Submerging history, culture and identity

Vibi Yhokha | Kohima, March 25

A visit to Chadong village, a Naga village under Ukhrul district in Manipur will give you a rare view of uncertainty and apprehension living under the shadow of a dam construction. The village carries a deserted look. There are no children playing around, no old people sunbathing outside and most houses are in a dilapidated condition. The Church too appears empty on a Sunday.

Chadong village is one among the 11 villages that will soon be submerged under the Mapithel Dam construction of the Thoubal Multi Purpose Project. On January 10 this year, the Thoubal river was blocked, leading the water levels to rise and submerging 10 hectares of land including paddy fields. By monsoon, most of the paddy fields will submerge.

Standing 66 metres high and 1074 metres long, the dam was approved by the Planning Commission in 1980. Ansal Properties and Industries Limited, New Delhi and Progressive Construction Limited Hyderabad are taking on the construction works. The project is set to produce 7.5 megawatt of electricity while providing 10 million gallons of water to Imphal, daily. However the project will displace over 12,000 people, submerge around 11 villages and 777.34 hectares of paddy fields, 110.75 hectares of homestead, 293. 53 hectares of jhum land and 595.1 hectares of forest land.

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Faced with this scenario, some men gathered in the community hall to talk about their struggle. Each face carried a gaunt look. That look is of fatigue – fatigue from protesting for almost twenty five years against the dam construction. They seem to have lost count of the protests and rallies held. In 2015 itself, four protests were held. One of them mentioned that this fatigue under the shadow of the dam has dissuaded them from building toilets for years. Their struggle is one of the longest against construction of dams in India. (See – Narmada,

Despite the area being a Seismic zone 5 (the highest risk zones), no Environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted, nor Social Impact Assessment (SIA) carried out, an assessment that is most crucial in any developmental projects that will determine the resettlement, rehabilitation and relocation of the inhabitants. The villagers were never given any Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

After much protest and talks, the Manipur government agreed to provide compensation, however only a few were compensated, that too in seven installments from 1996 to 2003. Demands were also made to the authorities to do a holistic review of the project.

The government never listened, says Thamni Kashung, a resident of Chadong and Advisor for the Mapithel Dam Affected Villages Organisation (MDAVO). “For us, we will continue to protest until our genuine demands are met,” asserts Thanmi. One of their demands being resettlement and relocation of the whole community together, so that the relationships are kept intact and their culture preserved. However no assurances were given.

(Someone asks about the year of establishment of the village over which Honreikhui Kashung replies, “There is no historical record, because we have been settling here since time immemorial.” Chadong village has been there since time immemorial that the villagers know the name of each plant and insect in their land. As is the case for many areas in the region, records of the village only appear with the arrival of Christianity in 1935.)

Our voice and struggle has become so powerless, says Honreikhui Kashung as he cites how the government continues to use different tactics to suppress their movements, to the extent of using outfits to threaten the activists.

As one passes through the dam site, 5 military deployments can be seen. Inside Chadong village, the Manipur Rifles and the Manipur Police are posted, with one attached right opposite the village church.

“They promised us a better future, but with the coming of the project we are feeling more insecure and apprehensive,” says Dominic, an advocate. He laments that the community that once rejoiced together in festivals is now finding themselves divided.

In recent years, divisions had already started among the villagers. Some groups formed a separate committee negotiating with the government without the people’s mandate. Fictitious households and names were included in a list demanding compensation. Soon the committee members received the money and fled the village.

“People here are all farmers. To look out for an alternative arrangement is very difficult. But we will still struggle. The thought of our future is very dark,” adds Dominic.

The Thoubal River (also known as Yangwui Kong in the Tangkhul Naga dialect) means the river of strength, because of its strong currents. Community fishing is held every year at the Chadong village, where the community fish and feast together. Chadong village is also known for its soil fertility and its bountiful granaries, where a year’s harvest can last for the next two years. The organic food products of Chadong such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms and wild vegetables are supplied in the markets of Imphal and Yaingangpokpi.

