Dev Ram Kanera, a farmer from Khaparkheda village in Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh, has been raising his voice against the injustice wrought by dams in the Narmada Valley. He talks about three decades of struggle.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
How did it all begin?
It was towards the end of the 1970s. The struggle against dams in the Narmada Valley was still in the initial stages. One day I was returning to my village from the market on a bicycle and stopped at a tea stall. I met a group of four or five persons, including a young woman. She asked me the name of my village. I told her. She said my village came under the submergence zone, that my house, fields and granary will all go under water. She asked me if I knew what I would get in lieu of what I would lose. I had no clue about all this. Then she said that we should ask the government. The woman was Medha Patkar, and that was the day I joined the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
What change have you experienced since joining the movement?
Of course, there was change. Only those who remained committed to the movement could get their voices heard, to some extent at least. The compensation rates were raised. The government agreed not to raise the height of the dam. But those who did not do anything and stayed away from the movement faced the greatest injustice. They got almost nothing for the land and houses that they gave up.
What exactly have you been opposing?
We are not against development. We are only opposing the way in which development is being imposed on people. Our houses and fields are being submerged in the name of generating electricity, but the electricity does not reach us. We don’t want as much electricity as a five-star hotel demands, we ask for only the minimum that we need. But even that eludes us. In short, the very people who sacrifice the most for development are the ones who are ignored the most in the process. This cannot go on.
Vikas Bahuguna is Chief Copy Editor, Tehelka Hindi.