Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Medha Patkar and the Dam

Who has the luxury to fight against big dams, nuclear weapons, thermal plants, chemical industries, and other ‘development’ activities?

Filthy rich and highly developed countries like US, Norway, France, Japan, etc.

They made their dams when they had to- by bulldozing forests, creating a new landscape, in the process killing some species, and moving people far far away from their homes, all in the name of 'progress and development'. That’s why they now have the luxury to relax, smoke a pipe and discuss the ills of such projects.

Arundhati Roy is a fake. She thinks all this ‘drama’ of supporting NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan) will sell more of her books. And our poster boy Amir Khan, who thinks that this is real-life ‘Rang De Basanti’ pitched in to say his ‘two-cent’ worth opinion on the topic. He thinks he needs to emulate Richard Gere and U2 Bono. You know what’s wrong with all these celebrities and pseudo-intellectuals? They are also filthy rich, and are now smoking a pipe, and pondering over the purpose of their life. They suddenly realize they need to be part of a movement or a revolution otherwise their wasted life would have no meaning.

Do you know why so many ‘women organizations’ support NBA? It’s because they are all filled with these bored middle class women who are also looking for a meaning to their life- other than working at a monotonous job and serving their husband & children with food everyday. Most of them are always rebelling- first against dad and mom, then against the school and college, and then against the husband and society, and so on. They need to vent out their frustration, and they seek that avenue in these movements by sympathizing with such activists. I bet these organizations would not support NBA if it was not led by a woman. All these people- rich celebrities, attention-seeking authors, and bored wives, need to choose the right kind of struggle to attach themselves to.
If you choose Kashmir issue, its too political, if you choose Babri Masjid issue, its too religious, if you try rehabilitating begging children, its too tough- can’t see results in one’s life time. Therefore, you choose a movement which can get its rewards within one’s life time, shorter the better, and if it is a noble cause led by a woman, like rehabilitation of tribals, then its even better.

NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan) fits the bill. It is led by a strong woman, dressed as clumsily and shabbily as possible, who reminds many of the leaders from Independence Movement. They see in her something they do not have in them. And they all extend their support with gusto to a cause they have no clue or idea about.

Most of them have no idea what is going on.

Medha Patkar, with all due respects to her will and determination, has directly contributed to poverty, famine, drought and hunger in a population bigger than that of France for the last 20 years with her obstinate obstruction of building Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River. First, she was completely opposed to the dam citing movement of the tribal people. She didn’t want them to be displaced in the first place, reasoning that their lifestyle would be impacted. Here is one rattlebrained lady who thinks that India should not provide water and electricity to its millions so that few thousand tribals can continue to live in wretched poverty practicing their stone-age life style. In all other parts of India, we are doing exactly the opposite- moving such people to civilized world, giving them potty training, stopping child marriages, prohibiting sati (suttee), etc.

Only recently did she change her stance from ‘no-dam’ to ‘dam-OK-if-rehab-OK’. For all these previous years, she was just opposed to all kinds of concessions.

When India goes for nuclear tests at Pokhran, they move villages away from it, and when it goes mining for aluminum, they move towns away from it, and when it tests missiles, it asks all the villagers nearby to move. When Kashmiri Pandits move, they move forever, losing their land and lifestyle, to live in refugee camps. How come I don’t see Arundhati Roy and Amir Khan there?

[I know I am gonna get really rammed for this article]


  1. great post. i'll nominate it for for desi pundit

  2. And some people who have too much time on their hands, and not enough inclination to think on the matter, rant mindlessly and make offensive generalisations.

  3. very good. see also


  4. You know whats your problem you love attacking everyone. Medha, Arundhati ah..okay then Aamir well... then all middle class women fihting for any cause... ???? then every developed country too much. You are not interested in the issue just the people it involves.
    People like you do nothing other than writng hate mail
    Yes god fears you and curses the day he allowed you into the world

  5. i think chitra is medha or arundhati in disguise

  6. she is definitely not aamir in disguise :-)

  7. Plz read this & then think about aamir's action, If he is serious about the issue then he must first stop endorsing Coke because Coke is causing demage to farmers in Kerala & their situaltion is same like the people who need rehabilitation

    Visit :www.countercurrents.org/glo-coke250703.htm

    Shahul Hameed, the farmer who owns the modest smallholding, could coax only five sacks of rice from the land, and a meagre 200 coconuts. His irrigation wells have run dry. Meanwhile, the huge factory extracts up to 1.5 million litres of water a day from the deep wells it has drilled into the aquifer to produce Coke, Fanta, Sprite and the drink the locals call, without irony, Thumbs-Up.

    But the cruellest twist is that the plant bottles a brand of mineral water while local people - who could never afford it - have to walk up to six miles twice a day to fetch water. The turbid, brackish water which remains at the bottom of their wells is now too high in dissolved salts to be healthy to drink, cook with or even wash in. Some claim it made them ill.