Chadong has a population of 1200 people. The project will displace over 12,000 people. Once the dam is inaugurated and implemented in full swing which is most likely to happen by April, Chadong village will submerge by monsoon. The villagers will relocate to another place. They will soon resort to jhum cultivation in the upper range of the lands which will have adverse impacts on the forest lands.

For the Manipur government, it will just be land that has been submerged. For people in villages like Chadong, it is not just a piece of land that will be submerged, but a community’s home, history, culture, identity, and livelihood. What took decades and centuries to build will be submerged within a few months of time.


This article by Vibi Yhokha has already been published in The Morung Express on March 25, 2015. She is a journalist who shares with us stories from the north eastern region of India.

Vedanta-Sterlite: Dangerous by Design

(from Kafila.org)

by Nityanand Jayaraman

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory.  Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory. Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

On 23 March, 2013, a toxic gas leak from Vedanta-subsidary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi spread panic and discomfort for several kilometres around the plant. The leak once again highlighted the increased potential for major catastrophes due to an atmosphere of collusion between regulators and polluters. The company, which was shut down for maintenance, resumed operations in the early hours of 23 March. Within hours, people in the nearby areas complained of suffocation and eye and nose irritation. A 35-year old Bihari contract labourer, who was working at Sterlite’s thermal power plant nearly a kilometre away, reportedly succumbed to the effects of the toxic gas. Irate residents rallied to the District Collector’s office demanding permanent closure of the offending factory.

The District Collector suggested that sulphur dioxide may have been the culprit. But anyone who knows the history of this plant would lay the blame not on this gas or that, but squarely on pliant regulators, and perhaps the judiciary.

The 1200 tonne per day (tpd) copper smelter was constructed in two phases – both with dubious legality – with active support of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the chairperson of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC). In September 2004, when SCMC visited Thoothukudi, it found that Sterlite had constructed a 900 tonne per day copper smelter complex without obtaining an Envirnomental Clearance from the MoEF. Neither did the plant have the mandatory Consents to Establish under Air and Water Acts.

Citing poor pollution management, the SCMC recommended that clearance should not be given. It ordered the TNPCB to verify the illegal constructions and take action. Contrary to recommendations, clearance was given a day after of the Committee’s visit to Sterlite. TNPCB inspected and confirmed the illegal constructions, but did nothing more.

On 7 April, 2005, a director at the MoEF wrote to the chairperson of TNPCB urging her to grant a Consent to Operate to Sterlite. “The directions issued by SCMC in this regard has (sic) been discussed with Chairman, SCMC, who has desired that TNPCB may now decide regarding granting consent for expansion to M/s Sterlite Industries India Ltd (SIIL) Tuticorin, Tamilnadu,” she wrote. The Air and Water Acts do not have any provision for legalising units constructed without a valid Consent to Establish. TNPCB obliged and issued a consent on 19 April 2005.

Sterlite went on to expand its capacity to 1200 tpd. To get its licenses, Sterlite exaggerated the extent of land in its possession. In 2007, Sterlite submitted an Environment Impact Assessment report that suggested that it had greened 26 hectares of its 102.5 hectare plant site. It claimed that it had sufficient lands – about 176 ha — in its possession to accommodate the expanded capacity and the resultant pollution (solid waste, air emission and effluents). It promised to plant 43 hectares with pollution-abating trees. Subsequent inspection reports by the TNPCB even state that the company had greened 25 percent of its 176 hectare land holding.

On 28 September 2010, the Madras High Court ordered closure of the copper plant. One key grounds for closure was the industry’s failure to comply with the condition requiring the development of a 25 metre greenbelt around the factory. TNPCB was chided for arbitrarily reducing the greenbelt requirement from 250 metres to 25 metres in response to Sterlite’s lament about high land costs associated with the wider belt.

