Saturday, September 22, 2012

One day in Jammu

I reached Jammu on time, a Spice Jet flight, and at Jammu airport, Abha met me with two of her students and colleagues. Jammu hospitality is very charming, it's a small town and after the viva-voce  for an excellent thesis on inter religious  society was over, my colleagues took me to see the Bahafort, which has a 19th century temple. The colleagues were essentially interested in mapping their town and the adjoining hinterland of agricultural lands and small towns like Khistewar and Doda. They knew everything about kings, principalities, saffron cultivation, dams and the changes it brings about in people's lives.  The interesting thing about the new generation of 21st century research scholars, some of whom are now edging into their thirties, and are composed about the state of terror in which they and their students find themselves in, given the nature of social reality.  Suresh had a question written out on the blackboard: "What is the relation of Theory to the Statistics of Death?"
Their research questions are very different from the ones we had, in the 1970s, just as we were phenomenally different in our approach to our teachers. What was really interesting for me was how Devender and Suresh spent their weekends travelling upto 300kms into the mountains, talking to people, and collecting data from everything encompassing  the grandiose field of kinship, agricultural economics and religious patterns. Devender calls his work "Cities in Space" and it's very close to the kind of interest I have had for fifteen years now on "Globalisation and Small Towns."
Abha took me to the Palace, where the Dogra family has hotelier and museum interests, a charming place where the river, the lights of the city and the stars all weave in interesting ways. Her son, who is 12 years old, suddenly pointed to the distance where the 8 pm train was looked like a catterpillar with firefly lights, tiny and distant and quite magical. One of the interesting things about small towns is that the people like the slow pace, the crowded markets, the tourists' pleasure in the closeness to Vaishno Devi. I always thought it was an unreachable pilgrim place, but the Jammu residents are very clear it's around the corner ("Just 36 kms") but it needs a day, to really be there in the full sense of the word. Devender and Suresh brought out the sense a town has if one belongs, the field worker after all has a different sense of participation, not quite that the inhabitants have. The devoutness of Sikhs to the temples in Jammu is because of the tradition that in many Hindu households, one child would be dedicated to Sikhism. The memory of belonging to a Hindu family is persistent, and the temple priests too are benign about this cross cultural theological motif, making the temple open to all visitors.
In Jammu airport, I was searched three times, and it was a little persistent and offensive, and then the women passengers  were put out because they were again put into a  separate queue and searched by the airhostess.  I suppose it was better than being radiated and viewed by automatic scanner, but definitely a very unpleasant experience. In Delhi airport one only gets searched once, but clearly there must be a culture of paranoia latently present here which one did not feel in the company of friends. Jammu local newspapers  are truly interesting, with sufficient representation of all the communities, and a sound sense of the here and now. Like many small towns the roads are really terrible, but that's because the river and hill stones remain uncrushed. What cost development, if all the mountains are going to crumble under the weight of metropolitan demands? Small towns still set up interesting questions for us regarding trade, market and traditional occupations. Pilgrim towns are culturally cosmopolitan, and while political parties have ideologies, people co-exist because that is their very nature.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

First Draft

Sacred Rivers: Energy Resources and People’s Power
Susan Visvanathan

The question of water and land have become the politically most sensitive questions today. Rivers are recognised to be ancient embodiments of the gods as well as sites of civilisation. The last hundred years have transformed the way we think about rivers and embankments. In Kerala, the Mullaperiyar, with its source in the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which was once called Madras Presidency faced many public battles regarding not just the use of the water, but the age and viability of the dam. The Malayalis have seen apocalypse in the eroding dam and have led processions and marches till they received assurance that the 19th century Mulla Periyar would be repaired, and a new dam built further downstream by their own state government. Anand Pandian writes of a colonial engineer called Major John Pennycuick  who built the dam, and to whom a Tamil ode has been written, extolling his virtues in changing the drylands of Madurai into a silken quilt of green, where women previously used to famines, now bedeck themselves and dance like peacocks and swans. Major  Pennycuick who invested his own money in the building of the dam, and requisitioned finances from local people is also thought to have thrown his second wife, pregnant with child into a crack, to seal the dam. There is a famous tantric tradition of human sacrifice  to stabilise the new building, which the colonist seems to be implicated in, by which he becomes  the cultic embodiment of the  artificially created fertility of a once dry area. Is this to say that no sacrifice is sufficient when it comes to the building of dams? Pandian writes,
“The severe famine of 1876-’78 temporarily suspended any administrative attention to the project, but the Famine Commission consitituted in its wake specifically recommended the plan to help secure grain production in the hard –hit plains of Madurai. Major John Pennycuick was ordered to assume full responsibility to the proposed project in 1882, and in the same year he submitted a detailed plan that was ultimately sanctioned. The plan called for a thick rubble masonry dam that would eventually rise 176 feet above the riverbed to impound its waters in a large reservoir - water held here would be led through a tributary stream-bed to a mile-long tunnel blasted through the granite mass of the Western ghats, emerging east to tumble down to the plains of Madura. An agreement was signed with the Government of Travancore to lease the necessary lands in 1886, and work on the dam commenced in 1887. The first waters passed out of the tunnel in 1895” (Pandian in Baviskar 2003:14) Interestingly, this is very close to the time the Vice-Regal Lodge in Shimla was electrified after much debate, since the question of coal and gas was being discussed and electricity was seen to be an urgent substitute. (Visvanathan 2006) Anand Pandian uses A.T. Mackenzie’s History of the Periyar Project (1899) to describe the making of the dam. There were tropical forests, wild animals and leeches, half the year was monsoon, and malaria and cholera killed off thousands of workers who found working at 3000 feet tiring enough.  “Hundreds of these laborers perished due to accidents, contagious diseases and climatic exposure – camp hospital registers tell only part of this story as many sick workers went back to their native villages never to appear again at the construction site.” (ibid 14-15) Pandian comments that the British commemorated their own dead with grave stones, but the Indian workers graveyard remains unmarked and overgrown with scrub. Ecologically, it is significant that many lower caste communities buried their dead in the land allowing for the earth to rejuvenate.  In 1964, Yashoda, the family maid servant, told me that they buried dead ancestors in the yam gardens, and I thought, then, from a eight year old’s perspective that was great proximity indeed. My father’s brother’s wife laughingly said that our jackfruit tree produced such excellent fruit because it was fed from the water of not just the Pamba which flowed by our field, but  by the trapped rain water that passed the adjacent graveyard, which had been land gifted from my grandfather’s property to the church. This  contiguity to river and water is what makes farmers  families so alert to the warp and weft of life and death, to subsistence and continuity which are such essential tropes in green movements. India has never stated the problem ideologically as “agriculture vs industrialisation” till very recently, for Gandhi’s influence in Nehruvian real politic is very well known.  Secularism had its own enchanted spaces. Nehru’s fascination for Buddha and Advaitism in the same breath is worthy of analyses. Diana Eck quotes Nehru,

