Web | April 05, 2006
[Scroll down for Narmada Bachao Andolan support via major media editorials and voices from all walks of life, and for a report of Arundhati Roy's comments READ]
Medha Patkar Critical, Forcibly Shifted To Hospital
The powers that be dither, say they are 'concerned'. The Police says she was 'attempting to commit suicide'. NBA says 'the might of the state has been let loose on those who are holding peaceful and democratic protests'.
There was a sense of inevitability around it when in a midnight swoop, a large number of Delhi Police moved in to break the cordon of hundreds of NBA activists around a frail and weak Medha Patkar, lying on a bed on the pavement near Jantar Mantar, arrested her and forcibly moved her to a hospital.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar had been on an indefinite hunger strike that had entered its eighth day. She had refused to take any food or receive medical treatment ever since she began her fast on March 29 to protest the government decision to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar dam, demanding rehabilitation of those displaced by the project, as per the Supreme Court directives.
Her condition had been deteriorating. The doctors who last examined her had warned that the next 48 hours would be very critical for her. But she was determined this time not to break her fast on empty assurances.
The whole day had been full of carefully released stories about how concerned various powers that be - from Sonia Gandhi to Manmohan Singh - were and how hard they were trying to work out an acceptable arrangement. The ever helpful sources had been full of confidence that a "deal" could be struck.
But how do you cut a deal with some one who has dedicated her life to a cause, who is determined this time not to be taken in by false assurances? Simple, send in the cops, have her forcibly moved to the hospital. That the cops end up roughing up a few of the supporters is of course only par for the course. Unfortunate collateral damage.
It is easy to blame the police, who are after all only doing the job entrusted to them. So of course they would claim, as they did, that no one was detained or arrested, or that Medha Patkar was arrested on the charge of attempting to commit suicide and shifted to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) along with two other NBA leaders Jamsingh Nargave and Bhagwati Patidar who were also on fast to express solidarity with her only to save her.
In the police version, of course it would be the NBA activists who clashed with the police, who "violently resisted the arrest of Patkar", who as has already been established, is charged with attempting to commit suicide. Surely some force had to be used to prevent rioting?
So the predictable happened. No firm proposal came from the government, and when all that the activists saw, after eight days of peaceful protest, was a large number of riot-control police with water-hoses and lathis in tow, the activists of course shouted anti-government slogans and scuffled with the police for some time before Patkar was arrested and taken to hospital.
As we write, Medha Patkar was first taken to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital from where she was shifted to AIIMS. The press is not being allowed in and has been asked to vacate the premises of the hospital, while the the whole Jantar Mantar area remains surcharged with tension.
Patkar has steadfastly refused to call off her hunger strike despite requests from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed to her through three union ministers who had met her yesterday. The union cabinet at its meeting today had once again "urged" Patka to end her strike, as it announced its decision to send a three-member ministerial team -- water resources minister Saifuddin Soz, social justice and employment minister Meira Kumar and minister of state in the PMO Prithiviraj Chauhan -- to the dam site in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday for ensuring proper rehabilitation measures for the displaced. Secretary to the water resources minister J. Hari Narayan, who is also the chairman of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), is likely to accompany them.
But the activist had made her stand clear the day before.They had argued that the award by the NCA to raise the height of the dam from 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres on March 8.and Supreme Court order is very explicit that all displaced families should be resettled fully at least six months prior to raising the height of the dam. The authorities claim that the clearance was accorded after giving a May 15 deadline to Madhya Pradesh to ensure rehabilitation of 4,000-odd families who were paid cash compensation to buy land on their own. But the NBA argues that there is no provision for cash compensation in the award.
The NBA had wanted the dam construction to be halted immediately and wanted the team that visits MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra to make its report public immediately, latest by April 9. Till then, they had announced, "Ms Patkar and her colleagues would remain on indefinite hunger strike."