The Madras High Court had rightly held that the failure to comply with greenbelt requirements was a crippling lapse. Indeed, had a thick belt existed, the effects of the recent gas leak would not have reached the city.
When Sterlite was shut down by the High Court, the factory was running without valid licenses under Air and Water Acts. Two days later, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order and unwittingly authorised the unlicensed operation of a disputed facility.

In May 2011, Sterlite’s non-compliance of greenbelt requirements and its land fraud came to light in a report submitted by NEERI to the Supreme Court. Against a requirement of 176 hectares for the 1200 tonne plant, Sterlite had only 102.5 hectares, the report found. Also, less than 13 hectares – as against 43 hectares – had been greened.

Since October 2010, Sterlite has functioned on leave granted by the Supreme Court. During the apex court’s watch, at least 8 hazardous incidents were recorded where 3 workers were killed, four more injured. Several hundred people in the vicinity of the plant have been gassed.

Under the circumstances, faith in the rule of law is not an easy belief system to sustain.

UPDATE

Thoothukudi Gears up For Major Showdown with Sterlite

27 March, 2013. Thoothukudi – Residents of the coastal Tamilnadu town of Thoothukudi are gearing up for a major showdown with Sterlite on 28 March, less than a week after a massive gas leak injured hundreds of people for kilometres around the company’s controversial copper smelter. Numerous groups, cutting across political lines, will march from the city to Sterlite’s gates demanding its permanent closure. In the 20 years that it has functioned, Sterlite has been blamed for numerous mishaps, deaths and injuries. It has been closed twice by the Madras High Court, including in September 2010 when the High Court shut it down through its final order arguing that the company had violated siting setbacks, pollution norms and licence conditions.Tomorrow’s rally is gathering massive support as the Tamil Nadu Federation of Merchants led by Vellian, and the Esakkimuthu Conch Divers Association have said they will participate in the strike. The call for the strike was originally given by Vaiko, a political leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who said that this was an issue that transcended politics, and that the residents are united in their desire to rid their city of Sterlite’s Bhopal-like factory. Other prominent Thoothukudi-based workers organisations too have committed their support to the strike. The Anna Bus Stand Taxi Drivers Association, and the Anna Bus Stand Auto Drivers Welfare Association with nearly 200 auto drivers as members have said they will boycott work and join the residents demanding closure of Sterlite. Many more organisations and political parties are expected to join.“We are very angry. We have seen numerous such agitations start and then stop. We want an end to this nonsense. Sterlite must be shut down,” said 55 year old M. Shanmugavelu, Presidents of the Auto workers Association.34-year old M. Kishorekumar, who is the president of Taxi Drivers Association clarifies that they are not opposed to industries. “We want good industries to come to Thoothukudi, to Tamil Nadu. But Sterlite is not good for us. It is a dangerous factory. We have to think about our futures too,” he says. “My 11-year old son suffered because of the gas leak. It is now three days since the leak, and he is still complaining of head ache, eye and throat irritation, a bitter taste in his mouth and has no appetite. I have had to take him to hospital for three days. He has to go to school with all this because it is examination time,” Kishorekumar says.

List of Hazardous Incidents at Sterlite Industries between October 2010 and March 2013 during the time the plant has run on leave granted by Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Compiled by Nityanand Jayaraman, based on reports by Sterlite workers

Total: 3 dead; several injured in 8 incidents

Date

Incident

Number Dead/Injured

8.3.2013

Amalan, 30, sustained serious injuries after an electrical fire broke out at Motor Control Room of Phosphoric Acid Plant.

1 injured

18.3.2013

Swaminathan, 50, killed after falling into Phosphoric Acid tank. Due to the poor light conditions, the worker tripped on the scaffolding and fell 15 metres into an open and empty tank.

1 dead

23.3.2013

Massive gas leak, suspected to be Sulphur dioxide or trioxide, causes suffocation and panic around the Sterlite Copper plant. One Sterlite contract worker, Shailesh Mahadev, 35, reportedly succumbed to exposure to the gas.