My desire to have a handful of ashes thrown into the Ganga at Allahabad has no religious significance, so far as I am concerned. I have no religious sentiment in the matter. I have been attached to the Ganga and the Jumna rivers in Allahabad ever since my childhood and, as I have grown older, the attachment has also grown. I have watched their varying moods as the seasons changed, and have often thought of the history and myth and tradition and song and story that have become attached to them through the long ages and become part of their flowing waters. The ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are interturned her racial memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India’s age-long culture and civilisaion, ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga. She reminds me of the snow covered peaks and the deep valleys of the Himalayas, which I have loved so much, and of the rich and vast plains below, where my life and work have been cast.” (cited in Eck In Baviskar 1993:30,31)
One of the most brilliant depictions of the Ganges is the work of  Michael Aschauer, the Austrian photographer, who had done river length, slow motion studies, of the Danube, the Nile, and went on to photograph the Sacred River in Benaras, using a stably placed camera on the roof of a boat as it travelled, along the rim of the holy city.
In Benaras, the questions raised about river pollution have been steadfast. Sacred concerns and scientific ones are mutually supportive, and the activists and the human rights petitioners have used shared resources to fight their battle. The question of Narmada too has always been read as a political and spiritual battle: there has been no conflict in understanding the support that believers receive from secular intellectuals.  (Baviskar

The petition has been one of the most important ways in which the battle over the future of India with regard to waterways has been fought. Along with this are people’s meetings, confrontation with Banks, including the World Bank, and representatives of the Nation state, as well as the use of internet technology and the impact of personalised or collective web dissemination through the Blog has been considerable. Clearly, the penultimate forum is the Court, and the belief that petitions can be formalised and submitted to the judges for coming to a resolution.
The Ganga has always been a site of myth and riverine subcultures, it’s reach so phenomenal, that even it’s tributaries are considered sacrosanct. Diana Eck wrote compellingly about the myths of the Ganga, showing that these myths evolve because of love and attention that people give to the river, and that  nature worship integrates the indigenous yaksha and naga tradition.

It is a view in which the universe, and by extension the land of India, is alive with interconnections and meanings and is likened to a living organism. There is no nature ‘worship’ here, but a sacramental natural ontology. In an excellent essay, Betty Heimann writes: “In India the veneration of Nature has never been discarded as outdated and primitive. On the contrary, primitivity is here appreciated in its productive ambiguity with inexhaustible potentialities. Nature cult is the fundament of the earliest form of Indian religions and remains the basis of even the highest and most exalted speculations of Indian philosophy.” (Eck in Baviskar2003: 33)

 However the enthusiasm with which pilgrims throw plastic into the river, or factories their effluents is perhaps the greatest detriment to River cleaning efforts. In their report, Emerging Contaminants in Ganga River Basin with Special Emphasis on Pesticides,
Manoj Babu et al argue that,

