He is not the first celebrity to do so. But he’s turned out to be the most radical, activist Bollywood filmstar by far, all in day's time..at least as far as my memory serves me.

The reasons why he would back the Narmada Bachao Aandolan
could be several. Ranging from the fact that a cousin associated with the movement influenced him to the fact that he was in and out of the Kutch for six months whilst the shooting of Lagaan.

Lets assume all that contributed significantly. Still, why join the protestors in the manner he did ? Why become a face for the movement ? Knowing well there could be consequences that may not be the most desirable.

Dammed If You Do..

To his credit, he did not buckle to the mob frenzy that followed his signing up a few days ago. Instead, he calmly called the attention of all and sundry and asked if these were really the politicians and political parties they wanted to be led by ? He even accused the political parties of trying to bully him.

There are those who debate whether the dam should have come up in the first place and others who debate on the end-use for the water that will get diverted or..dammed. And then there are the rest who are debating the resettlement of those displaced by the dam. Some 300,000 people would have been displaced as per the original roll call it appears.

Lets focus on the last angle. Going by reports, some 35,000 families are still to be accounted for. The governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madha Pradesh (the Narmada flows through all states) individually and collectively have not been able to find land to accommodate these people, at least in their own books. The option, it appears, could be to buy the land from farmers, probably rich ones. No government will do that easily, particularly when the rich farmers represent a strong lobby of their own.

The Mighty Narmada Project

Couple of asides. First, there are 29 major, 1,335 medium and 3,000 minor projects proposed with the objective of irrigating 27.55 lakh hectares of land and power generation of 3,000 MW. Of which 11 are close to completion. Of which the Sardar Sarovar Project and the Narmada Sagar Project are the big guys. These are the dams which will obviously create the maximum impact and displacement as the waters rise.

An aside, why is the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam (163 metres on completion) a key point in the controversy ? Simply because the higher it goes (present target to raise from 110 m to 121.92 m) the larger the water body becomes and the more the people that get displaced. Seen from the other side, a dam’s efficacy as a source of power generation is perhaps better as the water levels rise and the pressure increases. I am not an expert on dams. I have visited a couple though and reckon I understand the basic principles at work.

Now, my first question is why are the displaced people nobody’s problem ? As in, why does it take an Aamir Khan to step in and argue for their rights ? Or for the rest of the world to wake up when he does ? Clearly, if tribals are being evicted from land they’ve tilled and lived on for decades if not centuries, they deserve a better deal.

Whose Problem Are They ?

There are slums that came up a few years ago in Bandra (Mumbai) where I live and they sit there defiantly like they’ve always owned the land. And they’ve not. This is public property. And guess what, the politicians rush in to protect them at the slightest threat of eviction. Let me name a few. The late Sunil Dutt, the present Baba Siddqui (local MLA) among others.

Anyway, no one seems to care for the displaced thousands in Gujarat. Except of course Medha Patkar. Who does not quite grab the attention of an increasingly liberal, market-economy driven media - yes, this writer is part of it. So, either these folks can’t vote or their number is finite. Or even if they do, there is something beyond that matters more. Something is not adding up from the politician’s point of view. What precisely I would like to understand.

Medha Patkar and friends have agitated against the very concept of a dam. I am not very sure about that. My pro-development, right leaning, marketised conditioning forces me to disagree in principle. Maybe its time to have a relook and a rethink. At least so that one understands both sides. The Bhakra Nangal dam is being revisited. A three-year study of the dam and its impact on environment by Sripad Dharmadhikary has come up with some startling conclusions. Including that the dam didn’t do a fat lot of good.

Not Screaming Headlines

This report came a year ago. For obvious and not so obvious reasons, it didn’t make screaming headlines. Though it was reported on. Yes, it wasn't the subject of live and continuous coverage on national telly. At least from what I can remember. Am not debating the merit of that. Except that it slipped under the broad radar. While our school text books will continue to gush about Nehru’s temples of modern India, I now think it is only fair to mention the dissenting note as well.

