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In the name of the Greater Common Good

Aamir Khan has stirred up more than a hornet’s nest with his support for the NBA on the Narmada issue. Message boards everywhere are voicing passionate opinions. Ranging from strong protests, to insinuations that he is doing this to attract publicity for Fanaa, to support against Modi, the vehemence is shocking. The internet has become the new battleground apparently. It is definitely safer to call somebody names online (“…bloody bitch Medha…” – ) than voice it on the streets.

I’ve been reading Arundhati Roy’s collection of essays ‘The Algebra of Infinite Justice’. It is an eye-opener. After reading ‘The Greater Common Good’ that there is no way that you can support the building of the dam. The essay (like the rest of the book) makes you angry. It opens up the possibility that the NBA knows what they are doing. The sheer scale of the devastation rips you apart.

Maybe this will get your attention:

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According to a detailed study of 54 Large Dams done by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, the average number of people displaced by a Large Dam is 44,182. Admittedly, 54 dams out of 3,300 is not a big enough sample. But since it’s all we have, let’s try and do some rough arithmetic. A first draft. To err on the side of caution, let’s halve the number of people. Or, let’s err on the side of abundant caution and take an average of just 10,000 people per Large Dam. It’s an improbably low figure, I know, but …never mind. Whip out your calculators. 3,300 x 10,000 =

33 million. That’s what it works out to. Thirty-three million people. Displaced by big dams alone in the last fifty years What about those that have been displaced by the thousands of other Development Projects? At a private lecture, N.C. Saxena, Secretary to the Planning Commission, said he thought the number was in the region of 50 million (of which 40 million were displaced by dams). We daren’t say so, because it isn’t official. It isn’t official because we daren’t say so. You have to murmur it for fear of being accused of hyperbole. You have to whisper it to yourself, because it really does sound unbelievable. It can’t be, I’ve been telling myself. I must have got the zeroes muddled. It can’t be true. I barely have the courage to say it aloud. To run the risk of sounding like a ‘sixties hippie dropping acid (“It’s the System, man!”), or a paranoid schizophrenic with a persecution complex. But it is the System, man. What else can it be?

Fifty million people.

Go on, Government, quibble. Bargain. Beat it down. Say something.

I feel like someone who’s just stumbled on a mass grave.

Fifty million is more than the population of Gujarat. Almost three times the population of Australia. More than three times the number of refugees that Partition created in India. Ten times the number of Palestinian refugees. The Western world today is convulsed over the future of one million people who have fled from Kosovo.

A huge percentage of the displaced are tribal people (57.6 per cent in the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam). Include Dalits and the figure becomes obscene. According to the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, it’s about 60 per cent. If you consider that tribal people account for only eight per cent, and Dalits fifteen per cent, of India’s population, it opens up a whole other dimension to the story. The ethnic ‘otherness’ of their victims takes some of the pressure off the Nation Builders. It’s like having an expense account. Someone else pays the bills. People from another country. Another world. India’s poorest people are subsidising the lifestyles of her richest.

Did I hear someone say something about the world’s biggest democracy?
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Read the complete essay here.

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