1 dead; several injured

23.8.2011

One North Indian worker, sourced by labour contractor Lohit, and employed by Mahesh Engineering was injured while working in the Phosphoric Acid Plant. Workers, who said very little information was available about his condition and what actually happened. He is reported to have had 5 stitches.

1 injured

17.8.2011

A white gas (suspected to be Sulphur Dioxide) escaped for about 45 minutes at ground level throwing a scare among Sterlite workers, after a power outage caused a shutdown of the Copper smelter and sulphuric acid plant at around 10 a.m. today (17 August, 2011). The wind was blowing from East to West and carried the smoke away from the highway and the Milavittan village.

13.8.2011

Thangapandi, a 32-year old contract worker, engaged by OEG Ltd to work in Sterlite’s copper smelter factory sustained first degree burns due to an electrical accident. Thangapandi is a resident of Pandarampatti.

1 injured

31.5.2011

Amalanathan, a 28-year old crane maintenance mechanic, was electrocuted and killed in Vedanta-subsidiary Sterlite Copper’s premises today. According to workers, Amalanathan died on the spot at around 11.30 a.m. As of 3.30 p.m., the police had not yet registered a First Information Report. According to a Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) party worker, it was only after the communist unions and MDMK intervened by staging a road blockade did the Police even enter the scene. Amalanathan, who was married barely 3 months ago, is a resident of a locality called 3rd Mile, near Sterlite.

1 dead

3.3.2011

Ratheesh, a young contract employee from Sterlite, sustained 30 to 35 percent burn injuries on chest and hand. He was admitted to Apollo Hospital, Madurai, and underwent treatment until 24.3.2011. Inpatient Number: 205688. Referred by Dr. Vanitha Stephen, Tuticorin.

1 injured

 

Nityanand is a Chennai-based writer and environmental activist.

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Voices of the People vs. POSCO

Dhinkia, Orissa. Photograph by Sanjit Das. 2011.

Dhinkia, Orissa. Photograph by Sanjit Das. 2011.

Brief excerpts from the executive summary of the fact-finding report by a team of three from Alternative Law Forum and Delhi Forum, after a visit to the Dhinkia panchayat, consisting of the three villages of Dhinkia, Govindpur and Paatna, in Odisha, between 22nd December 2012 to 24th December 2012.   

[Read, download, and share the complete fact finding report from here – Captive Democracy: Abuse of criminal system to curb dissent against the POSCO steel plant in Odisha. Feb 2013]

The Government of Orissa and Pohang Steel Company (POSCO), Republic of Korea signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on June 22, 2005 for setting up an Integrated Steel Plant in Orissa, in Jagatsinghpur district, affecting 8 villages of three Gram Panchayats of Kujang Tahsil, i.e. Dhinkia, Gadakujanga and Naogaon. The attempts by the district administration to acquire land have been thwarted by strong local opposition starting early 2006, primarily by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, that spearheads the movement against POSCO. In response to this resistance, the State Government has been using the tactic of the abuse of the criminal system to file numerous false criminal complaints against all persons resisting the project, including members of the PPSS leading to threats of arrest perpetually hanging over them.

The fact-finding report observed that the biased and arbitrary functioning of the police targets the villagers resisting the POSCO steel plant, instead of initiating any criminal action against the goons and other persons perpetrating violence against the villagers. The report outlined the following impacts of police actions –

