Medha Patkar ends hunger strike for flood victims after talks with govt

Patkar went on an indefinite hunger strike in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district.

Credit : News 18 Hindi

When Medha Patkar launched the ‘Narmada Chunauti Satyagraha’ on 25th August, she had the support of only four villagers. Today, while the support has burgeoned, Patkar’s health has equally deteriorated. However, she has finally agreed to end the indefinite hunger strike today following a discussion with former Chief Secretary of State Sharadchandra Behar, an emissary of Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath.

Patkar went on an indefinite hunger strike in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district demanding rehabilitation of people in flood affected districts of Barwani, Dhar and Aliraipur. She had also demanded opening up the channel gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam, as rising backwaters have flooded areas around Barwani.

Currently, details of the discussion between Medha Patkar and Behar are unknown, however it can be considered as a rectifying measure by MP government in rehabilitating the victims and regulating the Narmada water level in affected regions.  

Last month, 26 out of 30 gates of Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada were opened following a heavy inflow of water from upstream. Heavy rains coupled with the Narmada flowing 7 metres above the danger mark of 123.28 metres threw normal life out of gear in many parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Almost 80 villages in the three districts have been flooded ensuing Gujarat government’s reluctance to release water. “Even after 3 weeks, the administration’s actions about rehabilitation weren’t quite apparent. The victims were struggling to survive and clearly needed immediate government aide. Heedless of several requests, the administration has continued to be apathetic. In such a situation, a peaceful indefinite hunger strike was impending,” says Himanshu Parihar, one of the protestors in Barwani.

Earlier this week, MP CM Kamal Nath had sent a three-member team of independent mediators to persuade the social activist, or at least negotiate with her about the demands. When the mediators couldn’t do anything, the CM called Patkar requesting her to end the hunger strike. MP Home Minister Bala Bacchan too visited Patkar and assured her that her demands will be considered. However, Patkar refused to end the strike then, stating that none of the officials talked about regulating the water level which would aid the flood victims in residing in their villages until the rehabilitation process is complete.

According to District collector Amit Tomar, Patkar was not allowing the medical team to examine her. Though he had been daily sending the doctors, Patkar repeatedly refused to be examined or treated.

While Patkar’s health worsened, her supporters continued the strike, refusing to back off or compromise with any of the demands. They accused the Gujarat and Central government of disregarding the protests and the feeble conditions of flood victims. Gayatri, member of the Narmada Bachao Samiti said, “Their (Gujarat and central government) silence is deafening. Officials don’t understand the consequences of their indifferent attitude. Without acknowledging the impact, PM Narendra Modi tweeted and rejoiced about Narmada water level reaching 134 metres. However, he hasn’t yet commented about Medha Tai’s strike or the future of 32,000 families which were affected by the flood”.

When Medha Patkar critizised Modi by stating, “He has a different notion of ‘development’, he wants to turn Sardar Sarovar Damn into a tourist spot,” many assented. According to one of the protestors, Kamal Nath has been trying to dialogue with the Gujarat government about releasing more water from the Sardar Sarovar Dam. But the latter government has been obstinate as it may affect the revenue generated by the tourism industry near the dam and Statue of Unity.

Milan Yadav, another protestor, opined, “Medha Didi’s protest is extremely democratic, which is quite rare considering the modern India setting. If governments aren’t ready to compromise, consider or fulfil our demands by taking corrective actions, we will lose faith in peaceful protests.” He further went on to say that if Patkar’s health had worsened anymore, then no one would be blamed except the chief ministers of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and PM Narendra Modi.

Journalist and climate justice activist Avinash Chanchal posted few pictures on the twitter saying, “32,000 families, their villages, homes and lives are drowning. And our PM is promoting tourism in Narmada. To tour what? Burial grounds of people and villages?” Another climate activist has tweeted on how environmental activists like Medha Patkar and their work in India is being flouted by the majority as they continue to celebrate festivals and focus on secondary issues of society.


Also commenting about the lack of media exposure, another protestor, Bhagyashree Deo said, “Most people don’t know what’s going on here and we blame the media for creating no awareness about this issue. Water is at an alarming 135 mts now, and it may result in almost 190 villages being submerged. Government fails to rehabilitate. Officials have chosen to remain silent. Medha Didi’s health continues to deteriorate. Yet we don’t see any media or public outrage which may help with the demands being fulfilled.”