But then her situation deteriorated. The powers that be panicked, after seeing the sort of public mobilisation on previous occasions in these post-Rang De Basanti times. Earlier in the day, as the failing health of Patkar evoked concern, her supporters met Congress President Sonia Gandhi seeking her immediate intervention to stop the construction of the Narmada dam. Gandhi is understood to have voiced concern over Patkar's health and assured the activists that she would take up the matter with the government.
There were appeals from former Prime Ministers V P Singh and I K Gujral as well to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to "freeze" construction work on Sardar Sarovar Project till a group of Union Ministers tour the area and submit a report on rehabilitation of the project-affected families.
This could have been easily done. Instead, as NBA activist Deepti Bhatnagar charged "the might of the state has been let loose on those who are holding peaceful and democratic protests".
Saturday April 8 2006
Booker Prize-winning author and activist Arundhati Roy talks with schoolchildren as they join Activists of Narmada Bachao Andolan during a protest in New Delhi, on Friday, against the forcible removal of activist and leader of the NBA Medha Patkar from the spot of her indefinite hunger strike. AFP
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Medha's fast jolts PMO into action
NEW DELHI: Armed with a fresh formula to defuse the crisis precipitated by fasting Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, PMO is scouting for the right intermediaries noted civil rights activist Kuldeep Nayar and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar top the list to end the impasse.
With Patkar on fast for eight days now, there was frenetic activity in PMO with top officials working telephone lines. There was anxiety over Patkar's failing health and her demand that all work at Sardar Sarovar must cease till rehabilitation issues she has raised were dealt with.
The plan being pursued by PMO was that once a three-member ministerial team, slated to visit MP on Thursday, returned an emergent meeting of the rehabilitation committee headed by water resources minister Saifuddin Soz could be convened.
Sources said that as chairman of the committee, Soz could invite Patkar to the meeting and hear her points as well as hear her views on findings of the ministerial panel.
Social justice minister Meira Kumar, MoS PMO Prithviraj Chavan and Soz are expected to oversee the progress in rehabilitation in colonies located in Madhya Pradesh assisted by senior bureaucrats.
Given Patkar's steadfast refusal to accept any formulation apart from cessation of work at Sardar Sarovar, the choice of emissary was being carefully considered.
It is pointed out that Patkar has a reputation to breaking all contact even with persons well disposed to her, if she feels that the NBA point of view has been spurned.
Patkar is understood to enjoy a warm equation with Pawar, but the Maharashtra leader was away in Assam and was due to return by Thursday evening. Senior PMO officials were busy trying to reach Pawar while also preparing a brief that could be discussed with Nayar.
The NBA leader's medical condition led to a sense of alarm in official quarters. The deadlock was discussed by Cabinet and defence minister Pranab Mukherjee made a fresh appeal to Patkar on behalf of the government to call off her fast.
PM Manmohan Singh is understood to be keen for a quick resolution as he has been receiving a flurry of representations from "civil society" activists.
Yet, the political fallout of an ad-hoc, ill-timed intervention was also weighing on PMO leading to discrete inquiries over resolutions, which would pass muster with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
Thursday April 6 2006
Issues raised by Patkar merit attention from the govt
The ongoing fast by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar and other activists has again drawn attention to the plight of those displaced by the raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam. Early last month, the Narmada Control Authority gave the clearance for raising the height of the dam from 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres. The NBA activists are protesting this as it infringes on the rights of those displaced by the project and is in violation of a Supreme Court order which states that the dam’s height cannot be raised until the governments of the riparian States resettle every affected family at least six months before submergence. The NBA’s contention is that the governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have not resettled those who will be displaced by the proposed raising of the dam’s height; yet are pressing ahead with plans to do so. It has drawn attention to the destruction of homes, lives and livelihoods in some 220 villages in the three States. Ms Patkar has said that she will continue with her fast – it has now entered its second week – until the government intervenes to stop the Narmada Control Authority from raising the height of the dam.
The issues that Ms Patkar raises merit attention as thousands of tribals displaced by the project are yet to be resettled. Besides, those who have received compensation seem to have been settled on inhospitable land. This is true not just of the Narmada project but of other development projects across the country. Development projects in India have rehabilitation measures built into them. The tragedy is that most of these measures remain on paper only.
