Is there a difference between a shelter and a box? Prefabricated metal boxes with the indignity of shared metal walls, just a sheet between one family and another? A storm is enough to blow it away and some lightning to cause the much-needed genocide to be rid of these people altogether!

What a relief for the authorities, those dissenting, objectors to the Grand Plan of Big Dams…!

Thankfully, there are spotless, white fixtures- fans, light switches, plug points – but they don’t work in this shelter near Awalda and Pichodi…wires trailing, open-ended like the looks of embarrassed shock exchanged! Tin-shed means mining which causes more displacement elsewhere , said a NBA worker Pavan Yadav.

The tremendous heat generated in summers in these sheds with no cross ventilation…’concentration camp’ was the unanimous name for the row of blue painted corrugated sheet-metal boxes. None of these have been occupied by the declared ‘displaced’ from the dam overflow. Finally 20 such shelters have spawned across Dhar, Khargone and Barwani areas. Average number of houses per shelter being 200 or 300 per shelter, Nisarpur being a large township had 2000 tin homes…rows and rows of them!

NBA works deeply in these 4 areas. No one came to live in these temporary tin-sheds yet there is electricity and water for 24 hours around the clock is the claim, Gunpur Chowk can proudly stake a claim. The structures had been built on commons, pasture-land for to tide over 4 months of rains – the affected villagers absolutely refused to step into these 10 by 15 feet metal matchboxes.


Some of our interviewees complained, will we keep our things or ourselves?

According to Rahul Yadav, these fly by night structures came up as the 31st July deadline loomed in the horizon projected as the last date for voluntarily emptying the villages and town or else get ready for police action and be drowned. Strangely, no judgement or tribunal mentions this temporary arrangement. It was always about complete and full rehabilitation which is pending at every level conceivable!

There are huge tracts of lands extracted from farmers, added with government lands (where did the government get their lands, bitiya, from us farmers, hai na, I was reminded by Sitaram Baba) was re-gifted back to them as government packages – which by the way, is unregistered and even more ad-hoc. The ground-level chaos is palpable even for outsiders like us, created by the systemic breach of even the most basic human and environmental rights. That’s another story but not very different.

When we first visited one in Sondhul area we spoke to the security guards who were guarding these toy-like metal houses adding to the heat of an already hot day, they seemed clueless. We don’t really know what we are guarding but we don’t like it one bit. He looks around the blue emptiness and says he wants to go home. So do all of us. Of course, most of the guards were from U.P. and belonged to the Reserve Police Force. One of them said we are simply following “orders”. We have no opinion. We asked them you too come from a farming family, right? Right, they said. So it could be your family which might find rehabilitation such as these? No answer.

There is no life. No trees in sight unlike the cool villages with houses huddled together shaded by neem trees which give Neemad its name. Kamlu Jiji, an old Andolan worker said, Ranjit Singh (Gaikwad) will always be remembered for giving Neemad its name, but what glory does the present Government earn creating these tin houses in the name of rehabilitation? A neem-tree at least gives a cool shade to rest under temporarily…but these temporary tin structures worth crores bring neither peace of mind nor comfort to the body. Could they not distribute the amount to the dispossessed?

The tin shed area is flanked by rocky hills – often large boulders have been known to roll off –the slightly forested area still has leopards – hardly a secure place for children and livestock – I am guiltily happy, leopards, some wild life in the depleted forest cover.

Today whole villages have come together under the Andolan’s shield. There are well-to-do farmers and businessmen standing united with the vulnerable landless labourers and fisher-people who by now would have been shunted off to be stewed and baked in turn in these tin ‘concentration’ camps. The faceless/rural being dispensable in the development – displacement narrative. This is definitely an achievement of the Andolan to channelise disparate interests and orient it towards opposing the wrongness in the way this entire rehabilitation is being handled.

Traditionally, the cattle is lovingly housed as an extension of one’s family in the main-house occupying an enviably large, cool space with earthern floor and roof – be it the wealthy land-owning family or a tribal home they know the value of their cattle-heads in their daily life which is undistinguished from their livelihood. Here in the tin shed housing colony the cattle are to be kept far-away from their human-family in a long common tin-shed. We can barely step into one of these pre-fabricated houses forget staying on for even an hour in the peak afternoon hour.

