarovar Project.

An independent commission constituted by the National Campaign for People's Right to Information to investigate the Indira Sagar dam rehabilitation, finds in a report, “..that vast human rights abuses have taken place and that the Government of Madhya Pradesh in the construction of the Indira Sagar Pariyojana has perpetrated indefensible social, political and economic injustices on the people of the Narmada Valley.”

Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam overflows in Gujarat due to heavy rain in Madhya Pradesh. Video uploaded by Desh Gujarat

According to a recent court order the oustees of the Omkareshwar dam and the Indira Sagar dam are entitled to replacement with a minimum of two hectare of land. Local news papers report that despite thousands of oustees still not having been rehabilitated, the Madhya Pradesh government is allowing a four-metre rise in the water level in the dam from 189 to 193 metres. The move would submerge lands spread across several villages.

A Jal satyagraha protest was launched in Ghoghalgaon by 51 affected people on July 16 to lower the level of the water in the Omkareshwar dam to 189 meter. Their demand is that all the affected people should be given land for land and other rehabilitation benefits.

The following video was made on the tenth day showing the protest of the evictees of the Omkareshwar Dam:

Here are some reactions in Twitter:

@Dibundy: the people displaced by the Omkareshwar dam are a people driven to the edge. …

@jamewils: Waters of rising Omkareshwar reservoir were almost touching the chins of the protestors on September 3.

@HarrietLambFT: so many years later narmada activists still fighting on. RT@httweets:Neck deep in Narmada

@babayesudas: That which refuses ‘rehabilitation’ in such circumstances, is not a ‘govt!’ It is Goonda Raj.

Ved Prakash Singh blames the media for not doing enough:

@vedforgutuk: See this pic and RT . people standing in Narmada river from last 13 day. what is #Media doing.

You can sign an appeal at the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) asking to take immediate action to sustainably rehabilitate the evictees of Omkareshwar Hydro Electric Project in Madhya Pradesh.

Update: According to latest reports heavy rainfall across Madhya Pradesh has caused the Narmada River flowing above the danger level in Omkareshwar and Khandwa. The government has opened all the gates of the Omkareshwar dam to maintain steady water levels which means further trouble for 30 villages in Khandwa district that are already submerged.

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