The active ingredients in a number of PCPs (personal care products) are considered bioactive chemicals. This implies that they have the potential to affect the flora and fauna of soil and aquatic receiving environments. In some cases, bioactive ingredients are first subject to metabolism by the consumer and the excreted metabolites and parent components are then subject to further transformation in the receiving environment. Personal care products differ from pharmaceuticals in that large quantities can be directly introduced into receiving environments (air, surface and ground water, sewage, sludge and bio-solids, landfills, soils) through regular use, such as showering, bathing, spraying, excretion or disposal of expired or used products. Because of this uncontrolled release, they can bypass possible treatment systems. As a result, PCPs are referred to as pseudo-persistent contaminants (Barcelรณ and Petrovic, 2007). (pg 3 of J. Manoj Babu  report)
The authors also detect steroids in the municipal wastewaters and livestock farming and streams which flow into the river. On a visit to Mathura in 1994, my daughters and I were astounded to see the filth that flew through the streets into the sacred river. Two pundits accompanied us, and one of them jumped into the boat that we took, and then casually took water for us to drink with a cupped palm, exhorting us to drink it, filled  though it was with ash and sludge. It turned out he was one of the petitioners in a court case demanding the cleaning of the river in Mathura. All over India, there are people who petition the court to hear their case over the most dramatic of cases, and the spirituality of these places is never denied, though the law is secular. Bharat Jhunjunwala, a former Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, was attacked early this year for petitioning against damming the Ganges, and his activist colleague  Vimalbhai has been to jail and on release, has started a website. In Kerala, sand river mining has become so acute, that the rivers are drying up, and the reclaimed land is silting up rapidly with foliage and trees, so that people used to bathing and worshipping at the sarpu kavus or snake groves, now find that they are literally without a river in the summer months. That rivers have holy value is a visible aspect of our geo-morphology. People of all religions accept this quality, and infact their own stories of origin are related to the sacred river. The St Thomas Christians of Kerala have many stories of floods, floating crosses, and establishment of churches and Christian hamlets wherever such holy emblems were found, as in the case of Niranam where St Thomas is supposed to have made his first Brahman convert. Farming communities have a long history of living in contiguity with each other regardless of their religious differences.  Kalpathy River, a sacred river to the Hindus in Kerala has an annual festival where Muslim and Christian traders have been setting up shops for several centuries according to tradition. Sacred rivers are not only physical manifestations of the divine spirit cleansing people of all castes and religions, for the flowing water does not carry the weight of distinctions, but it also reproduces on its embankments the architecture of it’s mythic representation. So Kalpathy temple in Pallakad Kerala, recreates the steps of Benaras, because the origin of the temple is from the 14th century when it is believed, a Brahman widow walked to Kashi with her husband’s ashes and brought back a  stone lingam from there, and received the King’s patronage in the establishment of a temple at the site where she  placed the lingam. Kalpathy, which is now a heritage village, is also a settlement of Smartha Brahmans who lived by their traditional occupations of Astrology, Ayurveda, Accounting, Temple Management, Music and Mathematics, Vedas and its dissemination and ofcourse a very rich food culture. They were not tillers of the soil, so when the land distribution occurred in Kerala, in the 1950s, they lost much of their wealth and property, and  since they had been the backbone of the colonial clerical and bureaucratic structures in the Presidency towns, they were able to enter the professional enclaves of modern India very early.

