Savita is a Community Correspondent and human rights activist from Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. It was in the year 1993, when she was only 16 years old, that she started engaging with social movements and issues. She had to face resistance from her family but she was determined to participate in the regional human rights movements. “My first engagement was with the literacy campaign which started in order to eliminate superstitious beliefs that lurked in the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. We were engaging with students from schools and colleges and I was only in 10th grade then. Harsh Mander was…
Community correspondent Savita Rath has spent a decade mired in activism raising her voice against the unjust practices of corporates and the state in the turbulent Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh.
Her videos ask a pertinent question: Can the displacement of the people from their land and the destruction of the environment on which they depend be treated as collateral damage in India’s journey towards economic growth?
For the past 15 years the Kelo river has been dying a slow painful death. It’s 102 km path has become the dumping ground for a multitude of sponge-iron and coal plants, causing irreversible damage to it. The plants also siphon-off water from the river which originally served around 250 villages.
Kelo was the major source of drinking and irrigation water. But since the projects have come up, getting water is a strain especially for the villagers.
“Every summer there is a water crisis. We have finally managed to put some pressure on Jindal (Steel Pvt. Ltd.) to organise water. All our other protests however have gone unheard. Time and again the people’s movements have asked for enquiries into the environmental effect of the projects on the river, time and again we have been ignored,” says Savita.
With the water polluted, the organism in it are also dying. Savita’s environmentalist friends estimate that at least 6 species of fish from the area have disappeared. The fish, when in abundance, had been a source of livelihood for the villages. Now, they wash up dead on the banks of the river; their rising stench attracts scavengers and diseases of all kinds.
“I have given up eating fish,” declares Savita.
An article in Down to Earth magazine from1998 , enumerates the problems that were already being caused by the projects on the river. 15 years hence, the river has deteriorated, the people’s anger has grown and yet nothing has changed.
Time is not a luxury we have. Help prevent the death of this river.
Call to Action: Please call the District Collector, Mr Amit Kataria on 09425580306 and ask him to stop industries from dumping material in the river.
Savita is a Community Correspondent and human rights activist from Raigarh, Chhattisgarh.
It was in the year 1993, when she was only 16 years old, that she started engaging with social movements and issues. She had to face resistance from her family but she was determined to participate in the regional human rights movements.
“My first engagement was with the literacy campaign which started in order to eliminate superstitious beliefs that lurked in the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. We were engaging with students from schools and colleges and I was only in 10th grade then. Harsh Mander was the Collector for Raigarh District then and he was the one who got us together. I started participating in street plays as a medium to create awareness.”
It was under the Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission (education scheme) that she was appointed as a teacher in a government school, where she witnessed high dropout rates and absenteeism and no anganwadis (child care centres) for Adivasi children living in the area. She realised that the community was involved in odd jobs and was living hand-to-mouth, and so, education was mostly on the backburner. That was when she quit her job and started engaging with the community to make sure that an anganwadi and a school were established inside the forest for the Adivasi community, making it easier for them to access these facilities.
Savita is 43 years old and has been part of most of the campaigns running in the country, she has engaged with so many that a quick count seems impossible.
“My life took a major turn in January 2008, when a public hearing was proposed against the Jindal Group who were destroying the environment and robbing the community of their land and resources and not compensating the affected parties. But the state, in order to protect corporate interests, opened arms, and the Jindals gained the support of nearby villages to make sure the hearing would be in their favour. A riot seemed to be certain. I made sure that news of what happened reached people, so I contacted some media houses. The administration was wary of my actions, and so, many friends suggested that I quit my revolt against the group. They felt that it was too dangerous, and I should instead be a part of the Right to Food campaign or something similar. But I held my ground and told them that without “Jal Jungle Jameen“ (Water, Forest, Land), no campaign could ever be successful.”
Savita is a force to reckon with and she is not ashamed or embarrassed to ask the most difficult questions to the administration. She currently works with Jan Chetna, an NGO working on human rights.“My way of reporting human rights violations to the media was through text messages, handling a camera was definitely a big deal for me back then. Thanks to the support of my mentors at VV, I now own one and use it for the community’s benefit. I have found a new identity and people approach me for support whenever there is an issue. And what is even better is that they own the medium now, it’s for the people and by the people.”Her work has exposed her to experiences and learnings aplenty, and she is gradually getting internationally acclaimed as well. She hopes to keep working for the community and wishes to support them, by all means, to make them self-reliant.