He is not the first celebrity to do so. But he’s turned out to be the most radical, activist Bollywood filmstar by far, all in day's time..at least as far as my memory serves me.
The reasons why he would back the Narmada Bachao Aandolan
could be several. Ranging from the fact that a cousin associated with the movement influenced him to the fact that he was in and out of the Kutch for six months whilst the shooting of Lagaan.
Lets assume all that contributed significantly. Still, why join the protestors in the manner he did ? Why become a face for the movement ? Knowing well there could be consequences that may not be the most desirable.
Dammed If You Do..
To his credit, he did not buckle to the mob frenzy that followed his signing up a few days ago. Instead, he calmly called the attention of all and sundry and asked if these were really the politicians and political parties they wanted to be led by ? He even accused the political parties of trying to bully him.
There are those who debate whether the dam should have come up in the first place and others who debate on the end-use for the water that will get diverted or..dammed. And then there are the rest who are debating the resettlement of those displaced by the dam. Some 300,000 people would have been displaced as per the original roll call it appears.
Lets focus on the last angle. Going by reports, some 35,000 families are still to be accounted for. The governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madha Pradesh (the Narmada flows through all states) individually and collectively have not been able to find land to accommodate these people, at least in their own books. The option, it appears, could be to buy the land from farmers, probably rich ones. No government will do that easily, particularly when the rich farmers represent a strong lobby of their own.
The Mighty Narmada Project
Couple of asides. First, there are 29 major, 1,335 medium and 3,000 minor projects proposed with the objective of irrigating 27.55 lakh hectares of land and power generation of 3,000 MW. Of which 11 are close to completion. Of which the Sardar Sarovar Project and the Narmada Sagar Project are the big guys. These are the dams which will obviously create the maximum impact and displacement as the waters rise.
An aside, why is the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam (163 metres on completion) a key point in the controversy ? Simply because the higher it goes (present target to raise from 110 m to 121.92 m) the larger the water body becomes and the more the people that get displaced. Seen from the other side, a dam’s efficacy as a source of power generation is perhaps better as the water levels rise and the pressure increases. I am not an expert on dams. I have visited a couple though and reckon I understand the basic principles at work.
Now, my first question is why are the displaced people nobody’s problem ? As in, why does it take an Aamir Khan to step in and argue for their rights ? Or for the rest of the world to wake up when he does ? Clearly, if tribals are being evicted from land they’ve tilled and lived on for decades if not centuries, they deserve a better deal.
Whose Problem Are They ?
There are slums that came up a few years ago in Bandra (Mumbai) where I live and they sit there defiantly like they’ve always owned the land. And they’ve not. This is public property. And guess what, the politicians rush in to protect them at the slightest threat of eviction. Let me name a few. The late Sunil Dutt, the present Baba Siddqui (local MLA) among others.
Anyway, no one seems to care for the displaced thousands in Gujarat. Except of course Medha Patkar. Who does not quite grab the attention of an increasingly liberal, market-economy driven media - yes, this writer is part of it. So, either these folks can’t vote or their number is finite. Or even if they do, there is something beyond that matters more. Something is not adding up from the politician’s point of view. What precisely I would like to understand.
Medha Patkar and friends have agitated against the very concept of a dam. I am not very sure about that. My pro-development, right leaning, marketised conditioning forces me to disagree in principle. Maybe its time to have a relook and a rethink. At least so that one understands both sides. The Bhakra Nangal dam is being revisited. A three-year study of the dam and its impact on environment by Sripad Dharmadhikary has come up with some startling conclusions. Including that the dam didn’t do a fat lot of good.
Not Screaming Headlines
This report came a year ago. For obvious and not so obvious reasons, it didn’t make screaming headlines. Though it was reported on. Yes, it wasn't the subject of live and continuous coverage on national telly. At least from what I can remember. Am not debating the merit of that. Except that it slipped under the broad radar. While our school text books will continue to gush about Nehru’s temples of modern India, I now think it is only fair to mention the dissenting note as well.
To return to Aamir Khan. If I were him and you were me or him, having heard about the Narmada Bachao Andolan, maybe we would try and look at the facts as they are. And not the mass media representation of them or the lack of it.
Why does Aamir react so ? Well, he has his own reasons, I know some. They are not relevant here. The fact is that he does charge media for not doing its job. Let me quote him directly here (The Telegraph, April 9)Its partly out of context, but only partly, because he speaks about Medha Patkar here.
The problem, according to the actor, is that information on what is happening across the country and how to intervene are not readily available because of the media’s obsession with fashion and glamour.
“It is obscene, this obsession with fashion and film stars. I want to know what happened in Assam, students were fired at by the police. And I have to ask around. The newspapers don’t tell me that. They are busy writing about some fashion event,” he said. “I’m not saying that they shouldn’t do that, but isn’t their main job to inform and educate?” the actor signed off.
Do We See Things Similarly ?
So lets assume for a moment Aamir has no hidden agenda. And is not using this to `get back' at media which he well could and might. And we see things similarly. Do you see what I see ? Someone is not getting a good deal. For no fault of theirs, except that they lived in a certain place. Rather, an extremely raw one. I am still talking about displaced people. So we may want to examine the facts a little more closely. As the Supreme Court did. And then draw our own conclusions. Like the Supreme Court did. That’s what I think Aamir did. And that’s why I think he landed up next to Medha Patkar. What do you think ?