Big dam projects like the Sardar Sarovar project have the potential of radically transforming the lives of millions of people in this country for the better. It is a pity therefore that by neglecting the rehabilitation component of such development projects the government is heaping misery on those displaced by these ventures. Ms Patkar is demanding justice for the displaced. She and her colleagues are articulating these demands peacefully. Instead of using force against peaceful protesters – on Sunday, the police manhandled NBA activists in Delhi – the government needs to listen to what they are saying and act immediately to ensure resettlement of the displaced.
Thursday April 6 2006
Time to heed Medha's message
Medha Patkar's indefinite fast has forced the Central Government to intervene by sending a high-level team to visit the Narmada valley to assess the impact of raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). But is this enough? For more than two decades, Ms. Patkar and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) have projected the perspective that mammoth projects like the Sardar Sarovar dam cannot be built on the broken lives of the hundreds of thousands who will be displaced. Yet, despite dozens of appeals in courts resulting in specific orders, government notifications, committees and reviews, this just perspective has not been accepted. The March 8, 2006 order of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) to allow the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to be raised from the present 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres is a prime example of insensitivity and callousness. Although thousands of families have yet to be resettled, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, the NCA chose to go by false official reports from the three affected States Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh that resettlement had been completed up to the present height. In Madhya Pradesh, which faces the largest displacement from the SSP, the Government has continued to violate a provision of the Narmada Waters Dispute Tribunal Award (NWDTA) that oustees must receive land as compensation for displacement. Instead, it has given out cash compensation with which it expects the oustees to purchase land. Not only has this failed to rehabilitate the thousands already affected; nothing has been done for an estimated 24,000 families in 177 villages who will be displaced if the height of the dam is raised to 121.92 metres. Maharashtra too has failed in its task of adequately rehabilitating those already affected. Once the height of the dam is raised, another 3,000 families will be displaced. And in Gujarat, many of those displaced have been reduced to penury owing to the poor quality of land in the resettlement sites.
The central question that the current impasse over the SSP raises is crucial to all future development. Who pays the price for development? Should it always be the poor? Can they be fairly compensated? Projects like the SSP have failed, from their inception, to factor in the social and environmental costs. The NBA's campaign forced these aspects to be incorporated. Yet, at every step, the project authorities try and find ways to bypass their social commitments and legal obligations. Given the clear directions by the Supreme Court that resettlement must precede construction of the dam, it is imperative that further work on the SSP is stopped until all the displaced have been satisfactorily resettled. Meanwhile, Ms. Patkar and her associates deserve a nation's gratitude for raising issues that go to the heart of the matter. Any further procrastination by the Central Government in acting decisively on the NBA's just demand projected, characteristically, through Medha's Gandhian techniques of agitation will endanger her life and the lives of others.
Wednesday April 5 2006
The Manmohan Singh government appears to have woken up suddenly to the humanitarian need to persuade Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar and three of her colleagues to abandon their indefinite protest fast, which entered its sixth day on Monday. Its effort failed at the first attempt but hopefully officialdom will continue to work out an understanding with the protestors to enable them to give up the fast before their health deteriorates further.
The fast is in protest against the Narmada Control Authority's decision to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam to 121.92 metres without rehabilitating the 35,000-odd displaced families. The NBA has presented a strong case, backed with ample evidence and the support of many public figures and social scientists in justification of its protest, but unsurprisingly neither the authority nor the governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have offered their version of the story.
Meanwhile, the construction continues and the threat of large-scale population displacement persists. Surely, the authorities owe an explanation, if not to the protestors, at least to the public at large in refutation of the charge that the raising the Dam's height violates court judgements and rulings by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award. There is something highly disturbing in the indifferent and casual attitude the Centre chose to display even after the news of the fast, and the signs of deterioration in Medha Patkar's health, had attracted widespread media attention.