Filled with sharp rocks how can a sensitive animal like a cow, its calf rest on such a floor? If we give food to the cattle it will fall into the crevices of the rocks –not only waste of feed- it will cut into the tongues of the beast trying to retrieve the fallen feed! We could sense that this was a colossal joke – but no one dared laugh.

Some small-holding farmers have 1 or 2 heads of cattle , just enough for the family’s food and farming needs, but Awalda village has atleast several thousand heads of cattle among the villagers being a tribal-pastoral village – one size clearly, can’t fit all. Were any demographics considered before creating these shelters? Even a cursory survey would make it clear. An epidemic could easily wipe out a large number of livestock in this unnatural buffalo & cow ghetto, not to mention the unsanitary human slum-like situation that is bound to arise if God forbid they were occupied out of sheer desperation of the Sardar Sarovar Dam displaced people.
There are water pumps and no one to avail of it. But since last week, these are being removed by the NVDA authorities, as easily as hair on the head, water-works department removed Syntec tanks from Ganpur chowk tin-shed after 4 months of housing the security guards and now a group of migrant labourers from Bihar are under contract to construct the incomplete drains of the adjoining Resettlement area which has no water arrangements. They comprise of a handful of families who have fallen into the network of brokers and have moved into the incomplete Resettlement colonies. They haven’t received the entire package offered by the government and some have been cruelly tricked into breaking their old houses in their respective villages before receiving the first part of the meager lumpsum. A Chikalda villager mourned that he can’t put the roof to his new house since the promised remainder of his rehab package is still not given to him as promised and yes, he broke his house at the behest of a NVDA official egging him on as they took photographs and yes, he had fallen prey to the brokers. You can see his guilt knowing that people like him are weakening the Andolan, the very purpose of the NVDA official is served. These broken villages, for they are scattered to the 4 winds in different corners or even different resettlement areas, have to await water tankers sent by the respective Panchayat to the Resettlement area every 5 days. Or else they are left to drawing water from the temporary tin-shed area to make up for their deficit, as is the case of Gunpur vasahat (rehabilitation site)!!

Sounds just like the proverbial snake which has just swallowed its tail! It’s a conundrum. Still figuring out the twists and turns to the gory tale which every youngster and elder can rattle off, by heart. Yes, they still have a heart left in the backwaters of Barwani. Big hearts.

Will post some photos by and by, because I don’t have a heart at the moment that’s why. It’s fried in the Neemadi sun and mostly dried up by what we saw and heard – the cowardly creature. Yes. Since I have newly discovered ‘Tagging’ I am going all out. Will tag the old veterans in the fight – they have their own battle turfs and are exempt, even then-but new-comers or the curious-one timers, the hesitant, fence sitters, those in doubt that how can they really count, the comfortable & well heeled who cringe at loud displays, must come and see what’s happening for themselves. Your notions will be shaken, at the very least, or uprooted from your second hand or bookish notions.

Like the ‘shepherder’, it is she who brought Neemad together, as Kamlu didi calls Medha tai Patkar, -scattered sheep- for a common purpose to save our river. ‘Didi’ or ‘tai’ who forgets to sleep or eat, careworn but uncompromising in her stand for justice. Oh, she’s well aware walking a sharp edge juggling the river, forests, farmlands with the life of people. The survival of one may not assure the survival of the other, and she is greedy to want both- ALL?! Selfish!! She doesn’t need you or me because she has pledged her last breath already – paid it forward to the deprived of this country. It’s an open house please come for your own well-being and learning. To see if I have imagined much of it.

Oh, and please don’t come looking for blue tin sheds, they would have by then disappeared, dismantled as swiftly as they had been put up, back into the deep pockets of the Narmada Valley Development Authorities endless pockets. There is so much more to Neemad to see and take in though-the other kind of houses where the walls have soaked in rhythmic, seasonal coming and going, births, deaths, festivals and songs, grinding, sorting, drying, storing, feeding, homeless and hungry souls like us- those kinds of houses too will be gone if you don’t speak out now. If you come close to the whitewashed walls or rounded corners and deep alcoves in the clay walls, even before enter through the low, old seasoned teak-wood doors weathered to a dusty blue, you will feel a coolness coming out to reach you before the feminine, turmeric-stained or mehendi-pattern hand offering you a glass of precious water with a smile, will be gone if you don’t register your NO TO BIG DAMS now.

(It’s a long song still- but not a dirge yet!)


written by Atreyee Day