For the farmer,  however, the sacred river stands for agricultural prosperity. An activist has summarised the Neeri Report of 2005 to say that, The Tehri dam “is also likely to capture around 65% of the total sediment carried by Ganga at present.”  In his summary, the Report is thought to valorise the quality of  the water for a specific utilitarian purpose, without taking into account how the destruction of algae and  phage. I  now provide the summary  of the Neeri Report sent by Dr Bharat Junjunwala.
·      Twenty sampling points were identified in the stretches from Gomukh to Rishikesh and from Badrinath to Devprayag. Maximum five sets of samples were collected from identified sampling points of the rivers (Bhagirathi, Bhilangana, Alaknanda, Mandakini and Ganga) during September 2002 to August 2003 for assessment of different abiotic, biotic and microbiological parameters.
·      Application of water quality index (WQI), which is based on nine parameters, viz. DO, pH, BOD, temperature, total solids, turbidity, total-P, NO­3 and fecal coliform­, at various stretches of the river water revealed that water quality of the river between Tapovan and downstream of Uttarkashi was good (index value 70 – 90) throughout the period of study, while water samples of other areas were ranging medium and good during the same period. An exercise further revealed that WQI values would have been excellent (90 – 100) throughout the study area, if fecal coliform values were eliminated from the 9 parameters used for WQI calculations.
·      Based on the irrigation water quality classification, water quality of all the sites of the entire stretch was determined and found to fall under the desired category of C1S1.  The irrigation quality of water having C1S1 category is beneficial for growing plants like: Eucalyptus robusta, Acacia nilotica, Casuarina sp., Prosopis tuliflora, Dalbergia sissoo, Azadirachta indica etc.
·      It has been observed that water samples from different rivers contained specific types of phages. Different types of hosts were required for their detection. The experimentation done at NEERI revealed that Ganga/ Bhagirathi sediment has the capability to adsorb coliphages and induce their proliferation. The coliphages adsorbed to the sediment appear to be responsible for predating coliforms in the overlying water column when the sediment and water co-exist in a container under static condition. The Bhagirathi water to be stored in a dam mimics such static condition and, therefore, shall in no way deteriorate the water quality of the river downstream of the Tehri dam.
·      The release of copper and chromium under static condition and the synergistic effect of chromium on the bacteriostatic/ bacteriocidal property of copper appear to be the factors which keep the water free from coliforms and other bacteria responsible for putrification of water when left for a long time under static condition.
·      Quantification of U3O8, ThO2 and percent K in sediment samples and comparison of these parameters with those present in other river sediment samples and freshwater lake sediment samples show that Bhagirathi/ Ganga sediments collected between Gomukh and Rishikesh are more radioactive than others though it could not be established as to whether the radioactivity observed could be bacteriocidal. However, possibility of existence of synergestic effect of radioactivity on the antibacteriocidal activity of Cu and Cr, in combination, cannot be ruled out.
·      It can be concluded now that the uniqueness of river Bhagirathi/ Ganga lies in its sediment content which is more radioactive compared to other river and lakewater sediments, can release Cu and Cr which have bactericidal properties and can harbour and cause proliferation (under static condition) of coliphages that reduce and ultimately eliminate coliforms from the overlying water column. This is possible as the dam is going to retain practically all the sediment load of Bhagirathi as particles of size of >0.01 mm are likely to be retained in the dam. Thus, Tehri dam is not likely to affect the quality or self preservation property of river Bhagirathi/ Ganga, as it mimics a static container which is conducive for conditions responsible to maintain the water quality.The NEERI study has honed in on coliphage as the source of the self-purifying capacity of River Ganga. There are two types of bacteria in the river water—coliform are harmful bacteria while coliphage destroy the coliform and are beneficial bacteria. Usually a particular species of coliphage destroys one particular species of coliform. There are innumerable species of both coliphage and coliform. Speciality of Ganga lies in the fact that the coliphage are ‘wide-spectrum’—one coliphage destroys many species of coliform. This helps keep the river self-purify itself more easily.
Bharat Jhoonjhoonwala’s comment on the Neeri report is useful:
The coliphage are absorbed in the sediments after having been created. They lie dormant in the sediments—even for many years—and get revived when coliform enter the water. NEERI has found that coliphage are present in the river water downstream of Tehri Dam up to Rishikesh. Moreover, NEERI has assessed that 10 percent release of sediments from Tehri Dam, plus sediments being added by Alaknanda River at Dev Prayag, will be sufficient to supply the sediments required for the coliphage to survive and multiply hence there is no negative impact of Tehri Dam on the self-purifying capacity of the Ganga.
The special quality of Ganga waters is also due to minute (but high) levels of Thorium, which is radioactive, and high levels of copper and chromium in its waters:
It can be concluded now that the uniqueness of River Bhagirathi/Ganga lies in its sediments content which is comparatively more radioactive compared to other rivers and lake water sediments investigated, and can release Cu and Cr which have bactericidal property and can harbour and cause proliferation (under static condition) of coliphages which reduce and ultimately eliminate coliforms from the overlying water column (NEERI 2004: 107).
These beneficial elements—Thorium, Copper and Chromium—enter the river water from the rocks against which the water rubs during flow:
The metal ions, originally derived from breaking of rocks, are controlled by several river valley conditions—physical as well as chemical (NEERI 2004: 74; NEERI 2011: iii).
This absorption takes place in two ways—chemical- and mechanical weathering. Rain water contains miniscule amounts of acid. This acid breaks the rocks and loosens the metals therein which then flow into the river. This is called chemical weathering. Secondly, metals are directly absorbed in the river water as the water dashes against the rocks containing these metals. The difference in metal composition of the river is said to be due to this difference in the weathering regime:
The striking feature of the radium isotope data is the distinct difference in the 228Ra and 226Ra abundances between the highland and lowland rivers. The lowland waters are enriched in 228Ra, while the highland waters contain more 226Ra. This difference mainly results from the differences in their weathering regimes (NEERI 2011: 169).
The problem is that if upstream river is diverted into tunnels for generation of hydropower then the water will not rub against the stones and not absorb the beneficent metals. It is to be noted that bumper-to-bumper dams have already been made upstream of Tehri Dam except the uppermost 135 km; and are planned on the entire 300 km flow of Alaknanda except the lowest 30 km stretch. Thus it is likely that the coliphages will be deprived of the sediments on which they survive. The metals loosened by chemical weathering due to the rains may seep into the dry river bed and also not get carried by the river.
Conclusion is that the single project of Tehri Dam may not adversely affect the sediments because the sediments have already been created during the upstream flow or are being added from other rivers. However, a cascade of projects which prevents weathering in upstream reaches will prevent absorption of the beneficent elements in water and remove the base on which the coliphages survive. The conclusion that Tehri Dam will not affect the self-purifying capacity of Ganga waters may possibly be correct on a stand-alone basis; but this cannot be extrapolated to other projects especially when a cascade is being built which will almost totally divert the upstream river waters into tunnels and prevent weathering.

Creation of coliphages

The NEERI study does not give any indication of the reasons of creation of the wide-spectrum coliphages. There is an oblique suggestion that this may be due to the miniscule amounts of beneficent radioactivity on the river water. However, this is not substantiated. If this were so, it should be possible to replicate their creation under laboratory conditions by exposing water of other rivers to same small levels of radioactivity. NEERI agreed to this suggestion for further research but expressed inability to undertake this in absence of another sponsored project (NEERI 2010).
It is possible that the vibrations of sages in the area may be leading to the creation of these coliphages. Or a unique combination of flow velocity, weathering, algae, temperature etc. may be leading to their creation. It is wise to apply the ‘precautionary principle’ until we know the precise conditions under which these special coliphages are created. It is best to leave the river in its pristine conditions till then.


