Monday, December 18, 2006

Narmada

Drowned Out is showing at the British Museum on January 12. Narmada is now museumised history. A truly tragic comment on our times and on an unfolding disaster.

When, at a recent lecture in Oxford, I asked Montek Singh Ahluwalia about Narmada resettlement (specifically, why adivasis constitute 55% of people displaced by dams in independent India when they are only 8% of the population, and whether this is fair), he said three things. First, he asked in classic modernist fashion, 'How long do you want adivasis to live the way they do?' This, by the way, is pretty much what Justice Kirpal said in NBA v. Union of India. Forget about what they want, how long can we allow them to exist in the way that they do. Second, he said the anti-dam movement plays very well to, and is the darling of, Western NGOs and some of its leaders speak better English than the English (a comment that I thought was particularly deranged because, what, pray tell, does this have to do with the merits of the issue? Clearly a gratuitous statement intended to delegitimise dissent. Curiously - and I'm trying to step into his mindset for a moment here - it doesn't seem to matter that he plays very well to Western capital and speaks very good English. None of that undermines his credentials to continue to speak in the national interest, but when a social movement does it - whoah! they can't possibly be 'authentic'). Third, on a somewhat manic triumphalist note, he said India doesn't have too many dams, it has too few (with not the slightest acknowledgement of our miserable dam-building record, flawed cost-benefit analyses, underestimated life spans due to premature silting up, etc.) No, we were simply told that we needed more dams. Bring on the river-interlinking, huh?

[and before anyone reprimands me for being indiscreet on my blog, these remarks were not made under Chatham House rules or any equivalent understanding, so I feel fully justified in broadcasting them. not just justified, duty-bound.]

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