Forty-five-year-old Keshubhai of Manibeli has come to symbolise not only all that is wrong with state power, but also the Narmada Bachao Andolan's campaign against civil rights violations by the Maharashtra government. His hut, the first that would have been submerged by the rising Narmada waters, was "forcibly demolished" by the Maharashtra government on June 3. He spoke to Down To Earth at the venue of NBA leader Medha Patkar's recent hunger strike:
Did you do anything to stop your hut from being demolished?
What could I have done against the state's strong-arm tactics? There was a 1,000-strong police force in Manibeli at that time, more than 100 of whom came with labourers to raze my hut. I was not there when they destroyed the hut -- I had fled to the jungle, fearing for my life. My daughter Kunta opposed them, but paid for her "impertinence". Despite our attempts to make the sarkar drop the use of force, we only ended up bearing its brunt.
What happened to your belongings? Have you lost anything?
My possessions were bundled into trucks and dumped inside a tin shed at a resettlement site. I was among the two lucky ones of the village who were offered residential and agricultural land and a tin shed of our choice. The belongings of other people were dumped in the open.
I was fortunate not to have lost anything. The authorities were extra careful because, thanks to NBA, I was a VIP evictee.
Will you return to Manibeli?
I will definitely return, with or without my hut. And, I will plant myself firmly on my own land, come hell or high water. I am not afraid of submergence. Manibeli is my birthplace and the abode of my ancestors and I have no intention of leaving it. The land is rich and the Narmada water is pure. In fact, I will demand that the government compensate me for the mental and physical harassment I have endured.
(One month after Keshubhai's hut was unceremoniously pulled down, the Maharashtra government rebuilt it in Manibeli at a site above this year's submergence level. This was considered one of the victories in NBA's struggle to stop the dam.)
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