The Koel Karo resistance refuses to back down.
About The Video: Since 1955, the Government of India has had an ambitious vision for the Koel-Karo river valley- 2 major earth dams over the Koel and Karo rivers linked by a trans-basin channel feeding a hydroelectric project intended to generate 710 megawatts of power. This sweeping vision of development came at the cost of 256 villages with a predominantly tribal population of around 1,50,000 inhabitants who stood to lose everything – their homes, neighbourhoods, farms, livelihoods, culture and identity.
In 1970s, the government began the procedure to acquire land without providing for the proper rehabilitation of the communities. The element that the government had failed to factor into its plans was the resistance and power of the people.
The tribal along the Karo and Koel River each formed their own movement against the construction of the dam. Later, the two movements joined hands to form the Koel Karo Jan Sanghatan, a people’s movement that has successfully opposed the government’s plan for over four decades and continues to do so.
Time and again, the government has tried to move in. They have tried to arm twist and bully the people. They have tried to destroy the barricades the people have put up. They have opened fire and lathi-charged peaceful demonstrations. There have been eight martyrs in this prolonged and tireless struggle but the people have refused to back down.
When the movement submitted a comprehensive plan for ‘Complete Rehabilitation’, the government tried and failed miserably to fulfill the demands. The Government proposed to reduce the scale of the project but the communities have held their ground. It is this grit of the people that has made the Koel Karo resistance movement the most successful non-violent people’s movement in the country since independence. It is the land where the people’s voices cry, “We will give our life but not our land.”
Our Community Correspondent says: When Community Correspondent Rejan Gudia first attended a protest march he says that it felt remarkably like home. He was born in the village of Derang, one of the settlements that the proposed dam threatened to submerge. Since his childhood he has witnessed his parents participating in the people’s movement. Meetings were held in his house. The leaders of the movement were his close acquaintances and childhood inspirations. He grew up amidst the struggle and entered into it at the age of 15. He rose amongst the ranks and for 10 years from the 1990s to the early 2000s, he was the chief secretary of the Koel Karo Jan Sanghathan. Like most of his friends and neighbors, his entire life has been a part of this great movement.
“Jharkhand is a state where the tribal population has always been a victim of development projects,” says Rezan, “Even in the 70s, we were always hearing of people being displaced from their homes and communities and who were reduced to a very miserable state and had nowhere and no one to turn to. Their fates were our lessons. Their mistakes were our tales of caution. When the proposal for land acquisition came knocking at our door, we knew at once that we must resist. Everybody in Koel-Karo is part of the movement. The children of this land are born into struggle.”
“The forest and the land mean everything to the tribal. It is our life, our religion and our culture. There is no question of letting it go. We will give our life but not our land.”
The Issue: The first point of the Findings and Recommendations of the Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Right’s Enquiry Into the Koel-Karo Resistance explains succinctly why the project is no longer viable:-
There has been a continuous protest by the people, mostly tribal, for several decades against the Koel Karo Hydro Electric Project. The people have lost trust in the actions of the State and feel justified in their apprehensions that the project will bring havoc on their life and livelihood. It will submerge thousands of acres of fertile agricultural land, flora and fauna that form the basis of their sustenance. Their social and cultural rights will be severely affected; their community life will be destroyed; that not only will they not benefit in any manner by the project but even their legitimate rights of rehabilitation will not be given to them. Thus they will be totally uprooted from their soil. The Tribunal is of the view that the apprehensions of the people in the region against the project are justified. The project that was conceived in the year 1973 has become totally unviable, due to passage of time. The unviability is not only on the ground of economic factor but the social and environmental costs are phenomenal. As a matter of fact it has been recorded that if the project is permitted to start at this juncture, the cost of electricity per unit will be in the range of Rs.10/- which will be even beyond the reach of industrial houses not to speak of common people for domestic use. The Tribunal, therefore, recommends that the project be abandoned.
This is Community Correspondent Rejan Gudia First Video. IndiaUnheard asked him about his thoughts on the concept and process of videoactivism at the service of a social movement.
“When I thought about this video going out and reaching out to the people of the world, I thought that I wanted to give them a message and an inspiration. The Koel-Karo movement is the biggest and most successful non-violent people’s movement in the country for the last 40 years but not many are aware of its existence, its history, its martyrs and it struggles. It has been difficult to reach the mainstream. I want this video to reach out to people’s movements in Odisha, in Tamil Nadu, across the country and across the world wherever communities are fighting for their land and their rights. I want this video to keep the fire inside them burning. I want to remind them that even against the greatest oppression, a people’s movement can sustain and create change. I have made this video in solidarity with the resistance movement’s across the nation and world.”