BHAVNA PATIDAR, from India has been the longest serving member of the jury. From 2000, (the first year of the award) until she turned 18 in 2005, Bhavna represented children whose rights are violated through abuse of the environment.
Bhavna Patidar lived near the Narmada River where big dams are built. Thousands of children have seen their homes disappear under water. When she was on the Child Jury, Bhavna started fighting against the building of the dam. This is what she said when she was a jury member:
’If they build the Maheshwar dam, our fields and all 61 villages will be flooded. All our history here, the life we have today and in the future as well will be drowned and wiped out in a few hours. It will be the end of us and our lives here. That’s why they mustn’t build the dam,’ Bhavna explains.
For the time being, the villagers steadfast protests have stopped the dam-building project; it looks like an abandoned building-site. But Bhavna knows that building can begin again at any time.
It’s October and harvest-time in Bhavna’s village, Sulgaon, and in the 60 other villages nearby. The families are harvesting their chilli, maize, peanuts, peas and cotton. Oxen pull the heavily-loaded wagons homeward.
Sneaking through the night
Bhavna tells us about the demonstrations against the dam that she took part in three years ago.
’The first time my mother asked me if I wanted to take part in a demonstration, I answered: "Sure, Mum!"
When it was dark, we gathered into groups, both here and in the other villages. The police suspected that we would be invading the dam building- site, so they guarded the roads and tried to keep an eye on us. But under cover of darkness, we began trekking through the fields, with only moonlight to see by. But we had to be careful; everyone was quiet, and the men couldn’t smoke-the police might have seen the cigarette-glow. We sneaked slowly through the fields, and everyone reached the site before dawn. By the time the police discovered us, we were almost 20,000 strong. We took over the site peacefully, and sat there shouting our slogans against the dam. We stayed there for three weeks, until the government agreed to quit building the dam, then we went home.’
Text & photo ©: Kim Naylor