April 06, 2006

Rang de Narmada

My column for rediff.com, on the recent Delhi protest over dams on the Narmada, is here. Comments welcome.


eV said...

The RDB connection struck me as well.

Aren't we the same country that feels proud of satyagraha's role in our independence struggle? Or has that pride vanished?

Dilip, your last line in the article was quite appropriate. The media (esp the news channels) don't seem to have given this story much coverage due to the perceived nature of their target audience.

Contrast this with the media coverage of Karunanidhi's midnight arrest. Of course, it helped that Sun TV captured some powerful images that were picked up by other channels.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that some protesters are reinforcing the message by continuing with the fast.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece. Personally, I feel far more inspired by this non-violent form of protest than by what was shown in RDB.

Anonymous said...

Dilip, did you see this article on the Indian Express, that (almost) equates the Narmada protests with Kar sevaks in Ayodhya?

Ayodhya kar sevaks may have been from Mars and Naramada activists, from Venus, but — warts and all — they together represented India’s democratic triumph.

Democratic triumph, eh?

Anonymous said...


I frankly found Rang De Basanti quite juvenile and naive. Anyway, that is besides the point.

If I am not mistaken, you are asking why two issues--Jessica Lal and NArmada--bring such disparate responses. Let me ask you, would the Jessica Lal case (or for that matter RDB) strike such a chord with the Narmada oustees or for that matter anyone eking out a grim existence in India? WOuld you consider it a grevious shortcoming if a Narmada protestor fails to raise his/her voice for Jessica Lal?

As a genberal rule, it easier for people to empathise (not sympathise) with the kind of problems they themselves have face or face or are likely to face. Most english media viewing/reading Indian public are far removed from the Narmada. They dont empathise with the oustees. To make matters worse people like Arundhati Roy have taken up the oustees case. That alone for many people, who are familiar with Ms. Roy's work but unfamiliar with the travails of the oustees, makes the whole protest suspect.

The media itself is ultimately a business. It cannot be divorced from the "emotions" of its customers. Al Jazeera cannot endorse Israel just as the Fox News cannot endorse illegal immigrants in the US.That is a harsh reality.

The strongest movements are those that are driven by people affected and people who have similar shared experiences. The Magna Carta was not driven by great desire for "democracy" but by the selfish needs of the nobility to protect its privileges against the royalty as well as the masses. If you asked the nobility why they did'nt feel for the masses, you would have been laughed off. The situation in India is similar in some ways. The Jessica lal case (and RDB) is an uprising by the relatively privileged against uber-privileged--the ruling classes. The angry reaction of some to the Narmada activists is also a reflection of clashing interests.

The ruling classes, the uber elite, are playing on this divide. This is an old trick. By crying against the new resurgent middle classes you are simply playing into the hands of the demogogues--the old bandicoots.

The interests of the middle classes and the dispossed are in reality aligned. All it needs is a recognition that we need to establish rule of law and roll back the oppressive hand of the state. You cannot at once argue that big dam is bad but big state is good because you need a big state to build a big dam and once you have a big state it has its own compulsions quite distinct from that of the masses. After all, was it not Nehru, that big government advocate, who called dams the temples of modern India.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Vishnu, I did see that article, and found it utterly shallow and empty -- but that's what I've come to expect from the man. Actually I had that article with me when I started writing mine, meaning to respond, but it took a different turn. I did pick up his quote from Alagh (whose article I had read earlier), about "no free lunches".

Srinivas, I don't see grievous shortcomings anywhere. I'm just saying, what will it take for us to acknowledge the injustice that's happening with these displaced people? What will it take for us to stop rationalising it away by saying "some people have to sacrifice"?

You're welcome to your opinion of Roy, she hardly needs me to defend her. But the issue has been around for much longer than she has been connected with it, and in any case it deserves thought from you quite apart from what she says about it.

I don't know in what sense I'm crying against the newly resurgent middle-class. Nor do I see where I'm saying "big dam is bad but big state is good." (I don't even believe that). I'm simply saying to whoever reads what I write, here's something for you to think about. Here's what I believe is a grave injustice, think about it. Take it like that.