River water has small micro-organisms that are food for bacteria. These are called ‘phytoplankton’. The quality of aquatic life substantially depends upon the availability of variety of phytoplankton. NEERI has calculated the diversity indices of phytoplankton in Ganga waters. These are reproduced below:
Table: Average Density, Diversity and Composition of Phytoplankton at different Sampling Points of the Rivers/Tributaries in the Study Area (September, 2002 to August, 2003)
Sl No
Sampling Location
Shannon Weiner Diversity Index (SWI)
Palmer’s Index
Tehri upstream (Bhagirathi)
Tehri upstream (Bhilangana)
Tehri downstream (Bhagirathi)
 Source: Table 17, NEERI 2004.
A reading of above table shows that the Tehri upstream shows complete absence of phytoplankton and diversity Index of 0. This may be due to upstream hydropower projects which cause almost all the water of the river to flow through tunnels, deprive micro-organisms of sunlight and air that are necessary for their development.
The table also shows a major decline in the count as well as the diversity index between upstream Tehri (Bhilangana) and downstream Tehri (Bhagirathi). These data indicate a negative impact of Tehri Dam on micro-organism. NEERI has not assessed the implications of this decline. ( all material in italics is  from an activist’s Summary of the Neeri report, used with permission )
It is interesting that the role of the phage as available in sediment, is the most emphatic aspect of a river’s life and sustenance. Ravi Nandan Singh, in his path-breaking work on Benaras and the river Ganga (unpublished theses submitted to JNU 2010) writes of these phage as disappearing because of the irrevocability of plastic, both as reality and as a metaphor, which replaces the theological idea of the immortal soul. Singh writes that the Ganga Action Plan was set up in the domain of a particular affectual politics where Rajiv Gandhi saw his role as expiatory after the assassination of his mother in 1984 and the criminal elimination of five thousand Sikhs (the number is disputed by activists who believe the number to be much larger) in the capital city of Delhi. To quote from Singh’s  doctoral work, submitted to JNU in 2010 and titled Representations of Death in Benaras,
The extent of the river’s pollution cannot be gauged by the abstract quantified measures of scientific results of chemical experiments or moral-religious damning of the people. The extent of the pollution can be properly estimated by locating how people’s lives have been failed by liberal democracy in certain domains, water being one major component of it, but not the only one. Badiou similarly does not consider the liberal humanitarian capitalistic democracy itself as to be the evil. He argues that what is evil is that it is posed as the greatest possible Good. He also argues that Evil could only be conveyed when Good is clearly represented. Thus it would be useful to locate both these idioms in Badiou’s own words. In delineating Good he poses event, fidelity and truth to be the three registers:
The event, which brings to pass something other than the situation, opinions, instituted knowledges; the event is a hazardous, (hazardeux) unpredictable supplement, which vanishes as soon as it appears; the fidelity, which is the name of the process; it amounts to as sustained investigation of the situation, under the imperative of the event itself ; it is an immanent and continuing break; the truth as such, that is, the multiple, internal to the situation, that the fidelity constructs, bit by bit, it is what the fidelity gathers together and produces (2001: 67-68) ( Badiou cited in Singh 2010:181)

Singh uses the work of Veer Bahdra Mishra, the mahant, who combines his religious belief with scientific principles to clean the Ganga .  He writes that,

He ( the mahant) observes that the machineries installed at the ghats do not work, so the only way to ‘save’ Ganga would be to apply a plan which runs without electricity. In his plan of ‘Integrated Wastewater Oxidation Pond System’ based on ‘biological control’ it is a ‘return to the bacteria. (Singh 2012:214)
 Singh traces the history of the discovery of autophage to Felix D’Herelle and others such as Ernest Hanbury Hankin and Frederick Twort. (ibid 220) Singh quotes D’Herelle’s  1921 work,

The difficulties of exposition of the subject will readily be comprehended if we realize that up to the present time Bacteriology has been considered as a  ‘problem of two bodies’, bacterium and medium, whether the medium be the organism parasitized or a culture fluid. And this problem of the two bodies has been indeed complex. But it is of necessity much less complicated than the “problem of three bodies” with which we must now be concerned, where we must recognize the interactions between the medium-culture medium or oganism parasitized, - the bacterium parasitizing this medium, and the ultamicrobial bacteriophage parasitizing the bacterium (D’Herelle 1921:6) cited in ibid 221)
The interesting problem for the Sociologist is ofcourse that the relationship of the State to it’s people has changed dramatically. T.K Oommen’s work “From Mobilisation to Institutionalisation” was concerned essentially with the way in which land reforms could make a difference to how the poor benefitted, or did not benefit as much as was hoped, from bhoodan and redistribution. The problem of land displacement has been foremost in the minds of social scientists for the last several decades. For the generation that grew up with the idea of dams as the  symbol of a secular and rational citizenship, the real problems came with the questions around the latter. Amita Baviskar writes in Riverlines (2003) that,
Dams and bombs stake out the territory of Indian modernity; Nehru’s temples now serve to glorify the Hindu rashtra (nation), trailing displacement and death in their wake.
Sacred rivers have been profaned in more ways than one. How can one talk about Indian rivers without acknowledging their appalling  pollution? Far too many of them deserve Huysmans’s condemnation of the Bievre in Paris:

That strange river, that dumping-ground of filth, that  bilge which is the colour of slate and melted lead..starred with muddy spittle… The river is nothing but a moving dung-heap. (Baviskar 1993:xiii)