    As the summer and the water crisis intensifies, the hardship of the local people is worsening. So is the row between them and the company whose name is for many a synonym for the global power of transnational capitalism. For the past 459 days, there has been a daily picket of the factory. There have been street demonstrations and rallies, and spontaneous blackening of Coca-Cola hoardings. More than 300 people have been arrested

  8. send arundhati on a fast for coca cola

  9. Hmm...I've closely been, in the recent past, with two very famous Indian names, who are also seen in awe for their developmental work/ prowess (naming them would be a little impolite though). Names like Shabana Azami, Shobh De, Javed Akhtar used to be their regular visitors. There were many more...several from the developed nations. What struck me the most was the eagerness with they showed their foreign audiences about the Indian darks.

    They seemed like saying "look how
    gloomy almost every aspect about India is, and see how watchfull we are acting as your appointed watchdogs".

    "Pour your kind attention and funds", is the conclusion they left for their white skinned friends to imagine.

    It would be far too stereotyping though, if we started calling everyone out there filthy names. Things are not good with these five star activists/ celebrities/ chronic social workers - no doubt regarding that. But, where are they perfect in the larger Indian scenario, anyway?!

    Don't we overlook the traffic signals on a regular basis? Don't we go cosily with the lurking corruption so unashamed?! Don't we prefer for the cast, linguistic or religious prejudice more than anything else?!

    The issue is complicated, and eventhough I agree with the author's general view here....I'd rather hesitate in coming to so many conclusions, so quickly.

    Everybody has a role to play in this vast Indian society. These pseudo-intellectuals would get a stern warning about theirs, if we started to behave more disciplined individually in what we have been assigned as ours.

    Pankaj Mohan

  10. tell you what:

    Let Arundhati be placed in charge of fasting and dharna for displaced Kashmiri pundits since she has an international stature.

    Let Medha look after Coke agitation cuz she is in water already.

  11. Madura:
    I apologize for making such remarks against "women".

    It is not intended that way, but if it came out that way I take the responsibility. Sometimes I do make sweeping statements putting all of them into one class- which I shouldn't.

    But I did carry a negative opinion of "those" women protestors. And I felt they were doing so because they are bored. That does not mean all women are bored house wives.

    But again, I apologize.

  12. We had a discussion on this topic a few weeks ago and like you, I blasted the role of Patkar and Roy in their activism against the dam. It was then that one of my friends pointed out that it is not fair to doubt their dedication/integrity. He said none of us can be judges of that. It may be true what they are fighting for is not proper (in your point of view) but why they are fighting should never be put in bad light.

    I think thats where this post of yours fails. It makes judgemental remarks on intentions as opposed to actions.

    Disappointed my friend, disappointed...(but then we learn every day, don't we?)

  13. If you think that Medha patkar and the other ladies in NBA are a bored lot (who enjoy rebelling against any person, starting from their parents to husband and then to society), how about you?
    Have you ever tried fasting for 3 days? Such great sacrifices do not happen without an underlying strong conviction.

  14. The Film "Maqbool" has a very interesting line mouthed by Naseerudhin Shaw; "Srishti me santhulan ki bahut jaroorat hai!Aag ko hamesha pani ka dar laga rahana chahiye!!". Whether its Medha partkar,Anna Hazare,Arundhati Roy they all stand aginst system.They might have their wrong sides but they provide an alternative point of view and opinion that is essential for any democracy to prosper.

  15. YOU KNOW SUJOY.....

  16. Why Sujoy you havent visited Narmada, I have,and seen the issue there closely and the angst of the people....what do you know about the technicality of large dams...Rehabilitation issues detail...Land Aquisition Rules...Nations and Nationalism....Development Paradigms..What is Science?...what is the link of science to hegemony?....the history of nation-state linked with it...KNOW ALL THESE READ MORE AND THEN COMMENT Fundamentalism of any hardliner like Hindutva Brigade.Can you Imagine a life without food, improper sleep.WHY DO THE PEOPLE OF MP FACE SUBMERGENCE FOR BUILDING A DAM IN GUJARAT????? BECAUSE BOTH ARE RULED BY BJP??? KOI STATE YA USKE LOG KISI PARTY KA JAGIR HAI KYA????

  17. an extremely insightful blog..thanks!

  18. It's interesting that you blast Arundhati Roy as a lackey of the West willing to please them, but your views on development and modernization are no different. You're basically toeing the line of the West - development at any cost. Modernization is the new god. Nuclear reactors are the best. Is that not blind faith? Have you thought about the radioactive waste that will remain with us for centuries?? How do you know that the full potential of the solar energy in India has been reached? I'd pick solar energy any day over nuclear energy.

