Development Flows From the Barrel of a Gun

Posted on November 18, 2007. Filed under: Documentary Films in Chhattisgarh |

Development Flows From the Barrel of a Gun

Directed by Biju Toppo and Meghnath
Hindi with English subtitles, 58 mins

This film presents and examines orchestrated state violence against indigenous and local peoples when they protest against development projects on their lands

This film’s wonderfully evocative title sets the tone and the stage for the material that it covers. Quite simply, the film presents and examines orchestrated state violence against indigenous and local peoples when they rally and protest against development projects on their lands. Rather than focusing on a single instance, the filmmakers strengthen their thesis by recording examples from all over the country: Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. In each case, using the local police force, the state has brutalised and killed protestors, often on trumped up charges of violence.

What makes the state’s reaction even more reprehensible is the fact that these protests are legitimate by virtue of the fact that the disputed projects are all located on lands that are ‘scheduled’, ie protected by the Constitution for indigenous peoples. Whether it be the aluminum corporation in Kashipur, Orissa, or the big dam of Koel Karo in Jharkhand, or the World Bank-funded forestry project in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, or the steel plant in Nagarnar, Chhattisgarh, or the new port in Umbergaon, Gujarat, the development projects in question have been located on lands collectively owned and inhabited by tribal peoples. At the first hint of organised protest, the police are sent in. They loot and ransack homes, steal food and livestock, beat up women, arrest men and use their lathis, guns and bullets freely, arguing always that they were attacked first.

Of all the cases the film records, the most well-known is the murder of Col Pratap Save who spearheaded the movement against the new port at Umbergaon. The reason this incident got national attention was precisely the fact that the police had used their state-sanctioned might against a former army officer, a man who had served the nation. Thousands of other atrocities go unrecorded outside local papers because the individuals killed are disenfranchised (and therefore, invisible and unimportant) tribal peoples.

This film is a documentary in the traditional sense as it records these events as objectively as possible. In a sense, there is no need to editorialise, since the ugly facts speak for themselves and the government is severely indicted by the evidence presented. The local officials interviewed sound so unconvincing that it is truly embarrassing.

The last sequence in the film focuses on a mini-hydel project in Putsil, Orissa, where no one has been displaced and the object of providing electricity has been achieved. Needless to say, this project was conceived, developed and executed locally. Fifty years later, we are still struggling to understand that big dams (and big development funded by international capital) are not the temples of modern India, lest they be temples dedicated to the goddess of destruction.

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