Harda jal satyagraha: Protesters defy police, enter water again

Harda jal satyagraha: Protesters defy police, enter water again
Harda:  The villagers in Madhya Pradesh's Harda district, who were pulled out of the water by the police this morning to end their protest, have defied the prohibitory orders of the district administration and have resumed their agitation.

Around 50 villagers have gone back inside the water.

The state government had began a crackdown at dawn today to bring out the protesters, who had been sitting in neck-deep water to demand that the water level in the Indira Sagar dam be lowered from 262 to 260 metres.

About 100 policemen and Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed overnight after the administration imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Sharp at 5.30 am, ambulances drove up and the police had made an announcement asking the protesters to come out of the water citing health concerns. By 6.15 am they had brought down a tent pitched on the bank of the Narmada; about 200 protesters in the tents were loaded into the waiting ambulances. (See pics)

When those in the water refused to come out, many cops in orange life-jackets entered the water to begin the eviction. At about 7 am the policemen cut the cable on the NDTV OB van to discourage media coverage of the eviction. By 9.15, all the protesters had been brought out of water, Harda Collector Sudan Khade announced. Mr Khade supervised the operation along with Harda's Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Manjusha Rai and Superintendent of Police Anurag.

"We used about 150-200 policemen for the crackdown in the morning. Among those who were taken out, some have been taken to the hospital. These protesters were warned, but they didn't listen. Their health was at risk so we had to take this step," said Mr Khade.

An activist Chitrupa Palit said the agitation would continue; they accuse the government of adopting "double standards." "What are they doing? This is like an occupation Army! The police are treating people like they are convicts or prisoners. There is no health problem, but even if there is, the police can't arrest people. It's preposterous and illegal! They have used force and brought us out without our wishes," said Ms Palit.

The clinically executed police action in Harda was in sharp contrast to what happened 200 km away just two days ago. In Khandwa's Ghogalgaon village, 51 villagers who first began this unusual form of protest, got Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to accept both their key demands - lowering the water level in the Omkareshwar dam and promising to give land for land compensation. The protesters at the Indira Sagar dam have identical demands and had begun their agitation a few days after the Omkareshwar protesters did.

For 15 days, about five or six people stayed in the water, while others joined them in shifts, sitting in neat rows. The state government has increased the water level in the Indira Sagar dam to 262 metres, which threatens to inundate 19 villages. Three villages are already submerged in water. The state government plans to increase the water level further in the dam by .02 metres.

Both the Omkareshwar and the Indira Sagar dams are built across the Narmada river and are part of the Indira Sagar Project. The water protests were launched with the help of the Narmada Bachao Andolan to demand proper rehabilitation for land that the villagers have lost and a reduction in the water level of the dam.

It was the Omkareshwar protest that first got worldwide attention after the unusual form of protest was highlighted by the media. The photograph of the shriveled, bruised feet of a woman protester went viral on social networking sites.

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