  • The filing of false cases to curb this fundamental freedom of the people is nothing short of an attack on the democratic process and the values embedded in the Constitution.
  • The filing of cases and warrants against almost 2000 persons has resulted in the targeting of entire villages, who are under constant threat of arrest and have not left the villages in 6-7 years, and whenever they do leave, are constrained to do so surreptitiously. In many cases, entire families have been implicated, resulting in none of them leaving the village for years on end.
  • The inability to leave the village has resulted in a complete lack of access to medicines or any medical treatment to the villagers. A team of doctors who visited these villages found that at least 30 women needed urgent medical intervention, else their condition would deteriorate. Most arrests of persons take took place when villagers were compelled to leave the village to visit the doctor requiring medical assistance.
  • The inability to leave the village and maintain business ties has adversely impacted this trade which is the major source of livelihood for them
  • The Government has taken other forms of coercive action, and terminated government employees for having protested against the POSCO Project, including Shri Babaji Charan Samantara, who worked as postmaster in Dhinkia for 28 years and Shri Kailash Chandra Biswas was employed as a high school peon, at the Government School, Dhinkia, for over 20 years.
Over the last 8 years, the Government has made innumerable attempts to break the struggle against POSCO by employing various arm-twisting tactics. However, what is perhaps the greatest betrayal of the State against its own people, is the use of the criminal system to implicate villagers in a large number of false cases to intimidate them, instill fear in them and break them into submission.These are the days of emergency. A rapidly engulfing emergency where the State is using every underhand trick in the book to counter the legitimate and peaceful voices of dissent.
These are the days where the State does not even batter an eyelid while using water cannons on protestors against violence against women on the streets of Delhi, all under the glare of the media. Far away, where there are no cameras, no soundbites, the suppression is violent, illegal and with impunity. Our visits have revealed one character of the villagers and that is their indomitable spirit and quest for a peaceful and undisturbed life. This is what the struggle against POSCO is. And this is why we have to all join hands and mobilize all democratic means to end this continuing violence to give real meaning to our constitutional ideals.
In the light of the above, we make the following demands:
1. The Government should withdraw all the criminal cases foisted on villagers of POSCO affected villages and other members of PPSS
2. Cases must be immediately registered in regard to the violence perpetrated against the villagers of POSCO affect areas including but not restricted to the following:
a)  Against police officials in regard to the violence ob 15th May, 2010 at Balithut circle.
b)  Against hired goons in regard to the violence on 14th December, 2011during the peaceful protest against the construction of the coastal road connecting Paradip port to the proposed site of the POSCO steel plant.
3. The Government should immediately conduct an enquiry into the abuse of the criminal system to target villagers and take necessary action against all officials who are involved in the filing of false cases against villagers resisting the POSCO steel plant. The Government should respect and protect the constitutional rights of the villagers to protest and conduct itself in a democratic manner

Shifting Sands: A Village Lost to Sea

by Nityanand Jayaraman

(excerpt)

Kattukuppam. Seen in the background is the construction work on the Nemmeli Desalination Plant. Source: The New Indian Express.

“P. Jagan is a kattumaram fisherman, a trade that has changed little in centuries. Early most mornings, Jagan launches his boat through the pounding surf and paddles his way to the fishing grounds of his choice. The sea, it appears, has been kind to him.

His house, situated in a row of identical concrete houses closest to the sea, is well-lit and spacious. A washing machine, refrigerator, wide-screen TV and other assets suggest that Jagan has not done too badly for himself with just the kattumaram. As boats go, the kattumaram — with its five logs hewn from the wood of the Albizzia tree, and lashed together — is an efficient and light surf-riding, beach landing vessel. Jagan has been facing one problem, though. The beach outside his home is shrinking.

“The sea has come in,” he says. Looking east from his house, the proof of his claim is visible. A 2-metre high wall of granite boulders lines the village. Unlike many of the other fishing villages on the East Coast Road, Jagan’s village — Sulerikattukuppam or Kattukuppam for short — has no beach. On the Northern edge of the village, near the temple where the line of rocks end, there is a small beach. But this too is rapidly shrinking, as the boulders divert the waves northwards. With every pounding wave and its backwash, a valuable piece of Kattukuppam is lost to the sea.

“We had 47 fibre boats, and 17 kattumarams in our village before the Thane cyclone (2011),” Jagan says. “The cyclone damaged the boats, and many didn’t feel it was worth replacing the boats. Now, there are only 24 boats and 14 kattumarams. There is no place to park our boats. The ocean trade (kadal thozhil) is finished. That’s all sir,” he says.

