INDIA: History repeats in Omkareshwar protest 

(Hong Kong, September 05, 2012) “This is taking the Ghandhian method to the water. To be submerged in water continuously for so many days is more difficult, in fact, than fasting…” Mr. Basil Fernando, Director – Polices and Programmes said referring to the ongoing protest in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, India by the villagers who lost their land and livelihood to the Omkareshwar Dam, one of the large dams under the controversial Narmada Valley Project.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has released an Urgent Appeal (AHRC-UAC-162-2012) on this case on 3 September 2012 on the issue. A subsequent statement titled Rights are a mandate, not a concession, also was issued by the AHRC on 4 September 2012 concerning the protest.

A protester holding to the last resort for justice – Source NBA ( Please click here to watch the video)

“This is the ultimate protest of the people, fighting in their own way to the death, defending the most basic things they have needed and loved all their lives.” said Mr. Fernando. Expressing concern about the apathy of the administration, failing to deal with the issue, at the very least to listen to the protesters, Mr. Fernando said “… the least any decent government can do is to visit and talk with them (protesters).”

Concerned about the health and safety of the protesters Mr. Fernando said: “Eleven days have passed, the water level is rising and their bodies could very badly be injured due to prolonged submergence.” “It is likely that they will die without the slightest care from their government.” said Mr. Fernando.

Referring to the government and the administration that has pushed the villagers to such extreme forms of protest, Mr. Fernando said “in fact, I was shocked and moved to see this most unusual form of protest from a very old group of people, and I asked to myself … is this what being an Indian has come to mean?”

Comparing the Omkareshwar protest to similar actions by the indigenous communities for their basic security of land and livelihood Mr. Fernando said “I could not help thinking of the Native Americans and indigenous Australian communities in their most desperate struggles, how they felt heartbroken having to face heartless and ruthless decisions, which were taken by governments without their consent.” “The protest in Omkareshwar appears to be a final fight of a broken-hearted people from the Narmada Valley.” Mr. Fernando added.

Calling upon the civil society groups, including the media in India to react Mr. Fernando said “there are moments of urgency when conscientious people, being forced to see a tragedy taking place before their eyes, can bring about a change by an expression of solidarity. This is such a moment. It would be a damning indictment on us if we allow these people to die after they have made their final appeal to us in such a loud manner.”

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