    And, one more thing. All this development that displaces rural people without giving them just compensation almost always benefits the rich and the urban. Sure, you can call it development if you like, but I beg to differ. Do you really think this development will benefit the rural and the poor? I doubt it. Also, you should look into the negative environmental effects of dams. They are not the silver bullets that you think they are. There are pros and cons of every project. Disregarding environmental issues when developing will end up harming the country in the long run. And why should we make the same mistakes that the West made? A wise person learns from the mistakes of others, no?

    You also seem to come across in your post as very condescending to the women in India and that their intentions are less than pure when it comes to protesting against the injustices. Feeling a bit patriarchal, are we? Time you recited Vande Mataram a few times. And not just the first two verses either. ;) :P

    As they say, criticize the actions, not the person. Your post lost credibility because you chose to attack the person.


  19. Hi Sujai

    Am a very late bird on this. Am reading it after a year. Anyway...

    I do think that this post was more filled with adhominems than actually taking on Medha Patkar's arguments/rationale for her efforts.

    ~ Vinod

  20. Sujai,

    I cannot stop myself from appreciating your skill at dismantling dubious personalities.

    Medha is a great burden to activists, and Arundathi roy is a great loss to literature.

    You mix significant humour in the process

  21. "Have you thought about the radioactive waste that will remain with us for centuries?? How do you know that the full potential of the solar energy in India has been reached? I'd pick solar energy any day over nuclear energy."

    Ummm. Only people who are really ignorant about energy spout bullshit like this. To power an average suburbanized american-dream house, you would need half a football field worth of solar panels, and that would only work out if you had 24 hour sunlight, which you dont.

    Nuclear waste can be reprocessed and bred using fast breeder reactors and the waste from that can be buried deep inside a mountain, without any risk of contamination. Coal power plants are the real problem, from a global warming perspective, but you don't see anyone opposing that.

    "And, one more thing. All this development that displaces rural people without giving them just compensation almost always benefits the rich and the urban."

    Strong property laws are the underbed for any developed economy. We don't have that sadly. What to do?

  22. Umm, Sriram, take a look here:

    I rest my case. :)
    (Where there's a will, there's a way.)

    You might want to look into the issue of nuclear waste disposal in the US and the reasons behind why nuclear reactors continue to store their wastes on-site. There are safety issues with transportation and disposal.

    No one is proposing a 100% switch to solar - we will still need non-renewable energy as backup for days when the sun doesn't shine, but the sooner we kick the oil+coal addiction and start investing in renewable and clean energy, more prudent it is. Solar energy doesn't come with the baggage of radioactive waste, so it gets a thumbs up.

    Also, I'd suggest having a conversation without using language like this:
    Only people who are really ignorant about energy spout bullshit like this.

    Just because someone has a different viewpoint than yours, doesn't necessarily mean they're ignorant. ;)

  23. Anonymous: Will the solution you pointed out work in apartment buildings? Imagine sharing that roof space with 300 people. How would you make it work in a place like Bombay? How about an office complex or industrial estate.

    Can you show me an example of an office complex that either that got off the grid completely, in any part of the world through solar?

    Here's the best I got

    "Silicon Valley's Cypress Semiconductor, majority owner of solar cell maker SunPower Corp., has a 336-kilowatt system generating more than 10 percent of its corporate-office electricity needs, spokesman Matt Beevers said."

    From here:
    "A utility-scale power plant needs approximately 1 km sq for every 20-60 megawatts (MW) generated.

    So what is the forecast? Even though energy from renewable energy sources is growing rapidly, with markets such as solar cells, wind and biodiesel experiencing annual double digit growth, the overall share is only expected to increase marginally over the coming decades as the demand for energy also grows rapidly."

    If we were living in some fairy tale land where I could change the laws of thermodynamics and warp the spacetime continuum, I'd pick Solar over hydroelectric and coal and nuclear too.

    So let's discuss potential solutions as based on ground realities instead of wishful thinking, because this country needs electricity, water, arable land, and growth.

    Solar may be able to fractionally reduce our energy dependency on fossil, hydro, or nuclear, but without the latter three, you can't run modern civilization. That's a bitter pill you're going to have to swallow for the time being.

    Saying that our people need Solar energy is like saying: "Let them eat cake!"

    And that pisses me off.

  24. Sriramji,
    you haven't commented on the on-site nuclear waste in the US and why is it not being "disposed" off in the Yucca mountain.

    Also, you might want to google the effects of radioactive ore-mining for nuclear fuel on local populations (Australia, India). And keep in mind that the supply of ore (like oil) is not limitless - it will run out too.

    Yes, I know that solar by itself will not be *the* solution - but it is part of the solution, and the sooner we start exploring and investing in it, the sooner it will become cheaper and increasingly practical. Why do you have this irrational resistance to solar energy when it can and is playing an important role??

