The person sitting on the left is Vania of Jhandana village. When we in the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) in Alirajpur began initiating the campaign for proper rehabilitation of the oustees of the Sardar Sarovar dam in 1986, Vania was sceptical and even said that nothing would come of it. However, a few months later there was a problem in his village in which the Police was threatening a villager with a criminal case because his dog had bitten and killed the dog of a neighbour!!! Vania approached the KMCS and we intervened to solve the matter amicably in the traditional Adivasi panchayat and warded off the police. With that began a long association for Vania with the KMCS and the NBA. Among those in the picture above, Vania along with Amit Bhatnagar sitting with his son, Sarang, on his lap and Bawa next to him in the white turban were once arrested and severely beaten up by the police after a protest action against the forcible survey of the houses in Anjanbara village. The great thing about Vania is that not only did he fight the state for his rights but also fought with the NBA later when he felt it was not helping his cause!! When it became clear after 2000 that the dam would not be stopped and so rehabilitation would be necessary, he broke with the NBA and opted for rehabilitation in Gujarat even though this led to him being labelled along with another Adivasi stalwart of the NBA in Alirajpur, Dhankia, as an agent of the state.
The man sitting just behind him in a turban is Luharia of Jalsindhi village. He is another doughty fighter against the state who sacrificed his home in the rising rivers of the water rather than uproot it and rebuild it higher up in the hills. He is a poor man with very little land yet he stuck to his stand of not going to Gujarat for rehabilitation.
The smiling person in the Kurta with long hair is another rebel Jacob Nellithanam. Jacob ditched his studies for a graduation in science and instead joined Baba Amte initially and later branched out on his own to fight for establishing sustainable agriculture based on indigenous seeds and farming methods. He has spent a lifetime in doing sustainable farming and campaigning against the devastation wrought by modern chemical and bio-engineered agriculture. He has been a close associate of the KMCS and has helped us to initiate sustainable agriculture and conservation of indigenous seeds programmes.
At the right end of the picture is Jayashree Bhalerao, whose husband is Amit, a person who came to the Narmada valley inspired by a lecture by Medha Patkar in Pune and decided to stay on and fight for the rights of the Adivasis. When Amit and Jayashree had children, Revli and Sarang, they had to decide about their education. They did not want to send the children off to some distant school as there was no good school in Alirajpur. So they decided to set up a school to teach both their own children and the children of Adivasis. This is how the residential school Aadharshila Learning Centre came into existence in Sakar village in Badwani district. In the two decades of its existence, Aadharshila, has provided an alternative pedagogy providing quality education to children which questions the dominant development paradigm which has devastated Adivasi livelihoods.
Bawa is another uncompromising fighter against the Sardar Sarovar dam who has remained steadfast in his opposition to it. He is famous for having written a letter to the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, detailing the reasons for Adivasis preferring the hard life in the remote hills to one with modern amenities. According to him - "We have lived in the forest for generations. The forest is our moneylender and banker. In hard times we go to the forest. We build our houses from its wood. From its rushes and splints we weave screens. From the forests we make baskets and cots, ploughs and hoes, and many other useful things... We get various kinds of grasses; and when the grasses become dry in summer, we still get leaves... If there is a famine we survive by eating roots and tubers. When we fall sick, our medicine men bring us back to health by giving us leaves, roots, bark from the forest. We collect and sell gum, tendu leaves, bahera, chironji and mahua. The forest is like our mother; we have grown up in its lap. We know how to live by suckling at her breast. We know the name of each and every tree, shrub and herb; we know their uses. If we were made to live in a land without forests, then all this knowledge that we have cherished for generations will be useless and slowly we will forget it all". Right till the end he has fought the dam and finally he has been awarded a compensation of Rupees Sixty Lakhs by the Supreme Court for his perseverance and now he lives up in the hills above his old submerged lands.
Finally, there is Parthiv Shah who has clicked this photo and so he is not in it!! Parthiv is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design and a world renowned photographer and designer. He could have easily chosen a career in the corporate world but instead he has devoted himself to portraying the marginalised. He has done photo stories of mill workers, peasants, Dalits and Adivasis and their struggles like this one.
Thus, regardless of the fact that the dominant narrative of our times is that of late capitalist greed that is devastating nature and livelihoods across the world, there are a few people who discard the lures that a consumerist capitalist world have to offer and stick to their convictions and fight to bring about a more sustainable and equitable society in their own ways.