Rashid C.A has in his Mphil dissertation, titled “Industrial pollution and people’s struggle: a case study of Eloor, Kerala” (JNU 2010), argued forcefully for riverine rehabilitation. In a note he prepared for circulation,  he says that,
 For the past two decades, social anthropological research on environmental issues has been part of a broad public sphere that has witnessed a sharp increase in environmental decay like, contamination of ground water, degradation of flora and fauna, genetical disordering and livelihood problems e.g decline of fishing wealth and the fertility of agricultural land, on the banks of the Periyar river due to large-scale emission or affluence of manufacturing, biochemical industries. The associated people’s struggle and industrial and state discourses attract sociological investigation.
Sustainable development is the bases of the people’s movements on the banks of the Periyar in Kerala, and following the pioneering work of T.K. Oommen, Rashid C.A believes that people’s movements are essentially innovative and creative. My work on the fisherpeople in Allapuzha in the 1990s showed that river and sea movements were becoming linked across India, as fisherpeople believed that they had the right to protect the earth: Tom Kocherry and the nuns and priest of the radical liberation theology movements essentially believed that they would link up with Medha Patkar in order to provide a catalyst to the Ecological movements of the 90s to give a framework within which grass root leaders could represent the occupational  choices of men and women in the country. (Visvanathan  1994, 2000). David Harvey in the “Spaces of Capital” (2001) argues that ideology defines the way in which space is transformed in the relationship established by migration, between town and country. He writes,
 The history of cities and of thinking about cities has periodically  been marked by intense interest in the transformative role of urban social movements and communal action. Such movements get variously interpreted, however, depending upon historical and geographical conditions. The Christian reformism culminating in the social control argument of Robert Park and the Chicago School of Urban Sociology (evolved during the inter-war years in the United States and exported around the world in the post war years as standard fare for urban sociologists) contrast, for example with both the pluralist ‘interest group’ model of urban governance favoured by Robert Dahl and the more radical and revolutionary interpretations arrived at (mainly in Europe and Latin America) during the 1960s and the 1970s (culminating in Castell’s magnum opus on The City and the Grassroots.)  (Harvey 2001:188)
Harvey suggests that, “the sense of possibility and desire for change in political and intellectual circles, often expressed as utopian dreams of alternative city forms on the one hand and the need to identify political agents – such as proletariat or urban social movements – capable of realizing such dreams on the other” represent potential points of disjunction. (ibid 189) While the bourgeouisie represent Commonwealth Games and Walmart as the symbol of their consistent desire to be westernised, the farmers’ movements have essentially located the earth and their articulate position on it, in the use of symbols, as their anchoring point. When Khandwa farmers immersed themselves in their inundated fields for a fortnight till their MPs and Chief Minister responded we see just such heroism, unrelenting because farming was their life. Gandhi wrote in the 1920s and 1930s  in Young India, that the poor are committed because they have nowhere else to go. Patriotism then becomes the very lifeblood of such movements. While Germany and Japan have said No to nuclear energy, the Indian Nation State pulverises the survivors of the Tsunami in Kudankoolam, but the protest of the fisherpeople  is essentially about water, pollution and right to life and work. Whether it is the 48 rivers that flow into the sea in Kerala, or the state of the Coovam as it represents the sludge of Chennai, activists have made rivers the essence of existence for both town and country. The rivers are the veins of the cosmic egg, the seas the inner waters, as Diana Eck reminds us.
Was citizenship a basic human right? The difference between the rhetoric of the 50s and the loss of dialogue in the 21st century is because there has been a radical shift away from the redistribution model to the idea of the liberal economy, where the bourgeousie get to make the rules, regardless of  political party. The obstacle to a shining India, or to the development paradigm are the  farmers, , the rural stakeholders in agriculture. The State’s interest in agriculture then, unfortunately for such people, as farmers with small land holdings, becomes represented as Food Security, Scientific Temper, Industrialisation of Agriculture, Bt technology. The ideology of capitalism then locates itself in the questions of ruling the masses, the so called 80 percent of our population, which now is drawn into the cities as cheap labour during floods, famines and drought. The riverine economies which are ancient and self sustaining are now problematised as essentially out of sync with the real ambition of Indians, which is colonisation of  extra terrestrial space, and missile warfare, as the art of  hoarding,self defense and power mongering.

In a talk given at Centre for Historical Studies, JNU on 14 September 2012, at the Sarvapalli Gopal Memorial Lecture, Christopher Bayly spoke of the friends of Nehru who influenced him, and these were G.B Pant,  A. R Gadgil,  Mahalanobis and Radhakrishnan. Pant brought the sense of village India,  influenced as he was by Malviya and Gokhale; A.R Gadgil believed that co-operatives were a mid way towards industrialisation; and differed in this from Gandhi, who believed that rural development was an end in itself; Mahalanobis was concerned with the ethnographic role of the State, and Radhakrishnan thought that Vedanta could bring people appreciably closer. (Bayly 2012) There is another map, though,  I wish to argue, and that is the way in which we understand how the Congress Socialist party in the 1930s, brought about a great dialectic  in the way we think about peasantry. This was essentially to use associations and the printing press during colonialism to actually work a new map of rights and duties for the farmers, which would include wages, prices and consumption. These kisan sabhas  as Acharya Narendra Dev saw it, were an integral part of the vision of how the peasantry would define it’s own place in the birth of the nation. In a paper written for presentation at the Benaras  Hindu University at the Exclusion and Inclusion Cell in 2009, I argued that today, the farmers need to define their orientation to land, water resources and food in terms of the debates which make them  representative stake holders, in how India is perceived by them.  (See Visvanathan 2009)The theoretical premises which were discarded in the tension that arose between the CSP and the Congress during the freedom movement have to be re-visited. An intelligentsia of the people, which is essentially what activists are, have to present the very terms of the argument in terms of the practicality of their world views. (Freire )
The right to life, and the right to speech is one of the key areas that the activists who fight for Gangajee and the free flow of her waters define as the primary aspect of their struggle. However, given the vested interests of the MPs, MLA, traders and their goons, the activists who wish to oppose the building of dams for Hydroelectricity have a very hard task. When Bharat Jhunjhunwala was attacked in his home, the activist Vimalbhai sent out a petition, on June 26th  2012. His first language is Hindi, in which his blogs are written, but for the benefit of English speakers who do not read Hindi, he wrote as follows,