To return to Aamir Khan. If I were him and you were me or him, having heard about the Narmada Bachao Andolan, maybe we would try and look at the facts as they are. And not the mass media representation of them or the lack of it.

Why does Aamir react so ? Well, he has his own reasons, I know some. They are not relevant here. The fact is that he does charge media for not doing its job. Let me quote him directly here (The Telegraph, April 9)Its partly out of context, but only partly, because he speaks about Medha Patkar here.

The problem, according to the actor, is that information on what is happening across the country and how to intervene are not readily available because of the media’s obsession with fashion and glamour.

“It is obscene, this obsession with fashion and film stars. I want to know what happened in Assam, students were fired at by the police. And I have to ask around. The newspapers don’t tell me that. They are busy writing about some fashion event,” he said. “I’m not saying that they shouldn’t do that, but isn’t their main job to inform and educate?” the actor signed off.

Do We See Things Similarly ?

So lets assume for a moment Aamir has no hidden agenda. And is not using this to `get back' at media which he well could and might. And we see things similarly. Do you see what I see ? Someone is not getting a good deal. For no fault of theirs, except that they lived in a certain place. Rather, an extremely raw one. I am still talking about displaced people. So we may want to examine the facts a little more closely. As the Supreme Court did. And then draw our own conclusions. Like the Supreme Court did. That’s what I think Aamir did. And that’s why I think he landed up next to Medha Patkar. What do you think ?


Bombay Addict said…
GE - I think Aamir is sincere on this one. Just for the fact that he took a stand and went out there and sat in the middle of those activists is enough. Let's support the effort, even if we don't support his stance.

As you correctly pointed out - the displaced are getting a raw deal. When someone like Aamir lends his voice, I'd assume they should benefit. Just for the simplistic reasoning that their cause after Aamir is now more well-known than their cause before. Or is that my assumption?

He's won my heart, that's for sure. Celebs/icons lending their voice to a cause is something we need. Works even better because then the media will run with you and everyone notices.

Come to think of its, how about this -
MS Dhoni fighting for reservations,
Sachin Tendulkar fighting for more open spaces in Bombay,
Sania Mirza fighting against female foeticide

I might run out of celebrities/icons, but I doubt I'll run out of causes.

Though-provoking post as always. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
also see:
Dewaker Basnet said…
i think the voicing of concern by aamir khan did create ripples around...known as an actor who does not opine on too many things, the weight becomes a little heavier..and moreover if somehow the noise is going to awaken the sleeping kumbhakarnas and make them think about relocating people, well and good..


at one hand you have progress standing tall (read hydel energy)

on the other you have people who have been despising their own living (read displaced people)

a very well written piece..
Unknown said…
Lets face it... The 'aware' society has become so cynical that anyone coming out for a cause is seen with suspicion. Even me, for a moment thought that why 'Rang de Basanti' team? Why not Amir with his wife? Why not anyone else?

But I admit , thats a cynics mind. That refuses to trust that people that support a cause. Ironic as it may sound, Indian Public 'believes' the leaders but doubts these activitist( if I may use this term)

I dont really know if the displaced people will really benefit. But I must say that their moral support will benefit and they will sleep with hope of a better tomorrow.
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Anonymous said…
Aamir is biased by the Gujarat riots and taking on Narendra Modi. It was clear when Shekhar Gupta had interviewed him earlier on NDTV. If he is so concerned about farmers how about those farmers affected by Coke plants in Kerala
Anonymous said…
You were the Corporate Editor of a news channel when the Dharamadhikari report came along. You had a whole host of reporters under you. You could pulled your weight and even gotten a discussion on your channel, something that would have highlighted the matter. I don't remember you doing anything of that sort. You had the resources at your disposal yet you sat mum.
Unknown Indian said…
Don't know about whether Aamir is sincere or not. But no one can dispute the need to fairly compensate people whose land is being taken. But insisting on compensation in kind (and with all residents of a particular village being rehabiltated together) is perhaps too much.

