Lake of Tears

Rangamati

“When you destroy the earth, you destroy yourself. This is the common thread in indigenous people all over the world.” ~ Melina Laboucan-Massimo

Electricity by means of hydropower on the surface appears to be a good thing. For some places, like the town of Harsud, India, however, the implementations of this decision resulted in devastation of their lives without decent compensation. Arundhati Roy recaps the saga in her well-known piece called “The Road to Harsud.” This story resonated with me because a similar situation occurred in Rangamati, the hill town where I lived in Bangladesh. There, a dam was built to provide power for mainland Bengalis at the expense of 100,000 indigenous residents who lost their land. Local residents to this day call the resulting beautiful body of water the “Lake of Tears”. Most were never fully compensated for their land as they had been promised and 30-35 thousand people whose homes had been submerged immigrated to India.

When I read Roy’s work, it made me angry on many levels, including:

1. Government’s waste could have increased current power supplies more efficiently than destroying a town, villages and natural beauty.
2. The callousness towards minority people groups. (Note: “adivasis” means indigenous people; adivasis were also the victims in Rangamati). “A house collapses on four labourers. When they are extricated, one of them is unconscious and has a steel rod sticking into his temple. But they’re only adivasis. They don’t matter. The show must go on.”

3. Discrimination against the victims based on wealth. While the rich could bribe their way to compensations (even a barn would qualify as a second house), the masses of impoverished people were slighted.”Essentially those who are landless—fisher people, boat people, sand quarriers, daily-wage workers and those who are considered ‘encroachers’ do not qualify as project-affected and are done away with.” What was called “Better Management” actually destroyed communities.

4. Lack of social concern for the 249 villages plus the town of Harsud that became submerged due to the installation of the dam. People lost everything—their homes, their livelihoods, their communities—at the expense of one powerful company. Perhaps most horrific is that the World Bank praised this company’s work!

5. Lack of planning and calculations for desired outcomes. Just one of the statistics Roy found was that in order to irrigate 1,23,000 hectares (303,940 acres) of land, it would submerge 91,000 hectares! However, 30,000 of those hectares were already irrigated!  This would mean only a net profit of 2000 hectares irrigated!

To my Chakma, Tripura and other adivasi friends in Bangladesh, I want you to know that “Amar mon khub karap!” I have not forgotten about you and I hope that someday you will have and see the beautiful ranga mati restored.

Prayer and Prejudice

black-hand-white-hand-praying

We had arrived at the Little Rock airport over an hour prior to my boarding time and since it wasn’t crowded, I knew it wouldn’t take long to get through security. Since it would be my last hour together with my parents for awhile, we decided to get a bite to eat somewhere. The only establishment outside the airport premises and within a 20 minute drive was a Waffle House, or as my mother likes to phrase it, “Awful House”. We decided to risk the gas and grease so that I could fully round out my visit to the South (note the sarcasm).

As we parked next to Awful House, I noticed an older,Caucasian woman smoking a cigarette near the dumpster–an employee on break. Stepping inside we were welcomed and seated by a bubbly African American waitress. She was about to take our order when the woman I had seen outside pushed her aside and muttered, “They don’t want you. They want me because I’m white and your black.”

I was stunned, and thought to myself, “Actually I don’t prefer you because you were just smoking a cigarette and need to wash your hands.”

As she served us our grits and OJ, this older woman complained about a crook in her neck from a recent move.

“Can I pray for your neck?” I asked, right before we headed out.

“Sure. Go ahead.”

As I was praying, something powerfully miraculous happened. It wasn’t that her neck was instantly healed. Something else happened. Something that was healing centuries of hurt. Another person had joined me in placing their hands on her pain and praying for her. I thought at first it was my dad. But when I finished praying and looked up, it was the woman who had seated us! The very woman whom she had moments earlier made racial slurs towards.

Wow! Witnessing moments like that are what give me hope for racial reconciliation on our planet. Here in front of me was an example of “turning the other cheek,” of retaliating a revile with a blessing. Of choosing prayer and healing over hurt and hatred.