Dear friends
as you know about the attack on Bharatji by goons of dam company. as many of us are active and doing something in different way. now i think there is need of a
coordinated effort.or divide the work. I have some thoughts in my mind which i am sharing with you.
  • Petition to NHRC on the roll of state govt. (need to make a draft, i am trying to find out possibilities form lawyer)
  • mass letter writing to CM and to PM my letter is with you, English translation can be done.
  • Delegation to power Ministry--demanding  black list the company and contractor     
  • Delegation to MOEF asking them to follow their own rules and committee recommendations.(on a larger issue related with dams on gangaji we can work on that)
  • letter or a Delegation to PM as he is the chairman of NRGBA with all the member of NRGBA
  • statements form different district of Uttarakhand (i am doing that and some other groups are also active)

The blogspot matuganga.blogspot communicates the urgency of the matter. In 1942, when Gandhiji came out of jail, he communicated that the cotton farmer could survive only if he/she learnt to multi-task.(See Visvanathan 2009) They would have to  be spinners, weavers, dyers and also learn to sell their cloth. The activists of the River protection communities are essentially learning that if their concern with wholistic living is to be the signature of their life and work they will have to be visible, not just numerous. The interesting aspect of the bourgeoisie is that they cannot see the people, except as functionally in servitude to them. Popular movements dispel the idea of the invisibility of the masses, as the peasants of Khandwa and the fisherpeople of  Tamilnadu have shown with regard to nuclear energy which potentially and vehemently changes the horizon of their daily lives. The Gandhian prerogative of “doing without” becomes the leitmotif of these movements… It is a choice they make, and as citizens they have a right to those choices. When  America returned Bharat Jhunjhunwal, a former faculty member of the IIM, and who chooses to live in  a village in Uttarakhand, writes to intellectuals, he says,
Many dams on Ganga River have been held up because the Supreme Court has asked for a study of cumulative impacts of dams on river ecology.
Now Ministry of Environment and Forests has given a study to IIT Roorkee. Our study indicates that this study will be a whitewash.
We have written a note on the topic which is attached for your kind perusal. We intend to circulate it widely among all faculty members of IIT Roorkee, and more. We have sent a similar note to Ministry of Environment and Forests already.
We would be very happy if you would endorse this petition and also help us obtain endorsements by academicians - past and present- and persons who can help us.

JP Debral, one of the intellectuals who was asked to mediate between  World Bank officials and activists’ opposition to WB loan wrote on 7.4.2012

Come what may. We will have to accept reality. RR issues will remain the most important issue for the affected people. This is also sure that once they get the money many of them will not oppose the dam. But then they have nothing to loose if they oppose the dam after getting the compensation. Let us keep this opportunity open. Let them say what damage has happened or is likely to happen after taking the compensation.
We cannot be choosers at this stage. We will have to continue to fight at every front. Those who are opposing the dam at the ground should be encouraged to do so. The dam authorities or the government must face resistance from every quarter. We cannot be selective here. If Bharat Bhai wants to interact at the policy level we must encourage and support him. He is doing it at the Rajya Sabha, Planning Commission, Courts, WB and Government levels. Every level has to be dealt with.
I think Vimal Bhai, Madhu Kishwar, Bharat Bhai and Thariyalji have already made their positions clear. Let us respect their commitments. I do not want to pitch the wisdom of one against that of the other.
Together we can think of bringing change. A few inches gained by each of them will make a feet of progress. What is important that in the end the policy changes.
JP Dabral

Activists have their perspectives which arise from their orientations and training. Biographically, they may have points of departure.  The energy that one person has is a result of many hundreds providing him/her with a stabilising position.   Weber’s theory of charisma as a form of social action is useful for us to understand, since activism often depends on the power of the collectivity to recognise this as a catalyst for social change. The networks that form may run in time span of decades, as in the case of Tehri, including  in its fold, new members according to context. On December 10th 2011, an activist wrote that,
We had filed a Writ Petition in Uttarakhand High Court, regarding the Dhari Devi Temple, which is to be uplifted for Srinagar project. The High Court asked us to approach Archaeological Survey of India. If ASI fails to protect the monument then we may approach the HC again. The temple is not currently protected under the Ancient Monuments Act. Please let me know if you know someone in ASI who can help.
 Elsewhere, in my work “The Children of Nature” (2010) I have shown how secular scholars and  devout believers have engaged with the question of the greening of the Annamalais and specifically the Holy Mountain,  called Agnisthal or Arunachala, in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. The Madras High Court has accepted petitions on behalf of Arunachala, thought to be the embodiment of Shiva and Parvati in unison. So also, the concern that believers have shown in the protection of Ganga is allied with the concern of Ecologists, Scientists and activists of various political hues. When Bharat Jhunjhunwala was attacked, the noted activist Vimalbhai sent a letter to  share the pain of the event, on 25.6.2012
Dear friends

You might know on 22nd June 2012, a mob of about 40 people including employees and contractors of JVK, a company building a large hydropower dam in Uttarakhand, India, barged into the house of Environmentalist Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala and threatened him to withdraw his legal representations against the dam. This is a breach of personal safety, freedom of speech and democracy. The Government of Uttarakhand must ensure that perpetrators of this attack are brought to courts and tried. The administration so far has taken no initiative to arrest them. Law and order in the state remain at the mercy of Political leaders and powerful police officers. Daughter of Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala, started a online petition to gather support for his right to lead a knowledge- based agitation in favor of his beliefs.

