India: A Special Experience of Protest

, by RAMDAS Lalita

Bhaimala - Alibag Taluka

Raigad Dist, Konkan, Maharashtra

Sunday July 29 2007


One week ago we sent round an update about what
was happening in Raigad - the coming together of
groups to protest the policies of the Govt of
Maharashtra and the Govt of India with regard to
the Special Economic Zones; the fast unto death
by the group of men and women in PEN.

The fast was called off on Monday 23, on
receiving assurances [so far only verbal!] from
the Chief Minister of Maharashtra that the 22
villages will be excluded from acquisition on the
basis of their being categorized as`irrigated’.
However, the bigger question of why SEZ - why
forcible acquisition - and who would benefit,
still remains unanswered. And so it was that in
an unparalleled show of solidarity, strength and
peoples power, OVER A HUNDRED THOUSAND people
from all over the District, came together in a
massive demonstration on July 27th, outside the
headquarters of the Commissioner for Konkan - in
Belapur in New Mumbai.

Despite the deluge that set in that very morning
after a dry spell of over two weeks - people came
in trucks and tempos - on foot - and in three
wheelers - many of them traveling up to 50 kms to
get to the venue. By and large, these were no
paid crowds -these were people who were willing
to do whatever it took to fight for their
survival - and for each one, their land was their
hope for survival - for livelihood - and
supported and fed the extended families. Women
and children came out in large numbers - and
they did not need to be PhDs in economics to
raise fundamental issues regarding the hollow
promises made by governments and corporates - you
will have jobs; your homes will be safe - just
give us your fields! "Where will we go they asked
in anger - to the footpaths and pavements of the
cities -to beg, to work as sweepers and servants?
Or to be thrown into the sea" - said the large
numbers of fisherfolk from Uran.

Truck loads carried their fishing nets, clumps of
paddy, other produce from their fields and farms
- brandishing them proudly and asking what kind
of government it was that declared their
productive lands [su-pick jameen], as na-pick

For over two hours, this mighty crowd stood in
pouring rain, drenched to the skin - as were we
all - listening as speaker after speaker from
each of the local organisations spoke of their
grief, their sense of betrayal, and their
determination not to yield an inch of their land
- not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Slogans and
cries rent the air - and it was an inspiring
sight indeed to see their determination and their
discipline - no riots - no stone throwing - no
violence . `Jameen apna hakka chi - nahin thumsa
bappa chi!’ [This land is ours by right - and
does not belong to your fathers] .
"NO - NA - NEVER -
Amcha Jameen Denaar Nahin“- we will not give up our land.”

People smiled and waved at the police who had
turned out in their hundreds - with riot control
vehicles and other equipment - and asked them to
join us or go home.

A group of youngsters staged a mock funeral
ceremony of an effigy of the CM - and at least a
dozen young men shaved off their heads in protest.

The final message was clear - we will continue
our protests until SEZ is rolled back,
notifications are withdrawn, and section 6 under
which land acquisition has begun is removed. So
far we have been peaceful - but make no mistake,
do not underestimate us - this could change if no
one is listening to us. Beware of the touts,
agents and intermediaries who are acting on
behalf of the Companies - and no one minced word
as to how they felt about RELIANCE INDUSTRIES.

ANSWER. Throw out the CM and his government was
the other unambiguous message - and all local
political parties, with the exception of
Congress, were quick to demonstrate their support
to the people - well aware that 2009 is not too
far away.

The Konkan Bhavan Morcha demonstrated also the
richness of a way of life - of culture and
language and song and poetry - all of which stand
to be destroyed so that this vast hinterland can
be converted into a series of Foreign dominated
SEZs. All promises of retaining the so-called
`Gauthans’ - the homes of villagers is itself a
big lie ! One of our senior leaders graphically
described to a community meeting last week how
systematically the large builders and
conglomerates operate to destroy the small
homesteads over time and force the families off
the tiny enclaves which will be surrounded by a
sea of sanitized pockets of gated communities -
living the `good life’ - of malls and resorts and
golf courses and hotels of flying in and out of
the new airports so conveniently located. And the
rice bowl of Konkan - the orchards of alphonso
mangoes - ah well - no problem - we will have

So - what next - ? One might well ask the
questions: Do these many small pockets of
resistance spell any kind of real threat to the
might of governments, corporates and global
financial institutions put together? Can we ever
match the staying power of the state and
corporations combined? since popular wisdom has
it that almost every party today has
unquestioningly `bought -in’ to the idea that the
SEZ is the road to economic salvation, the basic
question continues to haunt - namely to what
extent are politicians and their parties to be
trusted? How do people cope with the temptations
of the middle men who stalk them day and night?

That’s still a difficult question - but certainly
there is a different and incredible kind of
power in seeing physically the impact of 100000
human beings marching down both sides of the
highway into Mumbai - like some kind of an
awesome phalanx, a Peoples’ Army - and
effectively blocking traffic for over two hours.
And this was only a representative section of the
people of the district.

A personal account - Lalita Ramdas - Village Bhaimala - Alibag Taluka


* From South Asia Citizens Wire | August 6-9, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2432 - Year 9.

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