That kind of an attitude, in evidence almost in all instances where Medha Patkar and the NBA have mounted many forms of protest in the past, and the public has demonstrated against demolition of buildings in New Delhi and Mumbai, vindicates the assessment of the author and human rights activist Arundhati Roy that governments tend to ignore non-violent struggles but feel impelled to respond to agitations accompanied by violence or threats of violence. In any case, the NBA's concerns need to be addressed urgently and sincerely and the fast successfully brought to an end.
Thursday April 6 2006
Respond to NBA demand, says Rajendra Singh
JAIPUR: Waterman Rajendra Singh has asked the United Progressive Alliance Government at the Centre to immediately respond to the demand of the Narmada Bachao Andolan on the rehabilitation of the oustees of the Narmada dam so that the life of Medha Patkar, who is on an indefinite fast in Delhi, is not put to any kind of danger.
"The UPA has to come out with a concrete assurance on the demand of rehabilitation," he said.
The Magsaysay award winner who was in the Rajasthan Capital after meeting Ms.Patkar said here on Wednesday that her condition was precarious and the Government should act. "It is the rehabilitation. I suppose even the move to increase the height of the dam would be accommodated by the Narmada activists if there is a guarantee on the full rehabilitation," Mr.Singh suggested.
"The authorities should ensure that the rehabilitation of the oustees is complete. Once this is done the work on the dam can be taken up," Mr.Singh, who had led a padyatra this weekend in Tehri against a hydel power project, being proposed in the private sector at Falinda on the Bilhangana river, said.
Rajasthan Samagra Sewa Sangh also has expressed concern over the health of Ms.Patkar. In a statement issued here Sawai Singh, president of the Sangh, termed the permission given by the authorities to increase the height of the dam from the existing 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres as "highly improper".
"The previous assurance from the authorities on the rehabilitation of the affected persons should be carried out in full," he said.
Friday April 7 2006
Karnataka - Hassan
Greens, social activists support striking Medha Patkar
Decision to increase the height of the Narmada dam criticised
Dharna staged against the `apathy' of the governments of three States in rehabilitating the affected people President urged to help resolve the Narmada dam issue Support promised for the fight for the rights of those displaced by the Hemavathi, Yagachi and Vatehole projects
HASSAN: Environmentalists, advocates and social activists staged a dharna here on Thursday in support of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar, who is on a fast in New Delhi against increasing the height of the Narmada dam in Gujarat.
They raised slogans against the "apathy" of the governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in taking up rehabilitation work in accordance with the direction of the Supreme Court.
They submitted a memorandum to Deputy Commissioner K.H. Ashwathanarayana Gowda urging President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to intervene in the matter and honour the Gandhian way of protesting injustice.
Artist K.T. Shiva Prasad; film director Kesari Haravu; social activists Manjunatha Datta, R.P. Venkatesh Murthy and Attihalli Devaraj; environmentalist H.P. Mohan, and president of the Gundia Ulisi Horata Samithi Kishor Kumar participated in the dharna.
Earlier addressing presspersons, Mr. Manjunatha Datta criticised the decision of the Narmada Construction Authority (NCA) to allow the Gujarat Government to increase the height of the Narmada dam without making proper arrangements to rehabilitate 36,000 families which were likely to be affected.
He said the Supreme Court had directed the Gujarat Government to take up work on increasing the height of the dam after getting a report on the rehabilitation of the displaced people.
The March 8 decision of the NCA to allow the Government to raise the height of the dam was an example of insensitivity and callousness, he added.
Mr. Kesari Haravu said the Government was answerable for allowing the NCA to permit the Gujarat Government to increase the height of the dam when the Supreme Court order stated that it should be done only after the rehabilitation of the affected people.
Instead of urging Ms. Medha Patkar to withdraw her fast, the Government should have stopped the construction work. "Only through this kind of action, the Government can reaffirm that it valued the Gandhian way of staging protests and send a message to society that issues could be sorted without "taking up arms," he said.
