Exhortation, Memorium

The Call of Harsud: Vikas Chahiye, Vinas Nahin

Baba Amte addressing Harsud Rally Photo by Smitu Kothari.  Photo of Shankar Guha Niyogi by Anand Patwardhan.  Remaining Photos taken from video footage of John D'Souza.

It was at a gathering in 1999 that many of my generation first heard of the Harsud Rally and were present when the 28th of September was declared as Harsud Day which we commemorated along with the people of the Narmada Valley in Domkhedi, in the hamlet called Kuthavani Pada, Akkalkuva Tehsil, District Nandurbar, Maharashtra.

Ten years prior, people of the Narmada Valley along with as many as fifty thousand people from villages and valleys and towns across India had come together to call for a development policy that worked for them, that supported social and environmental justice through the democratic process.  To expose and oppose policies that were made in the name of development but in fact extinguished the very resources that supported people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as the lives of myriad other species.  To stand united for just and equitable development, for the survival of the rivers and forests and all the life and culture they nourish.

Narmada Welcome to Harsud

Banner at Harsud reads: Heartfelt welcome to the embrace of the Narmada.

The invitation to Domkhedi had read:

Many of you will remember that ten years ago thousands had gathered at Harsud. People from several dams on the Narmada and other river  valleys, friends from struggles and organisations from Kerala to Delhi, Assam to Rajasthan had gathered together in Harsud on 28th Sept. 1989. We all had together said – “We want development not destruction” (Vikas Chahiye, Vinas Nahi) . It was not just a slogan but a goal and it still is. We will take stock of the decade long struggle against the Sardar Sarovar and discuss the past and the future of the struggle with all of you. We look forward to have a dialogue  with you. We will meet for this in the lap of  Narmada – on the morning of 27th September. Friends of the Andolan – old and the new – will gather to decide the future course of  Andolan. We will discuss and debate on shaping the future of the valley through struggle and reconstruction. Do come, to be with us.

Shankar Guha Niyogi

Shankar Guha Niyogi (1943 – 1991) Photo: Anand Patwardhan

The 28th of September is also the Shadid Divas of Shankar Guha Niyogi, a martyr in the struggle for the rights of workers and the environment in Chhattisgarh.  In an essay articulating the perspective of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh on the environment, he wrote,

“Now when the skies darken in anticipation of rain, the peacock no longer dances spreading the full glory of his feathers. His dancing ground, the jungle has been destroyed beyond repair. And, still the felling of trees continues unabated.”

– Shankar Guha Niyogi, “Our Environment”

The call of Harsud, which we repeated in nearly every meeting and rally and pamphlet was, ‘Vikas Chahiye!  Vinas Nahin!”

This clear and urgent message from Harsud has inspired movements and organizations throughout India and the world working for sustainable, just, equitable development based on people’s participation.   The Association for India’s Development has marked Harsud Day in its annual calendar and calls upon all the people to join in keeping alive the spirit and memory of this momentous rally and the ongoing struggle for peace and justice.

Journalist and filmmaker K P Sasi remembers the Harsud Rally:

It was a great experience for me to attend Harsud Rally. I was also shooting a documentary film called “A Valley Refuses to Die” on Narmada dams at that time. The Harsud Rally is significant in many ways:

1. For the first time in the political history of India, a large number of people’s movements came together against a common issue called “Destructive Development.”

2. Development as an issue came out on the mainstream forcefully in India as a major issue after Harsud Rally, though much before Harsud, the struggles like Silent Valley and many other have raised this issue.

3. Harsud Rally gave energy to various people’s movements in India, even movements who did not participate continued the slogan raised during the rally “Development not Destruction.”

4. The sheer energy of the event was too inspiring.

5. Harsud rally also marked a large number of middle class youth participating in a social struggle, taking back the inspirations of the struggle to their own urban environments.

6. The places we travelled in Harsud are submerged under water today, but the inspiration, dreams and the energy which followed are still floating around.

Some images from “The Historic Harsud Rally” video footage shared by John D’Souza.

John D’Souza from the Center for Education and Documentation shares this footage from Harsud, 28 September 1989:

You can hear songs in several languages including “Desh Hit” and “Sari Duniya Mangenge!”   I hope those who were there at Harsud write about their experience and what has stayed with them over these twenty five years so that we can understand the histories of the struggles and their connections to the movements of today.

Further Reading:

Vijay Joshi, Thousands Form Human Chain to Protest Dam Project, 28 September 1989

Shankar Guha Niyogi, “Our Environment: Perspective of Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh” translated by Rajni Bakshi in The Peacock No Longer Dances,  published by Jan Vikas Andolan, September 28, 1992.

Omar Sattaur, “Indians protest against construction projects,” The New Scientist (1685), 7 October 1989.

N.K. Singh “A New Militancy,” India Today, 31 Oct 1989.

Hans Staffner, Baba Amte: A Vision of New India. Excerpt.

National Alliance of People’s Movements, The Movement of India, November 2010.

Narmada Bachao Andolan Press Releases from September 1999 http://www.rivernet.org/press996.htm

Ordindary People Extraordinary Movement


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