We all friends of Bharatji support this petition.The support from all the concerned citizen is not only solicited  to support and declare solidarity to Dr Jhunihunwala but also the cause to protect the fundamental right of "Right to Speech".

The attack against the Bharatji is not only against that particular individual but in fact this is an attack to suppress the voice of the people in favor of environment and peoples rights by the dam builders. The attack shows the attitude of total disregard of environment issues and peoples rights and the dam builders want to construct the dam with any hook and crook.

Vimalbhai & Rajendra Negi
Matu Jansangthan
Visit our blog<>
some films on youtube, just type --bandh katha
For Correspondence only:-
D-334/10, Ganesh Nagar, Pandav Nagar
We associate with National Alliance of Peoples' Movements (

The whole process of building opinion to save sacred rivers takes time, energy, money, and involves legal help and publicity. Yet, those who care about the legacy of a five thousand year civilisation, often feel they have the time and the commitment of the people who dwell in these riverine communities. In that sense, they are optimistic, because their notion of time is not apocalyptic, it is essentially ordered by their faith either in the divine or in the rational secular order of the Constitution as it is enshrined in the common knowledge of ordinary people.
Susan Visvanathan

[1] This was mentioned by scientists of NEERI during personal discussion with Dr Jhunjhunwala, at NEERI on 18 February 2010. This is not mentioned explicitly in the two NEERI reports.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A small repair shop

I got my first watch when I was 14. My mother got me a square  watch when she went to a Gulf country on her way back from England, via Rome and Paris and Switzerland, circa 1970. My father looked at  it, quite bemused, and hoped it would last on my wrist. He thought I was like Yuri Gelner, because watches usually stopped when I wore them. I had it for a while, and then, well, it stopped. And then I got one from Japan, in 1984, when Shiv made his first trip abroad, and I wore it for a while, but that too stopped. Then I wore the watch I  got from my father, which he had worn for forty years,  it had gold insides, which i never saw,  because it never lost time,and one year, 1994 perhaps, the white washers came to our house, and it was gone. When I got my first royalties for writing fiction in 2000,  for Something Barely Remembered, I bought a Titan for five thousand rupees, but I did a lot of housework with it, and had to take it  back to the shop, and they were aghast when they saw that the steel edges were kind of worn in such  a short time.  I got scolded for being so rough  with a valuable thing by the watch merchant assistant, who looked with one eye at me, while keeping his metal funnel on over his other eye..But, yes, they got it working...a thin watch which I had on for many years. When it stopped, I just put it away, and got an ordinary Titan, a very ordinary watch indeed and when that stopped working, I got the expensive one serviced, battery replaced and watch strap changed, and it's working very well. The local watch smith fixed it, because nothing was really wrong with it, it just needed the glass replaced, and the leather strap and the battery. Thank God for small shops where men sit with the ability to make old things work.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Farmers stand in line in the water, protesting that their lands have been inundated without compensatory land being given to them. The Supreme Court Judgement on this has been by passed. News of it came to viewers from Headlines Today, and while eating dinner, one watched astounded as the Jal Morcha participants appeared disembodied, their bodies soaked  in water,for fourteen days. On 6th  September, they were up to their chests, on 7th September 2012, the water was up to their chins. The sturdy Ms Palit is with them, speaking to camerapersons on their behalf. Khandwa is where the farmers grow cotton and wheat, and the  Medieval district where Mumtaz Mahal is said to have died, buried in the Zenab Gardens by Shah Jehan, before her remains were brought to Agra later in 1631. According to the essayist in Wikipedia, there is an airstrip rarely used in Khandwa. So really, we need to know why no one came to enquire from the Government when the Morcha began. This is one of the most fearsome aspects of government through neglect. Governments cannot run by wilfully ignoring the wishes of the people. A boy at the Crossroads in Delhi sold me 42 turberoses last week for fifty rupees. Why "forty two", I kept thinking, and then suddenly, I understood, his father had wrapped forty two stems of flowers, to say once there was a "Quit India Movement". The local people are entrenched in the stories of the Freedom Movement, and when I passed places like Betul on the way to Kerala, there are small sleepy railway stations where the ubiquitous fried breakfasts stare at you and as you travel past the cotton fields, you know why Gandhi made cotton the symbol of the Freedom Movement. Today, agricultural lands are being appropriated by the market garden, rice  wheat, bajra and cotton are substituted by flowers for middle and upper class use, so whether it is the poverty of those who sell the roses, or those who stand in water saying that they want land for land we really need to know why they are being left out of the  national discourse. Pension for road workers, displaced farmers and pastoralists, and education for their children,  (even Tehelka was sold by eight year old children at the Traffic corners and this has been substituted by Fashion magazines and Paul Coelho) the right of farmers to keep their lands, or receive equally productive ones is something that should be our primary agenda.