India has 33 percent of the world’s poorest, says a recent survey. Unfortunately, it is just a number we momentarily look at with shock and then forget all about.
Poverty in India is no doubt the most distressing, but what is most depressing is the apathy of the society and the government towards the poor. While the society conveniently looks through the plight of the underprivileged, the government does nothing much to uplift them. Not stopping at that, the government actually creates poverty with its policies or by the lack of policies, shows Jaideep Hardikar in his book A Village Awaits Doomsday.’
Hardikar, a Nagpur based journalist has reported extensively on rural India for many years. What he encountered during his work were numerous villagers who were suffering having been stripped off their land for varied development schemes — from dams, SEZs, power plants, factories, to even golf clubs. In Hardikar’s own words, questions such as “What will these people do after being ousted? How will people who tilled their lands for decades, reconcile to their eviction?” — haunted him nudging him to take up a study of the matter. This book is a result of his travels, which took him to different parts of the country where people were being evicted.
The book is a series of interviews with individuals who were once self sufficient farmers but then rendered penniless when inhumanly ousted from their homeland. Every story and sorrow in the book is the same but in a different set-up. Though his research seems mostly centred in Maharashtra and M P, Hardikar has also chronicled sad tales from Bihar, Jharkhand, U P, Karnataka and A P as well.
The dams in Maharashtra have left many thousands on the streets. From the well known Koyna Dam to the lesser known Upper Wardha Dam, the government has uprooted people without providing a means to live their lives. The first essay is the story of Vinayak Dhude, a farmer who committed suicide in protest against the government’s apathy.
Dhude and his fellow farmers were allotted plots to build their houses when ousted for the Wardha Dam project, but were never compensated with alternative agricultural land. However, Dhude’s death did not change anything, notes the author sadly.
Oustees of Patha in M P have an even graver story. They were displaced by the Bargi Dam project with a few thousands in compensation. But the naive villagers were cheated of that money by a money laundering company. Their new rehabilitation centre Adarsh Gram is nothing but an epitome of misery, with promises of compensation land, schools, and other amenities still on paper, finds out Hardikar. He chronicles the tale of Sundaribai and her husband who were well placed farmers before they were evicted but later died of starvation.
If this is the fate of farmers, the tribals have it even worse, rues Hardikar. He quotes K C Dubey and B K Minz, who have opined that a substantial part of the livelihood of the tribals is derived from the forests, so extra measures need to be taken to rehabilitate them. Both their reports have been brushed aside by the Narmda Valley Development Authority. The Tribal Research Institute observes that “the rehabilitation department has constructed schools, dispensaries, and cooperative societies merely for the purpose of exhibition rather than for the aid of its residents.”
Jenukurubas, a tribal community in Karnataka made a living by selling honey they collected in the forests. They were driven out of the Nagarahole National Park in Karnataka and rehabilitated in Hunsur but without a means of livelihood. Hardikar interviews the residents only to learn that most families have resorted to selling their children barely out of toddlerhood to serve as household help. Hardikar observes that while the tribal people constitute a mere 7.5 per cent of the population of India, more than 40 per cent of those who are displaced are them — “And most of them have been pauperised in the process”.
In the latter half of the book, Hardikar offers his commentary on issues surrounding the evacuation. These erudite essays give a deeper insight into displacement and make you think if this destruction to human lives could have been minimised if not avoided. Hardikar questions the perception that a project displaces a ‘few’ to benefit ‘many’, because close to 100 million people have been evacuated between the 1970s and 1990s, which by no means is a small number.
The book opens up a world that we seldom care about. Mind boggling is the disturbance caused to innocent farmers and tribals. This needn’t have been the case if they were rehabilitated humanely. Every urbanite must read P Sainath’s Everybody Loves a Good Drought and follow it up with this book — to appreciate the sacrifices of the rural poor that makes urban life comfortable.