Thursday, June 01, 2006

Under Water

It's always useful to get a counter-perspective. But I note that this author uses a number of sleights of hand:

The Narmada dam unquestionably will benefit a lot of people in Gujarat. A lot of people in one of India's drier regions, people who need greater supplies of water as well as power. That, however, does not end the inquiry, but merely serves as the beginning of one. Because a central question is: should one have to give up one's home, land and livelihood, indeed in the case of many of the adivasis the entire material context of one's culture, for the wellbeing of another? It might be argued that such a (forced) sacrifice might be necessary in some instances, particularly where-- as here-- the number benefited is significantly greater than the number harmed. While such a utilitarian calculus is problematic, it is hardly disgraceful as an intellectual matter-- indeed Aamir and the Indian government and the government of Gujarat subscribe to such a calculus, since all apparently hold the position that the displacement itself might be necessary.

But what is concealed by the utilitarian calculus is the fact that in the case of no dam built in independent India have relatively affluent, urban dwellers been forced to undergo sacrifices for the sake of "development" or the good of the larger number. What sort of sacrifice is this that is always called for on the part of the poorest, politically weakest segments of our society? Such a systemic inequality casts doubt upon the calculus.

[Aside: The NBA is alleged in the piece linked to above to be simply an "anti large-development" outfit that is opposed to the construction of the Narmada dam; it certainly is opposed to the latter. But what the author ignores is that it is more than just that, and is also focused on the rehabilitation of the dispossessed. It was thus entirely fitting that Aamir Khan spoke from a NBA platform in favor of the rights of the dispossessed. The author seems to suggest that if Aamir were truly concerned about the plight of the dispossessed, he should have done so under the rubric of an organization that was focused on that issue, and not on halting the dam itself. This is manifestly dishonest, for the simple reason that we hardly abound with such organizations. When rehabilitation is met with official indifference, and even the indifference of self-proclaimed progressives like Mahesh Bhatt, is it not mendacious to deride the likes of Aamir Khan for using the platform that is available? Can any one of us even name such an organization, let alone one that has mobilized and plainly secured the confidence and good will of the dispossessed?]

The second problem is: displacement of 100,000 people for the benefit of ten times that number is one thing; displacement without adequate compensation is another. As to whether the compensation will be adequate, consider: the governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have already represented to the Supreme Court that adequate substitute land of the same quality and fertility as the agriculturalists among the displaced had, simply is not available to these state governments. Not to mention that apparently no monitoring mechanism was put in place for any of the prior large dams that have displaced untold thousands of people over the last five or six decades, to the point where we aren't even sure how many have been displaced, let alone whether they have been adequately rehabilitated. In the years since Arundhati Roy made this claim in her anti big dam polemic The Greater Common Good, she has been routinely criticized for being "anti development", a Marxist, "anti-national", and many other things; however, to the best of my knowledge, her factual claim -- that the government has no record of how many have been displaced since independence by big dams, let alone how many have been rehabilitated -- has not been shown to be untrue. The indifference of the state and those segments of society that pride themselves on being "pro-development" is manifested not in rehabilitation, but in that those displaced tend to end up, having exchanged not a plot of land in (for instance) Madhya Pradesh for a viable one in Gujarat, but ultimately drifting into some urban slum, and left to fend for themselves.

Indeed, the agriculturalists are the lucky ones, in that many will find that they are given low-quality arable land for that which was taken from them. But for the adivasis, often with animist religious traditions grounded in the particularity of a place, heavily localized cultures in general, and hunting/gathering modes of society, displacement will also mean the (forced) loss of a way of life.

It is important to be clear that when we are talking about this sort of phenomenon -- where what one has is snatched and replaced with scraps -- we are talking not of some having to sacrifice for the benefit of a greater number, but of some being sacrificed for the benefit of a greater number. But the beneficiaries do not wish to think of the issue in this way; after all, who can blame them for wanting a clean conscience with pure water? Hence the issue is surrounded by myths and lies, and hence even a statement that appears to be innocuous ("I am not against the dam, I merely want rehabilitation for the dispossessed") is (correctly) seen as dangerous. For the truth is that the relevant governments and beneficiaries have not been focused on rehabilitation (except on paper); indeed, it is not even clear if the project would be affordable were the reckoning better (for the moment I do not speak of the adivasis for whom displacement is also cultural extinction, as to which any notion of reckoning is obscene). It is far easier to focus on the notion that those agitating against this state of affairs are depraved, twisted individuals, rather than on the reality that the Narmada Emperor is bereft of any real clothes, its pro-development robes allowing a vision of the predatory reality beneath.


Sohanlal Goenka said...

People just like to follow like sheep whenever bollywood actors are involved without trying to go deep into the questions.

If Aamir is really not supporting Narmada Bachao Andolan who want the dam to stop, he has to SIMPLY SAY:


This may prove his sincerity. Instead, he has been saying things in a roundabout way in a cunning manner by saying e.g. i never said the dam should be stopped.(he should say simply i do not want the dam to stop) i am not part of NBA (this may be technically correct that he may not be a member. But he was sharing the same platform with NBA which means he was with the main cause. If his conscience is clear he should say : I do not support NBA for stopping dam construction.)

It is futile to argue in support of NBA because all people who have followed the developments, know their real intentions and arguing for them will not cut ice with those who are suffering. So it is simply futile to keep arguing by appearing to be 'intellectual'.

WHY IS HE NOT SAYING THINGS CLEARLY, DESPITE HIS PRODUCERS MAKING SO-CALLED LOSSES??? Because he is supporting NBA casue for stopping the dam. He is also prolonging the matter to get publicity for the fim which is doing better than expected BECAUSE OF THE CONTROVERSY, not because the film is something great.

He is trying to fool simple public as well as those who want to be considered pro-democracy without any deep thinking.

Anuradha Manik said...

After reading comments by Goenka, I feel that there is a lot of truth in what he is saying. Up til now I was also supporting Aamir because he only said about rehabilitating people, which is only what everyone else would say.

But looking at the whole issue deeply, I think he should end the problems by categorically saying that he does not support stoppage of dam. I am sure this will show his real concern for the people.

He has been claiming that he is aware about the problems of water because he shot his film for six months in Kutch. However, reflecting now, this seems to be meaningless statement. If he is aware, he should have spoken in support of the people who are suffering due to delays because of NBA actions. People who suffer for lack of water are in millions compared to a couple of thousand rehabilitation people. Of course, both are important.

Now I also have a suspicion that he has arranged this with the producer to get more publicity for the film.

Shamaa Gulati said...

Why do people take him seriously. Even people of Gujarat should ignore him. He is not qualified to say on anything relating to the dam project whether construction or rehabilitation.

This is because the Supreme Court itself is considering the matter and it is any day more competent to decide.

Look at the ego of the gasbag. When the Court gave time for 3 months as requested by the Central Govt. he said in an interview in tv:

"Now Supreme Court has given time for three months and the Court will see what happens. Along with Supreme Court, even I will be observing the progress."

He is having an exaggerated opinion of himself after making some films like Mangal and Rang De.

Real life is different. He should stick to movies.

I understand that this time the Guild has supported him but if it becomes a habit, they will simply stop giving him films.

Mahesh said...

its interesting that the issue of displacement of native peoples has been sidelined with the entry of a bollywood star into the fray. it is an expected cliche to state one's disgust that an actor is overstepping his bounds and taking advantage of the situation for selfish publicity purposes etc etc.

but in doing so, the main issue becomes marginalized and everyone starts talking about, for example, aamir khan.......