INDIA NEWS, AUGUST 25, 2006
New Delhi – After 20 years of fighting the battle against the Narmada dam, rights activist Medha Patkar says that democratic spaces are closing and she feels ‘ashamed and shattered’.
‘Twenty years after the Narmada movement I feel ashamed and shattered. The democratic spaces are closing,’ Patkar said late Thursday while delivering the eighth D.S. Borker Memorial lecture here.
‘The whole state has become corporatised. This is a disease, which is killing democracy. Business houses like Reliance – a divided family – are being given land overnight to build special economic zones. Reliance will now divide the nation.’
India cannot march ahead unless it learns to rely on its natural and human resources, Patkar said at the lecture series held in memory of civil servant D.S. Borker.
Talking about her vision of India in 2047, she asserted: ‘We have enough resources to fulfil our needs. There is no crisis of resources. This crisis is fictitious.’
‘Unless we empower communities and make them self-reliant, we cannot deal with the vulgar inequality and vulgar consumerism in India,’ Patkar, who has been fighting tirelessly for the rights of those displaced by the Narmada dam project, said.
‘For this we should all stand up and voice our concerns. We need a more participatory form of democracy and we need to decentralise our management of resources.’
Patkar said we needed to junk the outdated theory of development.
‘That is why the godowns are full, but stomachs empty. We should be ashamed to celebrate a century of freedom if this scenario continues.’
Referring to the tragedy in Rajasthan where five members of a family drowned earlier this week while the entire town watched, she said: ‘The world’s largest democracy just stood and watched the 11-hour drama and all five members of a family drowned one by one standing atop an Indica car. You can imagine the plight of the communities waiting to be submerged standing on a land called India.’
She added that the organisers of the lecture were being threatened for associating with the Narmada movement.
Sitaram Yechury, Rajya Sabha MP, who chaired the session said ‘unless we bridge the divide between Real India and Shining India our vision for 2047 will just remain a dream’.
‘People should control the resources. Their future should be in their hands and not under corporate control,’ Yechury said.
‘There is a clash of three visions – growth vs equity; control of resources and man-nature dialectic. Unless we resolve this in favour of democracy, secularism, economic empowerment of people we cannot change much before 2047.’
Columnist Praful Bidwai said Patkar with her Narmada movement had exposed the contradictions between development and environment protection.
Describing the displacement of people as ‘cultural genocide’, Bidwai said: ‘Thirty-five million people have been displaced in the name of development. Only five million have been rehabilitated.
He said Patkar may have opposed dams but has built many ‘bridges’. ‘She has built the bridge between activism centred on Gandhian and Sarvodaya values; civil society and political parties; and between the reds (Left) and the greens (civil society).’