Monday, February 06, 2006

Braving the Waters

Tejal has written an article for "The Socialist" (Womens Day Issue). Following is the text of it:

Braving the Waters
In every country there are people who live at two extremes of the social and economic spectrum. There are the few rich who eat better food each day and then there are the many poor who reduce their food rations each day. India is no different. In the midst of market reforms and privatization, the Indian upper classes and upper middle classes have suddenly been elevated to what resembles the western standard of living. However, a large section of Indian society remains removed from this “development”--- excluded from the celebration of India’s 8% per annum economic growth.

Throughout the world, “growth” and “development” have taken a serious toll on people and on the environment. These have affected India even more drastically. Over the last 50 years, large dams on many rivers in India have displaced over 30 million people; most of who have not been have not been compensated for their land or given alternative housing till date. Large scale deforestation, which has left India with only 20% forest cover, has rendered many Adivasis (the indigenous people of India) homeless. Unchecked and unregulated industrialization has polluted groundwater and in many parts has depleted the resource to drastically low levels. Over 70 percent of India’s population currently derives its livelihood from land resources. Since women comprise almost 60-65% of this segment, it is no surprise that the people’s movements that have risen to fight against the appropriation of these natural resources have largely been women’s movements.

The women who participate in and lead ecology movements in countries like India are not speaking merely as victims. Their voices are the voices of liberation and transformation. The women’s and ecology movements are therefore one, and are primarily counter-trends to a patriarchal mal-development.- Vandana Shiva

The Narmada Bachao Andolan, NBA (Save the Narmada Movement) is one of the many people’s movements in India, fighting for rights of the oppressed classes. The anti-dam movement in India got recognition only in the last couple of decades when the inhabitants of the Narmada valley led an amazing struggle against the Government and the World Bank. The protests resulted in an enquiry and subsequently an unprecedented withdrawal of funding from the World Bank. This movement, organized largely by women and comprising of some of the most marginalized communities of the country raised many questions about the functioning of the “world’s largest democracy”. The Narmada movement elicited mixed reactions from the Indian populace. The urban middle class dismissed Medha Patkar (one of the key organizers of the movement) and her followers as “tree-huggers” and “women without anything better to do”. They labeled her and “others like her”, “anti development”, an insult used ever so often in India these days. Sometimes, when the movement wasn’t far away in the valley, out of sight of the urban middle class, but was in their face, outside their workplace, in forms of picket lines and dharnas (sit-ins), there were instances of the patronizing dismissal turning into violence too. However, a large section of the Indian population, urban and rural, remained, and still remains apathetic and even unaware of the struggle in the valley.

The administration however is very much aware of the struggle and has tried to crush the movement at every turn. Harassment by police, forceful displacement without resettlement, arrests without charges, illegal submergence of inhabited villages, were few of the many atrocities that the tribals and activists in the Narmada valley were subjected to. The ruling to raise the dam heights even when thousands remained without relief and resettlement was one of the many unjust decisions meted out by the Supreme Court against people who depend the most on administrative and judicial systems---many were arrested for merely protesting against the court rulings. With no less than 6 national political parties and 30 state parties, the fact that the anti-dam movement received political support from the Indian Left only as late as two years ago is quite indicative of the divergence of social interests and political aspirations. The “development” rhetoric adopted by every political party in India, has sidelined, overlooked and even dismissed ecological issues, which means that issues concerning most working women in India have thus far been ignored. While the Indian Left has limited itself to the organized sector which is a subset of only the urban middle and lower middle classes, the Dalit movement (movement of the backward castes) has been largely focused on creating political spaces. In many tribal movements also women are considered only as an inclusive category and not as a separate group which has its own issues.

In a post globalization world, all these movements that are fighting caste, class and gender discrimination need to come together to rally against forces which combine to reduce their control over resources. A woman shouldn’t have to fight a double battle; one as a tribal and the other as a tribal woman; one as a farmer and another as a woman farmer. Movements like the NBA have been able to connect class issues with women’s issues; environmental issues with economic issues. Despite setbacks, harassment, slander and injustice, the Narmada Bachao Andolan has been a great step forward for people’s movements all throughout India. It has raised fundamental questions regarding the “development” dream wrapped in nationalist bombast, sold to Indians by the government.

Although the administration has given us little to be happy about, movements like the NBA have given us a lot to be proud about. Indian women from the most marginalized communities have the courage to stand up against imperialist organizations like the World Bank, the courage that even the most powerful men in the country lack.

-Tejal Kanitkar

4 comments:

neil said...

tejamma ki jai ho..

Anonymous said...

The environmental issues are real. However, I am at a loss when adivasis are referred to as "indigenous" people.Does the author say that the adivasis are the "only" indigenous people?What about the Punjabis, Marathis, Bengalis, Assamese etc.They are indigenous people as well.

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