NEW DELHI - Indian human rights activist Medha Patkar ended her 20-day-old fast Monday after the Supreme Court of India said it will halt construction of a dam on the Narmada river if the government does not appropriately compensate displaced people.
Patkar, 51, who is the leader of the people's rights group Narmada Bachao Andolan (Campaign to Save the Narmada Valley, or NBA), had launched an indefinite hunger strike along with two colleagues, Jamsingh Nargave, 50, and Bhagwatibehen Patidar, 45, on March 29. Despite their arrest and forced hospitalization by the Indian government, the three had continued their fast in the hospital since early April.
Indian environmental activist Medha Patkar at hunger strike. Three United Nations human rights experts said that India should stop the construction of a contested dam which is to submerge the homes and land of tens of thousands of people.(AFP/Raveendran )
The NBA launched the protest because it said the government failed to compensate nearly 35,000 families forced from their homes by water from the rising dam. The government is supposed to provide two hectares of cultivable land for farming and a plot of land to construct a house to each family that is displaced by the project.
The group's representatives met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 25 asking for the displaced people to be compensated. When the Prime Minister's Office did not respond by March 28 as promised, Patkar and two others went on an indefinite hunger strike the next day.
The health of all three had declined considerably over the course of the fast, during which they survived on only water, salt, and lemon.
Though the fast has now been called off, the NBA said it will continue its demonstration on behalf of the people of the Narmada valley.
Ranjit Khosla from the civil society organization Development Alternatives said of the situation: ''We have to find ways to take the country forward, including the marginalized. We can't stop many of these projects but we have to do these in a manner that we don't affect other people's livelihoods.''
The NBA has been fighting for the rights of tens of thousands of displaced people in the Narmada valley in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh for nearly 20 years. The project seeks to create nearly 30 large dams that will generate electricity and also provide water for irrigation to drought-prone areas in these states.
The protest had begun to attract a large number of people from diverse walks of life. Within the first few days student unions, university teachers, civil society organizations, film stars, and independent filmmakers joined the activists at their demonstration site in New Delhi, close to the Indian Parliament. Many joined the fast in solidarity with the NBA leaders.
Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president Mona Das was happy with the outcome. ''Things have changed because of the agitation,'' she said. ''In the last 20 years nobody went to the valley, but now the government admits that rehabilitation has not been proper.''
Many activists and supporters were not happy with the Supreme Court's judgment, however. Activist and politician Udit Raj said, ''the court judgment does not do justice to the displaced people. At the same time the court admits that rehabilitation of the displaced has not been done properly.
''The courts as well as the governments pay extra heed to corporates these days,'' he added. ''But when it comes to the marginalized people these institutions take decades in taking a decision. They ensure that people do not get justice.''
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