Old war, new bodies

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‘They cheated me because I’m blind’

Hamir was lucky enough to not lose his land to the submergence. But he lost his land to those who claim to have rehabilitated Narmada oustees

Ter  Singh HamirTer Singh Hamir, duped into selling his land to dam oustee

IT IS a rainy afternoon in Kadwal village in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district. Seventy-year-old Ter Singh Hamir is lying on a charpai inside a mud hut, barely three feet high. Hamir has been blind for the last 30 years. He has three sons, four daughters, and a 30 acre plot of land on which he cultivated cotton and soya beans until he lost his sight. One afternoon in 2006, when the rest of his family was in the fields, Burla, a man from the same village, came to him with an offer. “The government is giving you Rs 10,000 to cure your blindness. It is part of a new scheme. Do you want it?” Burla asked. Hamir believed in a benevolent State. He nodded.

Burla arrived on a motorcycle the next day with a man called Sukhdev Patidar, now known as the ‘dalal’. Hamir received a packet of money (he doesn’t remember how much), dipped this thumb in ink, stamped it on a paper and watched the men ride away.

It was in January 2009, when activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan knocked on his door, that Hamir learnt what he had done. With that one thumb impression, Hamir had sold off his entire 30 acres to oustees displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). An official sale deed, registered in a land revenue court, now claims that Hamir had, of his own free will, sold off his land to six different people and has received fair compensation for it. Violating all mandated pro – cesses which require both buyers and sellers to be present at the registrar’s office, Hamir’s name has been deleted from the official land records and replaced with the names of six people Hamir doesn’t know. An affidavit filed by the NVDA before the Supreme Court claims that all six people who bought land from Hamir are now successfully rehabilitated on the land Hamir continues to farm.

Violating all mandated processes, Hamir’s name has been deleted from the land records without his knowledge

“Bank?” Hamir squints when you ask if he’s taken a loan recently. It’s a good thing he doesn’t know what a bank is. If he approached one for a loan, they’d send him away. Hamir has lost all claim to the only thing he really owned. “I’ve been cheated because I’m illiterate and blind. I’ve been cheated,” Hamir says in a slow refrain, “What happens now?” Gradually it becomes apparent that Hamir himself does not understand the gravity of what has really happened. When you ask if he’s afraid, his sagging face has no expression. He doesn’t know that officials in far away cities are writing to each other to expedite the land grab process; all pending rehabilitation must be completed before the Supreme Court will permit the extension of the dam height – which will displace even more people. He doesn’t know that anytime now the bulldozers could head for his little mud hut, and the cotton fields behind it. Hamir’s existence now depends on the mercy of officials and a State he doesn’t know.

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