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I wish it would rain now!
May 17, 2000

Civil Disobedience

When otherwise lawful people intentionally break the law out of principle, in order to make a point or to avoid a greater evil, it is known as "civil disobedience." This is different than vandalism or random acts of lawlessness. Non-violent acts of civil disobedience are selfless actions which require courage and sacrifice, and have led to great changes in the world.

When Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, it was an act of civil disobedience. It was unlawful for a black person to sit in the front of the bus. She knew that the law was unjust, and was willing to go to jail to challenge it. When Gandhi marched to the sea to make salt, he was breaking a British law which required Indians to buy salt from British merchants. When Julia Butterfly sat up in a Redwood tree for two years, she was trespassing on private property and refusing to comply with police orders. She risked her life because she believes that saving ancient forests is more important than property rights and corporate profits. And let's not forget about the Boston Tea Party!

Can you name other famous acts of civil disobedience? Do you think that it was ok to break the law in these situations? Would you ever participate in civil disobedience?

It's early morning in the small Adivasi village of Domkhedi. The earth here is dry and scorched by the sun because India is facing a terrible drought right now. As I sit alone under a large tree, watching a line of four women walk up the path from the Narmada River, past the dry fields, I realize these hills were once covered in forest. The three sisters, Kaili, Bibi, and Punti, and their mother, Katri, are all balancing large clay pots of water on their heads. Each of the houses in the village has a few of these pots, and the women will make several trips to the river to fill them all before the sun gets too hot. I'm glad that they didn't ask me to help, because I can't do that!

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for larger view
Women carry water up from the river every day to fill these jars
India's year is roughly divided into three seasons: Grishma (The Hot), Varsha (The Wet) and Shishira (The Cool). We, unfortunately, are visiting smack dab in the middle of "The Hot." In July, the monsoon rains ("The Wet") will start. Traditionally, that is the time for planting crops, to be harvested in December. India is anxiously awaiting this year's monsoon to end the drought.

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The hills around this village of Domkhedi are dry and barren
You would think that the poor tribes around here would be looking forward to the monsoon, to bring life back to these hills. Instead of life, the monsoons threaten death to this village and its traditional way of life. You see, Domkhedi is 60 kilometers upstream from the Sardar Sarovar Project, one of the 30 mega-dams that the government of India is building on the Narmada River. Because of the dam, Domkhedi gets completely flooded with water.

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Kaili and Bibi share their home and their stories with me
Yet, the villagers refuse to leave. They called this action the monsoon satyagraha. The word satyagraha, coined by Mahatma Gandhi, means "insistence on truth." It is a peaceful form of protest, where the protesters refuse to comply with the authorities based on principle. It is hoped that when the government takes action against the peaceful protesters, they will realize that what they are doing is wrong.


drought - when there is no water because there has not been enough rain
monsoon - flooding caused by heavy rainfall

Last night, as I sat under the stars, "chatting" with them using hand signals and facial expressions (I don't speak their native Adivasi language, and they don't speak English), I forgot all about their struggle and the risks they are about to face, yet again. It is hard to believe I'm sitting among such heroes. I wonder, in their situation, if I would be strong enough to stand up and fight. What would you do in their situation?


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Jasmine - Let's Hope Elephants Never Forget! !
Abeja - We will fight, we will win, we will learn, we will grow!

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