The cause of Kattukuppam’s misery is a 100 million litres per day desalination plant being constructed at the southern edge of the village by VA Tech Wabag for the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

Sulerikattukuppam, a small village of 217 families, put up a small fight against a big desalination plant. Even that was enough to bring the wrath of the police and the administration. If they had persisted with their fight rather than acquiesce and accept wage-labour as some consolation, we would have discovered maoists, propagandists, outside infiltrators and foreign funded agents, seditionists amongst them. The state has now let this community to die a quiet death. No disturbance to law and order here.”

tnlabour.in — is a bilingual blog site dedicated to discussing issues related to labour in Tamil Nadu. This site is set up and run by a small group of volunteers. Click to read full article. [http://tnlabour.in/?p=639#more-639]

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Green Clearance Watch

Centre for Science and Environment

Centre for Science and Environment recently launched a public information system to track environmental and forest clearance of industrial and development projects in key sectors in India from 2007 till date: Greenclearancewatch.org 

Begin by going through “Facts about Environmental and Forest Clearances – 2007 & Beyond” which lays out some important statistics on the number of environmental clearances granted, the kind of developmental projects, the land and water requirement of these and so on.

Following the pressing need for increased transparency in the environmental and forest clearance regime in India, the GCW portal aims to be a one-stop resource base that can help communities access information and statistics, and participate in the decision making process.

A selection of public hearings for developmental projects have been release out in the public domain by GCW. They perceive this will help “develop a clear understanding of the community’s involvement in the decision-making process of a given industrial project.”

Information that can be obtained through GCW include:
  • Facts about environmental clearances granted since April 2007 for major industrial sectors viz., Thermal Power Plant, Cement, Iron and Steel, Coal Mining, Bauxite Mining, Limestone Mining, Other Minerals, etc.
  • Information on environmental clearances, that can be tracked by specific company name (the project proponent), industrial sector, state, district or village name.
  • A main component on the GCW is the map, which gives a visual understanding of the spatial distribution of industries.

  • Videos of public hearings that have been covered by CSE and partners.
  • Information of upcoming public hearing that CSE (or the organization’s partners) plans to cover.
  • Latest judgements of the National Green Tribunal.
  • Major news updates and reports on environmental clearances, public hearing or related topics made available through their fortnightly magazine Down to Earth and their clearinghouse India Environment Portal.
The information that you see on GCW has been obtained from environmental clearances available on the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) website.
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Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket)

14 mins. 24 s.

The Ayoreo are the nomadic indigenous people of Eastern Bolivia. They believe in the legend of Direjná, the grandmother of a cricket whose songs can bring rain to this earth. She owned all the waters, and where she was it rained. But one day, she sang and sang in overjoy until the rain fell so hard and the lands were flooded. So, her grandchildren asked her to leave, and she retired to the second heaven. The hot, dry days of famine took over the earth. From the second heaven, Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket) sends rain every time someone tells her story. 

In the years 1999 to 2000, there were massive protests in Cochabomba, in Bolivia, against the privatization of municipal water supply. In 2009, eight animators from Bolivia worked with French filmmaker Denis Chapon and The Animation Workshop of Denmark, chose to retell her story. Abuela Grillo sings as she walks the lowlands and mountains in the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. She settles in a village where she is initially welcomed. Overjoyed, she sings and sings until the valleys are flooded. The villagers get angry and chase her away. While traveling, she is lured by the black-suited, white-collared corporate giants who promise her fame and applause. They harness the rains, bottle water and sell it to the people. Now, the villagers whose lands had plenty start to run dry. Abuela Grillo gradually grows tired of the stage shows, but realizes she cannot leave. The corporates have her in captivity. They force her to sing more and more, until they tap her tears. The villagers come to know of Abuela Grillo’s plight and realize their mistake. They march into the city with all utility weapons they can find demanding the corporates let their grandmother go. Unfortunately, the white collars wage war against them with tear gas. Not able to stand it anymore, Abuela screams and her floods wash away the tear gas and destroys everything in the city. Free now, Abuela walks away, and is welcomed back in the village, where she sings and brings harvest all along her way.

