From Arundhati Roy To Digvijay Singh

LETTER FROM ARUNDHATI ROY TO DIGVIJAY SINGH, CHIEF MINISTER OF MADHYA PRADESH
Fax Number: 0755 – 540501
To
The Chief Minister
Government of Madhya Pradesh
Bhopal 462004
June 15th 2002
Dear Mr Digvijay Singh
Thank you for your letter.
I am a little puzzled and embarrassed that you chose to write to me and not to those who have been petitioning you for your attention for the past 25 days. Today is the 26th day of the hunger fast of the four NBA activists demanding rehabilitation for those who are being displaced by the Maan dam. Two days ago you tried to arrest them. They escaped and are now underground. This correspondence takes place in the shadow of their death or permanent debilitation.
First, I would like to clarify in no uncertain terms that I am not a member of the NBA. I do not represent the Andolan, I cannot and do not wish to negotiate on its behalf. I am merely someone who has taken the trouble to find out what is actually happening on the ground (as opposed to on paper) in the Narmada Valley. And frankly, the more I learn, the more appalled I am.
The facts in your letter are incorrect and misleading. I have passed your letter on to Dr Nandini Sundar who was a member of the Tribunal headed by Justice G.G. Loney which published a report on the Maan project. I’m enclosing her point by point reply. Further to what I have already written, I have only a few general points to make.
You say it is not government policy to buy land and “allot” it to adivasi people. But this is not true. Under Section 3.2 (a) and (b) in the MP rehabilitation Policy for the Narmada valley, it is exactly what the government is supposed to do.
Your letter suggests that everything is as it should be – that the government has dealt fairly and generously with the people who are to be displaced. This is not the case. I have traveled to the Maan villages. I have spoken to people. I was told about the outrageous manner in which cash compensation was distributed. It is illegal even according to your own policy to distribute cash compensation like this.
It is simply not true that people were given the choice between land for land and cash. Most people said they were made to feel that they could take cash (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘compensation’) or get nothing at all. Many said they took cash because they were threatened with legal action and forced eviction. Many others did so for the simple reason that they were not aware of their rights – the Narmada Bachao Andolan was not active in the area at the time.
The stark fact is that displaced people cannot buy land with the special rehabilitation grant given by the government because land is too expensive. It is the government’s responsibility to make up the difference between the value of the land to be purchased and the cash that was illegally distributed. The people, now aware of their entitlement, have offered to return every paisa they have received from the government, in return for land.
Their demands, like the demands of the hundreds of thousands of others, have been ignored. Paltry cash ‘compensation’ to subsistence farmers, most of whom are already neck deep in debt to money lenders, is only a short detour on the road to destitution and penury. We all know that.
Now your government has bulldozed buildings, destroyed hand-pumps in an effort to forcibly evict people from their homes. This was the immediate provocation for the NBA’s indefinite hunger fast. Even now there appears to be no accurate account of how many families will be affected.
In the light of all this, your government’s much-publicized Dalit Agenda – like its rehabilitation policy for displaced people- is just a meaningless piece of paper. Hundreds of thousands of Dalits and Adivasis have been and will continue to be displaced without rehabilitation by the 29 dams (in various stages of completion) that you have planned on the Narmada.
To respect the human rights of the ‘oustees’ of one dam would put your government in the untenable position of having set a precedent for respecting human rights for the rest. And this, I can imagine is not a moral problem so much as a logistical one.
Your government has to choose between implementing its policies and protecting human rights. Obviously, it has chosen to proceed with its elaborate project of social engineering, banking on the fact that public opinion will, as it always does, sink into the bewildering swamp that stretches between what governments say and what they do.
In effect, the fragile communities of Dalits and adivasis which your ‘Bhopal Document’ claims to protect, are being systematically, mercilessly crushed. Unfortunately, we are driven to have this public conversation under terrifying circumstances, when every hour and every day pushes those on fast into a more critical stage.
And lest you misunderstand, let me say that while I do not support or encourage the idea of a 22year old adivasi girl starving herself to death to make her voice heard, I completely understand the urgency of her situation and am at a loss for words when she says to me “What else can I do?” I’d like to point her question to you – what else can she do? What else can she do when she and her community stand to lose everything they ever had?
When I spoke to Ram Kuar, I thought I should tell her that even if she didn’t die, to go so long without food might make her an invalid for life.
She replied ,”the government is stealing all our future meals away from all of us. If I stop eating now, perhaps we will be heard. Perhaps the rest of us will be saved.”
The simple fact is that if there was no problem, why would the people be so agitated? Why on earth would young Ram Kuar be risking her life to demand justice? There can be no greater insult to someone who is doing that than suggesting they are doing it for some base motive or for no real reason.
In your letter you say that ‘government buildings’ are being demolished so that door and window frames are re-cycled and used elsewhere. You say nothing about forcibly sealing hand-pumps and destroying water sources, exposing people and cattle to unbearable thirst at the height of summer. Unfortunately, people cannot be re-cycled like door and window frames.
Finally, in what is perhaps the most disturbing part of your letter, you suggest that adivasi people on a fast unto death, demanding their rights to life, to livelihood, to water are “harming the interests of the tribal community”. What could you possibly mean by that?
It really saddens me to have to write this letter to you. Truly. Because you’re a good Chief Minister on paper – can you not match that with some real re-thinking, some real action on the ground?
Arundhati Roy

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