    You also seem to think that the solar panels have to be on-site to provide energy. Not so. In fact, Egypt is considering installing a solar farm in the desert and sell surplus energy to European countries. Spain has a solar tower that generates 11 MW of energy and supplies it to the nearby city.

    Many villages and rural areas in India will probably benefit more from solar energy than nuclear energy.

    Also do some research on Germany and other European countries that are investing more and more in renewable energy. I am already aware of the solar panels at Google - thanks. Change doesn't happen overnight with the throwing of a switch - it takes time and effort.
    Here's a link on a solar city being planned:

    You might also want to spend some time checking out these links: http://www.solartoday.org/

    And this is from wikipedia:
    * The total solar energy available to the earth is approximately 3850 zettajoules (ZJ) per year.[12]
    * Oceans absorb approximately 285 ZJ of solar energy per year.
    * Winds can theoretically supply 6 ZJ of energy per year.[13]
    * Biomass captures approximately 1.8 ZJ of solar energy per year.[14][15]
    * Worldwide energy consumption was 0.471 ZJ in 2004.

    As for bitter pill, you swallow it- I prefer to eat cake. ;)

    Look, I know that fossil fuels and nuclear plants are here today and tomorrow - that's a reality. But why invest more in non-renewables when we have renewables available which haven't been explored to their potential because we had cheap and (at that time what we thought was) a never-ending supply of oil, and Peak Oil hadn't entered the popular lexicon? Anyways, you are entitled to your opinion, as I am to mine. For me, renewable energy (wind, geo-thermal, solar, tidal etc.) is the prudent and practical way forward, along with energy efficiency (we are quite wasteful currently) over the next 100 years. Which doesn't imply that non-renewables have zero role, but I hope they have less and less role. As I said before, where there's a will, there's a way.

  25. The link for solar city planned in Abu Dhabi, which was cut off.

  26. Ross Gelbspan has written a couple of books on the oil+coal industry in the US and the enormous power they wield, the influence they have on politicians and government energy policy (which gives renewable energy short shrift), and how their PR campaigns help build up skepticism about global warming and alternatives like renewable energy.

  27. It's not being disposed in Yucca mountain because of the NIMBY clause. Quite sad, I must say. When compared to coal, it's a lot cleaner solution as you can bury it in a geologically stable area.

    Yes, the world will experience peak uranium in the future, but the waste from one cycle can be used to breed thorium, which India has vast quantities of.

    France gets around 75% of its electricity from nuclear power plants.
    But this is all irrelevant to our discussion. The Narmada Dam project was conceived in 1940s, mind you. It's a shame that we're still having this discussion, and our lethargic pace of development has been further hampered by the likes of Medha Patkar.

    To have you come in and say that we should look at other energy sources like Solar, when the discussion is on whether we should displace a few people so this country can exploit its rivers, that's the question. Yes, dams are not the silver bullet, these rivers deposit silt over the plains that keep them fertile. By damming rivers, these plains will require the user of fertilizer to keep it arable.

    However, Solar is not the silver bullet solution. If it were, the market would have already chosen it and gone with it.

    Solar is an excellent micro-power solution for electrifying villages that are nowhere near a grid, enough to power a small bulb, radio or laptop, but for commercial and industrial requirements, it's a long way from being effective.

  28. I guess we just have a different definition of what "development" means and will have to agree to disagree. Displacing poor tribal people from their homes and destroying their means of livelihood without them having a say and without giving them just compensation is not development but a human rights violation. YMMV.

  29. Solar is an excellent micro-power solution for electrifying villages that are nowhere near a grid, enough to power a small bulb, radio or laptop,

    I guess you didn't really look at the link of solar house in the comments above. Are those solar panels (on the roof) only powering small bulb, radio or laptop?

    Read my comments again. I didn't say solar energy is the silver bullet - so why do you keep singing that like a broken record?

  30. Anonymous: At a larger scale it is not cost effective. Yet.

  31. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  32. I guess it is bit old. But nevertheless. I suggest having a look at this book http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/category/Non_Fiction/Narmada_Dammed_9780143028659.aspx

    You might get a different perspective!!!

  33. this is totally true, it's a real shame because all the problems related with money are problematic with the ambient, we need more people like you to lead the next revelion against the moderm wordl.

  34. Arundhati Roy is a nice writer! But the problem is that every Indian writer thinks they can become social activist because they know good English!


Dear Commenters:
Please identify yourself. At least use a pseudonym. Otherwise there will be too many *Anonymous*; making it confusing.

Do NOT write personal information or whereabouts about the author or other commenters. You are free to write about yourself. Please do not use abusive language. Do not indulge in personal attacks and insults.

Write comments which are relevant and make sense so that the debate remains healthy.