Neela, would it have made it any better if I had included some names of displaced people, or even just one, and told their story? I've tried that tack too, in articles and in my "The Narmada Dammed" book -- but I'm not sure it made a difference. In fact some guys were then critical that I was offering "anecdotal evidence."

Anonymous said...

Don't u know our national news media serves only the literate,upper class,potential buyers.

Don't u know our national media and govt are trying to probe into wadrobe malfunction.

Don't u know potential customers of our national news media is receiving water 24 hours multiple by 7.


zap said...

The Jessica Lall case was on for the last several years. What has changed is the reach of media today [for whatever reasons]. The reason so many voices were raised against the court decision on the Jessica Lall case was that this time around, the media was harnessed systematically. Maybe you should try and get your media contacts organized..Am sure that a lot of people will come forward to help. And individual stories and pictures might just be what is needed..on telly though.

Anonymous said...


I was not commenting on Ms. Roy. I was merely making an observation about the opinion held by some people about Roy. You wouldnt deny that many people have an extremely negative opinion of Roy. If so, wouldnt her affiliation to NBA create negative feelings about NBA. Thats all. I dont have a strong feeling about Ms. Roy and even if I had one I wouldnt let that affect my judgement about Narmada.

I actually happen to agree with you that the NBA oustees have not been properly rehabilitated. The Supreme Court has been quite clear on that. In general, I have great regard for the independence and judgement of the Supreme Court.

WHat I was arguing against is not the NBA, but your expectation that somehow the middle classes would feel a great deal of empathy for the NBA oustees. Just to be clear, I was not making a value judgement about your judgement. I was making a purely analytical statement that the expectation was unrealistic (however moral its basis). Indians are especially morally supine (I am sorry to have to make such a strong stereotypical statement) and that realization has become even more reinforced during my stay in the US. We are pretty impervious to injustice around us.

Anonymous said...

Dilip says:

>>You're welcome to your opinion of Roy, she hardly needs me to defend her.

Well well... times have changed eh Dilip? Remember there was a time you were her most vocal defender at another blog

What happened? She kutti with you these days?

Unknown said...

Aah yes the intellectual elite sit and criticize the dam project as they turn up their ACs (where do you think the electricity come from) in the hot summer swelter and wash their faces in running water (again where does this water come from?).

Unknown Indian said...


Don't dispute the fact that dam oustees need to be compensated. The state has no right to steal the property of anybody without proper compensation.

But the problem with the NBA and Medha Patkar is that their fight has not been mainly for fair compensation - it has primarily been against the concept of development itself. And for poor tribals right to continue to live like animals in the jungle. Rather than take the money, educate themselves and live civilized lives (including getting into IITs and IIMs, with or without reservations). Which is why in my view (more than Neela's point on statistical vs. identifiable victims) most people do not sympathize with the NBA.

And btw, if a Supreme Court order is being violated - why not present the evidence to the Court? Why fast unto death in Delhi? Our Courts have been activist enough to slap down any government action in violation of an explicit Court order.

Also, I don't recall people like Medha Patkar or you bothering about the property rights of others. Such as flat buyers in Bombay, whose property (on mill lands) you attempted to force the state government to steal

Dilip D'Souza said...

Unknown, you're pretty right there: the NBA's fight has been to question the concept of "development" as it has been practiced: not least the idea that you can simply give people money -- as you suggest, but as the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal itself, to its eternal credit, recognized was what had been impoverishing people and thus laid down the idea of land for land.

Also development of the kind that would make people say that tribals must "take the money and live civilized lives".

Present it to the Supreme Court? An idea that nobody has thought of before! Thank you! Really, what do you think the NBA has done for years now, but present evidence of wrongdoing to the Supreme Court?

"Most people" don't sympathize with the NBA? Let's see, could you explain about the scientific study you did that brought you to that conclusion? Or are you extrapolating from a figure of 1 (you) to "most"?