An activist's account

Print edition : August 28, 1999

AN activist of the Swasraya Vypeen group from Kochi in Kerala, Jacob Vadakkachery, was present during the slow submergence and was in the same hut as Medha Patkar, Dadlyabai, Devrambhai and Ranyabhai, who had pledged to stay at the satyagraha site regard less of the water level. The following is his account of the events of two days when the waters rose.

August 10: "The water began to rise in the afternoon and by 2 p.m. the tree with the NBA flag sank. The day before that a police team had been shouting to us from afar to move to a safer place but we shouted slogans in return and stayed where we were. On the night of the August 10, Medha had returned from a meeting. By then the water was lapping at the flag post near the satyagraha hut. Medha, Dadlyabai, Ranyabhai and Devrambhai had decided to die in the waters if it came to that. Please understand that this was n ot a jal samarpan. They were sitting in a satyagraha, and the basic idea of this is that you do not run away from the situation.

August 11: The water came into the hut at 2 a.m. It was about one-foot deep. Medha asked all the volunteers to leave but we refused. In the lantern light I could see that every 20 minutes the waters rose about nine inches. The other people of the village were in a larger shed on higher ground. They did not know of the decision of Medha and others to stay at the satyagraha point if the waters rose. We were eight persons in the hut. The mood was peaceful. Some people were crying softly. Medha sang satyagraha songs a nd bhajans. She wrote a letter (detailing the basic issues surrounding the damming of the Narmada).

At 6 a.m. on August 11, the water was at chest level. Adivasi women came into the hut and stood with Medha. She tried to send them away. There was the danger of the hut collapsing. The poles were weak, erected as they were in slushy ground. A large bran ch of the mahua tree had broken off during the night because of the flood. After 16 hours in the water we were shivering, but Medha and the three others were calm. Ranyabhai and Devrambhai wore impassive expressions. I saw the real face of Gandhian satya graha.

At 10 a.m. a person from the village came with a piece of paper, which said that the Collector and the Superintendent of Police were arriving. At 3 p.m., about 50 uniformed men and the S.P. arrived by boat. They sat on some stones on higher ground and ob served us standing chest deep in water. At about 6 p.m. six women police personnel, wearing salwar-kameez, arrived. Then the arrests began. Adivasi women surrounded Medha but they were pulled away and kicked by the police women. One old man was treated q uite brutally. He kept shouting: "Remember, this is not the fate of the Narmada. It is the fate of the whole nation."

We were taken in an open truck to the S.P's office in Dedgaon and charged under Section 68 of the Bombay Police Act and released the next day under Section 69 of the same Act. I am not sure what happened after we left but I know that the arrests were a nticipated and some satyagrahis hid themselves. When we were taken away they continued the satyagraha. After our release we demonstrated in front of the tahsildar's office demanding a survey of the losses incurred by the villagers. Then we all returned to Domkhedi.

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