A blogger from Bolivia details some of the themes in this film:

  • Exploitation of natural resources by greedy businessmen in the city. Shows the fear and the symbol of the bad guys as unsympathetic, large in stature, sharp edges around the body, physically abusive, cement gray and black in color as if mechanical or lacking life.
  • The move into the city being where trouble ensues.The grandmother is taken for granted in her homeland and is forced to wonder into the big city where she is exploited. This is a moral lesson for indigenous people torespect the wisdom of their elders even if they don’t initially understand the importance of tradition and song. The people of the countryside who kicked out abuelo grillo later find hardship when no water falls from the sky.
  • Indigenous knowledge of natural cycles and the old grandmother’s traditional skill. Abuelo Grillo’s ability to make it rain is a metaphor for her people’s inherited, old wisdom and spiritual power to retain balance and good health to their people and land.
  • Water is the most essential part of life, so the metaphor speaks to all the issues in the world over water and how we are connected. Even water use in British Columbia, a place so blessed with fresh glacial melt, has to be aware of the implications of masses of people who abuse it.
  • Cycles of nature taking over – the flood. This is reminiscent of the earth fighting back against human destruction and wrong-doing.

A blogger from Toronto, Canada adds to this that the grandmother cricket is the representative of old women in the society whose knowledge and contributions usually stand invisible. She also brings to notice this ridiculous advertisement campaign below. She writes, “I’m seriously not impressed with this new Evian campaign with people wearing pictures of babies on their shirts – “live young” and die young?–, although, admittedly, you’d have to have the brain of a 3 year-old to continue to purchase toxic-seeping water bottles…”

On a radio advertisement, a man complains in anxiety that there’s no safe place to drink water from, when his friend suggests him to get himself a safe and pure bottle of TATA Water Plus. But, how did our tap water get unhygienic or salty? How did our rivers become sewers? How did our wetlands become homes for high-rise SEZs and gated communities? How did water in a plastic container or anything packaged come to mean ‘clean’? How did water become something we pay for?

While Annie Leanord’s The Story of Bottled Water gave ideas how an urban middle class and rich audience can ask these questions and react to the privatization and commodification of natural resources like water, this simple beautiful film tells the story of how the indigenous population will react. Examples of this are in plenty. The protests against bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, the anti-nuclear protests in Idinthakarai, the jal satyagrahas against the massive dams, the Jaitapur villagers protesting against the uranium mines, the villagers who want to save their forests in Thervoy Kandigai from SIPCOT, farmers who are trying to preserve indigenous knowledge and systems against genetic modification and industrial farming, the fishermen who are fighting against privatized ports and elevated expressways, and the list goes on to tell the same story.

There is more reading below, which equips a citizen to assess both her luxuries and her part in this dialogue. Today, most of us buy water cans that cost up to Rs. 30, some families need two a day. Even if we remember to carry water with us, sometimes in the city its hard to not to buy a bottle of water (most restaurants or theaters don’t allow water brought from outside). The first step is to genuinely acknowledge and recognize the indigenous communities and their rights to hold on to their last pockets of ecological and cultural heritage.

Reading:

The Cochabamba Water Revolt and its Aftermath. Jim Shultz. University of California Press.

The political economy of public sector water utilities reform. Karen Coehlo. Info Change News & Features. 2005

Blue Gold. The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World’s Water Supply. Maude Barlow. National Chairperson, Council of Canadians Chair, IFG Committee on the Globalization of Water. Revised edition. 2001.

Water as a Human Right? John Scanlon, Angela Cassar and Noémi Nemes. IUCN Environmental Law Programme. 2004

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