A Narmada diary

Posted: 18 January 2001

"Man must harness nature in order to create a better life for himself. The Narmada Sardar dam is the new temple of modern India," booms a 1971 Indian government propaganda film, A Village Smiles. But the Adivasi, original inhabitants of the area under threat of submergence by this massive dam project, are not smiling.

Narmada© Gil Moti/Still PicturesIn 1985 the 'Save Narmada Movement' (NBA) began a determined campaign of peaceful resistance to the dam, refusing to move from their land even if it meant drowning. Film-makers Simantini Dhuru and Anand Patwardhan spent five years making this gripping record of the Adivasi's struggle. Leaving the land is a "necessary sacrifice" for development, say officials but, a protester asks, "can they explain why some gain so much, and others lose?" Denouncing the inadequacy of resettlement and compensation arrangements, the Adivasi say the dam will be of no benefit to them and that they are effectively being told to donate their homes to the government. Under pressure from the NBA, and mounting evidence of serious flaws in the plans, the World Bank withdrew its funding for the project in 1993. But the Indian government refuses to discuss the issue with the NBA and presses on, harassing the local population to drive them out. "Fire on us now! Why wait to drown us later?" demands one woman. She has not long to wait: by the film's end, the water level has reached 80.3 metres and the next monsoons will flood most of the villages previously depicted.

Reviewer: Nick Bradshaw

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