This photo shows a part of the village of Anjanwara in Alirajpur district on the banks of the River Narmada after it has been submerged by the formation of the reservoir due to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam further downstream in Gujarat. The original farms along the banks of the river have gone permanently under water. Some households in this village have refused to move out and resettle in Gujarat and have insisted that they should be given suitable land in Madhya Pradesh itself. In the interim they are fighting on and so one household has shifted its house up on to the hillock surrounded by water on three sides and is living on in defiance magnificently alone. One can easily imagine the tremendous difficulty that this household must be facing in leading its daily life and yet they have made little of this and stuck to their guns which has resulted in the construction of the dam being stymied. According to the judgment of the Supreme Court of India delivered in 1998 the dam cannot be built further unless all the affected households are first resettled. Since the Madhya Pradesh Government is not prepared to resettle these people and they are refusing to go to Gujarat there is a stalemate and the struggle for the Narmada continues in and out of court even after a quarter of a century of relentless battle.
The photo essay as a whole has been well received and according to some professional designers and mass communication experts it is a "powerful statement". I was invited recently to speak on the Bhils around this photo essay to a group of youth and there, after the presentation, I was asked whether activists like myself were not leading the tribals up the garden path in pursuit of our own political agenda which may not always be beneficial to them. I took the group back to this iconic photo above. I said that initially activists like myself felt that the tribals were being given an unjust deal and that they should fight to get a better one. In the process for some time most people were gradually convinced about what we were saying and fought resolutely to stop the dam from being constructed. But after a while a large majority opted for rehabilitation and resettlement in Gujarat and Maharashtra which was offered to them by the State as a result of their struggle. However, some like this household in the picture decided to fight on. Throughout, the tribals have had their own agency and have independently weighed the pros and cons of fighting and the validity of the approach being suggested by the activists and so it cannot be said that they had been brain washed in any way. If a household can decide to live alone on a hill top surrounded by water on three sides in a remote corner of the country and defy the might of the State then it is most certainly taking an independent decision regardless of what the activists might be saying.
This photo is immensely relevant because it has a lesson to teach to the leaders of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement also. The IAC has been trying to win a huge battle against corruption on the strength of a few gimmicky actions in the glare of media publicity when in reality the present exploitative system which extends globally is too powerful to be defeated by such actions. What is needed is hard and long grassroots action stretched over many years like that being waged by the household here. And even after that there is no guarantee of success. Hogging the limelight through gimmicky fasts may propel the leaders into fame but it will do precious little towards ensuring a corruption free India unless there is continuous and dour grassroots work that can create a sustainable groundswell of mass support from the poorest of the poor who are the most oppressed in this country.