Diwali… on the two edges of the world

||Diwali… on the two edges of the world||

When I decided to spend Diwali days with the adivasis, our saathis of last 34 years struggle, in the hilly villages of Maharashtra, I knew what was the scenario there. In Manibeli, Chimalkhedi, Bamani and Mukhdi, houses after houses and fields had been submerged… lost partially or fully to the oblivion! Yet when I reached, crossing a number of police checks by boat from the Sardar Sarovar dam site, I got a shiver witnessing the huge ocean that the mother river was turned into … a demonic!!

But … but when the boatsmen, Dinesh, Sukhram and others talked about it… they didn't seem to be in despair. It was me, my thoughts. Guilt beyond what was achieved, for what is still not, was also filling my heart. There were no lights anyway. Darkness had been part of their lives, the solar lamps revealing the bits and pieces of the remains, but the wholistic picture was still of grave deprivation.

'Ambulance on water' or 'Dispensary on barge' was not reaching them. Once a while when it did, mostly without a doctor, didn't treat all the patients Snakes & snake bites have increased. After the panchnamas, no compensation paid for the losses of houses & crops this year, as yet. A package of 5kg of rice and dal was rejected by Manilalkaka, a man with his wife Jadiben, who though elderly is equally bold. A 'bhagat', he would eat only what is cooked by himself. Their buffaloes, members of the family had drowned and some lost to similar flooding in 1993… yet he had sheltered me when underground during the struggle of 1993. He had right to 2 hectares of cultivable land with irrigation. But choosing Gujarat for resettlement, he is feeling cheated, with a huge drain passing through his land, which he can't shift to, without constructing drainage as a solution. With his house under water, shelterless family of two with cattle, is hanging between the administration of Maharashtra & Gujarat. He is now here!

Natwarbhai with Son Santosh, a boy of 6 or 7 years in age, studying in our Jeevanshala, was having high fever for a week but dare not go to Kevadia and Garudeshwar, spending an amount, difficult to spend and recover, with petty source of income. His land in Gujarat, without irrigation, is again not good for rehabilitation. Having cultivated through sharecropping, he had meager earnings. This land, and Arjunbhai's, Narayan Bhai's (with a Jungle standing on it), is far away in Gujarat and the own state government, Maharashtra is either neglecting or avoiding… since years. Gujarat is not responding to the officials from another state.

They all had lots of custard apples and cucumbers even after much land with diversity was destroyed in front of their eyes… Their houses, fully or partly have gone under waters, while tens of families are compelled to take shelter into tin sheds with cattle and all belongings… in an unlivable condition for adivasis.

With no full and fair rehabilitation in sight as yet, the world of theirs was on the brink of destruction, no doubt.

Noorji and youngsters in Chimalkhedi lived in some houses drowned years ago, already rebuilt with tins. This year, others are awaiting water level to come down and their houses to open up… woods are lost to the 'sea' and so are the lands with crops.

Ranya Gonjya Padvi's house was my final abode, one who was finding it difficult to climb down earlier, but is not happy with the River reaching his doorstep. He still has stayed put with cattle, insects, cocks and hens, a doggy, a cat and all his companions. His speeches in every meeting since 1986, even in the 'Desh Bachao, Desh Banao' National Tour were fiery and full of a nature trail. He always referred to kidi-makodi, (ants and insects) to be harmed or killed by the dam! “Listen to them, they are speechless but a live”, he always insisted, with an appeal.

When I slept in his small dark house made out of Bamboo, wood and all materials gathered from the local environs, he was thrilled and filled with love. That was both ways, not one sided at all. They had four cots but I refused to take one… finally I did, realizing that big black ants were moving all over! Yet those climbed up and kept waking me up all night. Rice with curd stored for a week that I had eaten satiated my hunger but the memories filled my hearts. Rajubai, Ranya's wife, was an active witness too… everything kept me awake. The sounds of all kinds and the wind hovering around, the Diwali night.

Ranyadaya has no solar lamp, no water storage tank but has a spirit and a light within. The Sarpanch has distributed all to those who are safe & secure, in the upper hamlets! Party matters. There was not a bit of complaint… What flowed in his own style of narration was plain analysis of the government not caring for adivasis and destroying life! There was a deep concern for all who has faced submergence, far away….. Devrambhai, Kamlubahen and all in the plains.

With Ranya daya and his wife

I returned back by boat, having noted much data, names, description of violations and planned steps… into another world. Having walked a few kilometers and getting a ride from a young forest guard, sensitive and courageous, I entered another world… of Shopping Mall, lights with vulgar decor sites, sounds with no peace- of crackers to vehicles. I realized who was the culprit. It is this world that is destroying the world of Ranyadaya! Stop this, I screamed in my heart… Within few hours, policemen without uniform (in mufti) came up from all directions to gherao (encircle) and follow. Why are 'THEY', ruling giants like Rupani and Modi- so scared of us? I asked this to the officials and police, not less than 20! They too were suffering due to orders, on the Diwali day. They were mum as slaves, with a smile- true or false- for me! Our 'rally of vehicles' moved a long distance. I got it confirmed that 'THEY' knew what they are doing to the farms with standing crops etc. was wrong, and hence the insecurity, leading to security all over… trying to trap us!

The two worlds I witnessed… rather the two edges of one world, on the very Diwali day, were like two shores of the 'manmade sea' difficult to be crossed in a 'dungi' (trunk boat) of Ranyadaya!

साभार दलित मीडिया वाच