Mr. Venkatesha Murthy said the dharna in support of Ms. Medha Patkar was an attempt to underline the importance of non-violent method of protesting injustice.
To a question on the concern of artists, environmentalists, writers and social activists on a similar problem that would arise in case of the implementation of the Gundia Power Project in Sakleshpur taluk, he said that the group which staged the dharna will support the movement launched by the environmentalists against the implementation of the Gundia project. It will also fight for the rights of those displaced by the Hemavathi, Yagachi and Vatehole projects.
Friday April 7 2006
Medha has her `tiny followers'
TIRUCHI: Members of Eco-Literacy Club of Crea Children's Academy Matriculation School at Nagamangalam, an institution catering to educational needs of rural pupils, have expressed their solidarity with Narmada Bacaho Andolan activist Medha Patkar in her `struggle to save environment and tribal people.'
Shortly after the school assembly session on Wednesday, the members of the club, all studying class IV and V, adopted a resolution expressing support to the noble cause. "Press reports on e hunger strike during the past week has been causing concern to the Club members", says the Correspondent of the School, J. Christy.
In a communication to the National Alliance for Women's Organisations (NAWO), the members admired Medha's `daring stand to sacrifice her life for the sake of tribals.' On the non-violent struggle, the letter said Patkar was leading the nation towards an eco-friendly India.
Friday April 7 2006
Karnataka - Mysore
Dharna in support of Medha Patkar
Tribal people want the affected families in the Narmada Valley to be rehabilitated
SUPPORTING A CAUSE: Tribal people from Mysore and Chamarajanagar districts staging a hunger strike in Mysore on Thursday. PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM
MYSORE: Tribal communities from the Mysore and Chamarajanagar belt extended their support to Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar and staged a token hunger strike here on Thursday.
Over 100 tribal people and members of non-governmental organisations supporting the tribal cause staged a dharna in front of the Deputy Commissioner's office and raised slogans against the Government.
A few members of the Soliga community broke into folk songs and demanded that the welfare and interests of the tribal people in the country be protected.
In a memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the tribal people and various Adivasi groups urged Prof. Manmohan Singh to take action to rehabilitate the 35,000 tribal families displaced by the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the Narmada Valley.
Seeking his immediate intervention, the tribal groups said the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam should be reduced in order to prevent submergence of land, and extended their support to Ms. Patkar.
The signatories to the memorandum included Srikanth of DEED, Lalitha Karumbaiah of Tribal Joint Action, activists of Budakattu Krishikara Sangha, Nanjundaiah of Nisarga, Jaji of Vanvasi Mahila Sangha and members of Adivas Swayam Adalitha, among others.
The NBA leader has been protesting against the move to increase the height of the dam as it will have an impact on people living in the river valley in Central India. The NBA has alleged that the height of the dam is being raised in violation of the Supreme Court direction.
Thursday April 6 2006
Letters to the Editor
I salute the indomitable spirit and determination of Medha Patkar, champion of the poor, and her fellow protesters who are on a fast to draw the Centre's attention to the cause of the families displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam. The Government turning a blind eye to their plight and that of the Narmada oustees is disturbing.
* * *
Ms. Patkar's fast has become a symbol of justice denied. The irony of the Narmada project is that while huge tracts of land are available for corporate agriculture, in the name of development the Government is setting off another cycle of displacing and impoverishing people.
* * *
India has time and again proved to be a nation without a conscience. The indifference of the educated elite to the Narmada issue is an example. It is a matter of shame that thousands of displaced people have been left in the lurch, at the mercy of nature with their livelihoods snatched away. It is horrifying that a national tragedy of such enormity does not cause even a stir among the cosy, comfortable urban middle class.
* * *
I salute the iron lady. Full marks to her silent and peaceful protest. The Government should respect her determination and respond to the plight of the people affected by the Narmada project. Development is important but it should not be at the cost of poor people's basic needs.
* * *
It is ironical that the nation, which preaches Gandhian thoughts to the rest of the world, is not honouring Ms. Patkar's Gandhian form of struggle. Development is no doubt important but it is equally important to ensure proper resettlement and rehabilitation of the displaced families. Ms. Patkar is not alone in her struggle.
