“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.