And frankly, instead of stopping work on the dam, the Courts should punish government officials who fabricate records or fail in their duty to rehabilitate displaced people.
Cyberkitty said…
It is good of Aamir to protest. Dam benefits only big businesses and should not be built.
Anonymous said…
see following post:


on medha and arundhati

these two ladies are not doing anything to help the country or the affected persons. the sooner people realise that the better.

also see:

for a background
Anonymous said…
Plz read this & then think about aamir's action, If he is serious about the issue then he must first stop endorsing Coke because Coke is causing demage to farmers in Kerala & their situaltion is same like the people who need rehabilitation

Visit :www.countercurrents.org/glo-coke250703.htm

Shahul Hameed, the farmer who owns the modest smallholding, could coax only five sacks of rice from the land, and a meagre 200 coconuts. His irrigation wells have run dry. Meanwhile, the huge factory extracts up to 1.5 million litres of water a day from the deep wells it has drilled into the aquifer to produce Coke, Fanta, Sprite and the drink the locals call, without irony, Thumbs-Up.

But the cruellest twist is that the plant bottles a brand of mineral water while local people - who could never afford it - have to walk up to six miles twice a day to fetch water. The turbid, brackish water which remains at the bottom of their wells is now too high in dissolved salts to be healthy to drink, cook with or even wash in. Some claim it made them ill.

As the summer and the water crisis intensifies, the hardship of the local people is worsening. So is the row between them and the company whose name is for many a synonym for the global power of transnational capitalism. For the past 459 days, there has been a daily picket of the factory. There have been street demonstrations and rallies, and spontaneous blackening of Coca-Cola hoardings. More than 300 people have been arrested
Anonymous said…
Amir Khan is India's hearthrob.

Enough said.
Anonymous said…
well researched and impartial write-up.kudos to u!

aamir is a thinking actor,he's proved it again.

hope this act of aamir wakes up the sleeping youth of india, who are too busy in careers in private sector to know what's happening in the country
Anonymous said…
see also

Anonymous said…
aamir has just announced a donation for 20 lacs for kashmiri pundits. he has also announced support to pro-reservationists.
Anonymous said…
Those who want to learn how to win & influences fans by becoming mahatma (really ?by supporting NBA which is 1 or other way want to stop dam construction. Mind u its Narmda bachao Andolan & Not Poor Bachao andolan. ).

No need to learn Marketing from Philip kotler's new edition. Just follow what aamir did.

Shame on u aamir.

Double standard people.
Anonymous said…
Gotta give it to this guy (Aamir). He's the only one who has the guts to stick his neck out on the line...
Anonymous said…
AMIR seems to be a person without ethics. One side, he fight for dam displaced people and other side, he goes and ask you to buy a pesticide (call coca cola?) to drink and justify the product safety?.

Still you feel he is genuine? May be he fear that COKE will lose market share in Kutch once pure drinking water through this project.

A Real ploy & manipulator and high time for Indian people to understand such "filmi" guy
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Chronic Pain said…
GE - I think Aamir is sincere on this one. Just for the fact that he took a stand and went out there and sat in the middle of those activists is enough. Let's support the effort, even if we don't support his stance....

I totally agree with this comment, thanks for sharing, have a nice day!!
Aamir Khan is really a good actor and also a social activist. He understands his position in the society and lends his voice to the important issues like this. He has proved through this that he is even a good human being.
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Cheap Viagra said…
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though, I'm not sure if he totally deserves it!
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ok, so, the deal is that alot of people like russal mumtaz have looks and i know you dont know him, he is the guy in the hindi movie mera pehla pehla pyar, hes very good loocking and cute but why dont much people know him?? becuase he doesent have much publicity....
Now take Imran Khan, he is good looking too, but before people knew he is Aamir Khans nephew noone cared about him or his movie Jane tu ya Jane na,
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