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Dear Friends,

This is an interesting write-up by a well-known actitivist, who has been runnign Hazards Centre in New Delhi. Technically qualified from India's premier engineering institute, Dunu Roy has been in the forefront of a movement to ensure people's rights in India. What he has written about can be an inspiration for people anywhere in the developing world, where governments-democratic or otherwise, undermine people's rights with technical jargon and bureaucratese!

Rina Mukherji

Knowledge As Weapon: How Auranga Dam was stopped


Ordinary working people have the capacity to learn, to collect
information, to look at it analytically, and eventually use it for
bettering their own lives. This is, or should be, the central
objective of "education". Instead, we have didactic instruction,
memorising by rote, and vomiting out useless information for futile
examinations. ..

This theme of knowledge as weapon has come back to us many times in
the last three decades. In the mid-80s, a small party from the Palamau
district of Bihar knocked on our door. Could we come to their village
and see what the proposed dam on the Auranga River was going to do to
their area? We said yes, but provided they were able to wrangle a copy
of the DPR (Detailed Project Report) of the dam. Oh, no problem, they
remarked, the irrigation department chaprasi (peon) was from their
village. So, three weeks later, we were rambling across the farmlands
of Palamau inspecting the river and its catchment and comparing it to
what was written in the
DPR. We were faced with a battery of questions. Look at that river;
exclaimed the villagers, do you think it can carry as much water as to
irrigate all the lands the department is claiming it
will? Can you see the silt in it; how long will it take for the dam to
fill up? The dept says that this village will come under submergence,
and that one will not, when we can clearly see that this
village is higher than that one! How can we challenge their views?

We took four days to instruct a batch of 20 young boys from the
surrounding villages how to measure the flow in the river, the silt
load that it carried, and the slope of the land. With that, they said,
they would be able to take on the project's claims of projected
irrigation, the life of the
dam, and the extent of submergence. On the last evening, as we were
packing to leave the next morning, they eyed us suspiciously. Where,
they asked, pointing to the "dumpy" (a kind of telescopic instrument
that is used to measure levels), are you taking that? Well, we said,
this is our instrument and we are taking it back; if you want one you
will have to get it for yourselves. How much does it cost, they
queried, and where is it available? The nearest place, we explained,
would be Ranchi and it would cost about Rs 3000. And then we retired
for the night. Only to be woken up by an exuberant hammering on the
door very early the next morning. Here, they said, is Rs 3000
collected from donations by all the villagers, and you can go and buy
the dumpy yourself; otherwise how will we fight a yuddh (war) without
an astra (weapon)?

That the yuddh was joined became clear to us when, four months later,
a parcel arrived with the postman. It contained a sheaf of papers
containing the records of three months of daily measurement. We went
to work on the data and came up with some very interesting
findings indeed. The river, for instance, carried only half as much
water in the monsoon months as the DPR claimed it did. This water also
bore a silt load one-and-ahalf times that of the figure reported in
the project proposal. 25 villages were actually coming into the
submergence zone, demarcated by following the full reservoir contour,
as compared to the 19 acknowledged
by the project authorities.

When all these were factored into the calculations the benefits
actually came to less than the costs! This was going to be one very
unviable dam indeed, we informed the people of Auranga. They, in turn,
took the report and propagated it all over the area through posters
and leaflets, while the English version was duly sent off to the
govts, the media, the courts, and even the World Bank. Today, 15 years
later, the Auranga river remains undammed.

This much, then, is certain: people fight their struggles for survival
based on what knowledge they can create.

The report and the study cited above (and numerous others that have
not been documented in both rural and urban areas) indicates that
ordinary working people have the capacity to learn, to collect
information, to look at it analytically, and eventually use it for
bettering their own lives. This is, or should be, the central
objective of "education". And yet, these are simple (and yet very
complex) tasks that are not undertaken by our educational
institutions. Didactic instruction, memorizing by rote, and vomiting
out useless information for futile examinations constitute the
fundamentals of whatpasses for education in our schools and colleges.

Perhaps there is a purpose to it all. Perhaps another Macaulay is
required to explain it to us in yet another Minute. And perhaps, in
some not too distant future, a group of young labourers will learn to
document their own lives to tear this farce to pieces.

(A graduate (and post-graduate) from IIT Bombay, Dunu Roy heads Hazard
Centre in New Delhi.)

Source: http://www.sandrp. in/drp/July_ Aug2007.pdf


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