Cry me a river

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Cry me a river

Suprabha Seshan asks people to protect the world.


© Jackie Morris

‘These words, thoughts and pictures here are what river people (including activists and ecologists) have left in my life. But the voice is of a woman by the Kabini River in southern India. She is listening to the news and thinking of women along the Chalakudy River fighting the Athirapally dam.’

Sister, people say you can have a river and dam it.

People say the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Kaveri, the Narmada and the Krishna are our mothers, that small rivers like the Chalakudy (where you live) and the Kabini (where I live), are small mothers; and that we must manage these rivers (our mothers) if we want our lives to be good.

There are 40 rivers in Kerala. And 60 large dams – not so many for so many people here. People say we need more power between 7am and 11pm, and that where there is not enough water in some seasons, we must store water in reservoirs, and release the water when we need it.

Sister, people say that even if you block, change the route and empty a river, there will be always be fresh water flowing through.

People say that some rivers in the country have too much water, and others don’t have enough, especially in the hot months before the monsoon. People say that we can balance this by linking up all our rivers, and that the ecology and society will not suffer. People say that soon, all homes and fields will have running water(even when glaciers have melted, there is no more water underground, no more forests because of the open mines, and strange monsoon winds). People say the experts know all this and we can trust the authorities.

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Rivers are the blood of our life. They support hundreds of millions of people.

They say we must not look at what happens after we empty, change the route of or dam the rivers. They say we can trust that there will always be water - because this is a blue planet. They say we must not listen to the warnings of the Greens and environmentalists.


Jackie Morris

They say billions of people in the world need more electricity, that they don’t need water or food from rivers.

So we can dam, divert, pollute and empty the mothers, to bring more power to their sons in big cities working all night on their cybermachines.

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Rivers created civilizations, people say. Civilizations destroyed rivers (people forget to say). Civilizations collapsed when their water finished (an important detail).

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The Kadar tribes are fighting against the building of a day on the Chalakudy Rover. But people say that we must not listen to these primitive tribal groups. Their fighting is stopping the needs of the civilized people and of progress.

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Jackie Morris

People say that the living world is an illusion, and the electrified world is real. They say we need the living world only to make us rich.

People say rivers are not alive. They are, like factories and cars, systems that we can take apart and put together. They say the world’s economy needs the world’s rivers, the world’s oceans, the world’s forests, and the world’s people. They say the world’s economy is much more important than the world’s ecology, which is now $33 trillion (only). They say the bank accounts currents are sweeter than the currents of a river because the banks bring evolution of our species, feed our minds, hearts and bodies. There are dams on nearly all the rivers in the world.

They say we need rivers for progress. We can sacrifice communities along rivers for modern culture. Now we have progress so we do not need to think about injustice in the past or present.

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Society today has transplants, implants, plastic surgery, prosthetics, life support, dialysis, hormone therapies and radiation treatments. Humans can fix any problem - we have the technology.

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But Chalakudy River is perhaps the only major river in Kerala that still has river vegetation, eg. just above the Vazhachal waterfall. But all this is in the big area that will be under water in the plans of the Athirappilly Hydro-Electric Project. No-one has even studied the amazing forest here.

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People say there is life after this planet.

They say you must not kill a cow, but you can dam a river. They say the goddess lives in the temple, and no longer in the living river. They say she wanted to move from the river to the temple.

People say that goddesses (of rivers, forests, soils, and all things organic) are fertile, generous and obedient, even when they are destroyed. They are all Shakti, the female principle of divine energy.

They say your feelings, the body and the real world are an illusion. Your suffering is in your mind, not in your body. They say it’s just your imagination that you are drinking the poisoned water in the river, not reality. We need to fix your perception; Coca Cola’s better than water, it’s the real thing.

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Along rivers we get waterfalls, rapids, pools, sand banks, plains and mist. A river can start from a glacier, a lake, a spring, or from the forest floor.

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People say the Kerala economy needs more electricity, and that this electricity will come from dams, even if the dams we already have are not producing much electricity, and they’re taking down dams in other countries. They say the beautiful waterfalls in Athirapally and Vazhachal (the seventh wonder of Kerala) - that hundreds of thousands of people vist, are now not important. They say the birds and animals: hornbills, elephants, amphibians, the Kadar families and the 104 species of fish (the greatest diversity of fish in any one river in Kerala) are all not important.


Jackie Morris

Everyone says fish are now not important (90 per cent of the large fish in the oceans are gone). They say we don’t need the fresh water to mix with sea water, that the sea does not need this tiny river. They say that one more dam cannot hurt a dying planet. And look how many dams they are building in China, and in Brazil!

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On 12 August 2015, the papers said, the Expert Appraisal Committee for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects agreed that the 163-megawatt Athirappilly hydroelectric project can be built. They agreed that this will not destroy the plants and animals.

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Sister, so we must trust that they will fix it (as they will fix our bodies, the land and the winds; the waters and the planet). But they say, in the small print, that we must make a choice between electricity and fish. They say, in the small print that humans are now free of the planet; free of nature - we can survive on electricity. They say we need business projects, so we need electricity.

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Sister, years ago I stood in a human chain to protest against a dam on the upper Kabini, which would flood our homes. The church helped and not many of us were adivasis. So they stopped the project, for a while. I felt so angry, thinking they would force me to leave my home to make electricity for someone else.

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Rivers are transport systems for trade, they say.

Rivers are beautiful, they say.

Homes by the river cost a lot, they say.

Rivers attract millions of tourists, they say.

You can’t step into the same river twice, they say.

Rivers are great metaphors, they say.

Life is like a river, they say.

Rivers are the arteries of the planet, they say.

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When she heard your story, a friend wrote: ‘And did you hear salmon and other fish are dying in the Columbia River because of the heat?’ Another friend, now 84, talked of the death of a glacier in Switzerland. Rivers used to come from it, but now they’re dead, from the heat.

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I hear that you and the brave people of Vazhachal, are all fighting back. You stand with your river and you will sue the government. Sister, I hear your cry from across the mountains: if they dam this river more, they will break the rights of the ancient peoples and this ancient ecology; the two are linked together like as blood and organs in one body.

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We must talk about the story of the 25-year Athirapally resistance everywhere.

Think of this, my sister, when the dams come down (by earthquakes, decay or when we take them down), when our rivers flow freely again, there will be fresh drinking water, fish, and fertile soil for children, the land, the trees and the animals, for all future generations, and perhaps even for you and me.

You cannot dam a river and have it free.

Suprabha Seshan is an environmental educator based in Kerala, India.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).