The people who have faith in the Gandhian ideology are behind her.
* * *
The Centre should view Ms. Patkar's deteriorating health condition seriously and act to address the issues highlighted by her. She is undoubtedly a crusader against the wrong policies of the state in the name of economic development.
* * *
While an immediate response to Ms. Patkar's fast is the need of the hour, the Governments concerned will do well to show credible action on the ground. They should be more sensitive to the problems of helpless people displaced by development plans.
Wg. Cdr. (retd.)
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The apathy towards the non-violent struggle of Ms. Patkar and the insensitivity of the media to the worsening impoverishment of the rural and urban poor are a powder keg. The drumbeaters of shining India should beware the dangers lying ahead.
* * *
Development is meant for the benefit of people. When it takes place at the cost of livelihoods, it loses its meaning.
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Our governments are insensitive to ecological and social problems when it comes to mega projects like the Sardar Sarovar dam and the Sethusamudram project as material aspects and politics weigh more heavily in their consideration.
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The NBA activists' hunger strike bears the hallmark of a satyagraha — firm but non-violent struggle against injustice. The Government should ensure that the displaced are adequately compensated for giving up their homes. To proceed with the project before this is done is to defraud those who had very little to begin with.
* * *
The nationwide support for the Gandhian mode of agitation and Ms. Patkar's committed stand are yet to make an impact on our callous policy makers. Such criminal apathy towards the plight of the common man is something the largest democracy of the world would do well without.
Friday April 7 2006
Letters to the Editor
The forcible removal of fasting leader Medha Patkar to hospital and the midnight arrest of 300 tribals and villagers protesting the raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam reflect the Government's unfortunate stand. Only those who are on a weak moral wicket take such desperate action. The move also turns the spotlight on the Government's scant regard for democracy. How different is the UPA Government's policy from that of the British?
* * *
It was sheer panic reaction. Had the Government been genuinely concerned about Ms. Patkar's health, it would not have allowed the situation to develop into one of such serious concern. It forced her into an indefinite fast by its non-response to the dam height issue. The Narmada Control Authority allowed an increase in the height, without ensuring the rehabilitation of the affected families. The Government ignored Ms. Patkar's repeated pleas for over two weeks to stop further construction. This left her with no option but to go on fast.
* * *
Ms. Patkar is one of those very few Indians who has no agenda of her own. More than any other country, India desperately needs such sincere concerned citizens. It is sincerely hoped that the pain suffered by persons like her will not go in vain.
* * *
The judiciary's indifference to the flouting of its own order on the rehabilitation of the Narmada oustees is in tune with the increasingly anti-people and pro-elite policies of our courts. This attitude has been reflected in several recent judgments on labour issues and displacement of various sections of the poor from urban slums to beautify cities or sell coveted land to private developers. That elected governments are no different is evident in all issues of displacement and rehabilitation.
* * *
If the Prime Minister cannot enforce a Supreme Court order on rehabilitation, he has no business to continue in power. It is such behaviour by the powers-that-be that is responsible for driving people to extremism.
* * *
It seems the Government has lost all its human and democratic credentials in dealing with the problems of the people. Time and again it appeals to the masses not to resort to violence but when people like Ms. Patkar adopt Gandhian ways of protest, it remains callous to their demands. If the ruling classes feel they can tackle the people's issues by sloganeering and rhetoric, a day may come when the masses feel naxalism is more effective. The media, which romanticise trivial matters, have also failed to rise to the expectations of the struggling masses.
* * *
Here is a woman who has given up everything, including food, to ensure that peoples' rights that have been trampled upon and ignored by successive governments are restored, but is forcibly taken to hospital. And we have another woman, who in the supreme spirit of "sacrifice" gave up her offices of influence and profit because the Opposition said so, not because she thought it was wrong. The meaning and spirit of the word sacrifice are no longer what my forefathers taught me.