Utpal Sandesara & Tom Wooten
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On the rainy night of August 11, 1979, a mud-splattered jeep slowed to a halt by the shores of a vast man-made lake in western India. Stepping from the vehicle, an exhausted government engineer was shocked to find the lake empty after ten days of torrential monsoon showers. The two-mile-long Machhu Dam-II had washed away, sending its reservoir careening toward the industrial city of Morbi. One of history’s deadliest flash floods had just taken place.
No One Had a Tongue to Speak tells, for the first time, the heartbreaking story of the Machhu dam disaster. The seeds of the tragedy are planted as Indian politicians, swept up in the heady optimism of their country’s newfound independence, mandate a slew of dam-construction projects. Massive earthworks rise and vast reservoirs accumulate, but the rapid clip of development outpaces the skill of the engineers behind it. When the Machhu Dam-II gives way after days of incessant rains, residents of the downstream river valley are plunged into a watery hell. Their lives are torn to pieces in an instant. Up to 25,000 perish, though the disaster’s true human toll is not known. As survivors grapple with the flood’s aftereffects, a long and fateful quest to determine responsibility for the dam’s failure ensues.
In the three decades since muddy floodwaters surged through the Machhu River Valley, the disaster has faded from collective memory. No One Had a Tongue to Speak revives it in striking form, weaving together stories from 148 interviews and extensive archival research. From the rooftops where survivors struggled amid the raging floodwaters to the courthouse chambers where lawyers searched for answers in the flood’s aftermath, this book presents the disaster in the words of those who lived through it.
Grounded in meticulous historical research, this eye-opening account of the Machhu dam disaster nonetheless unfolds like a novel as it recounts a historic human tragedy and paints a vivid portrait of an India torn between its feudal past and its industrial future. No One Had a Tongue to Speak attests not only to human error and neglect, but also to the compelling urge to survive, rebuild, and fight for justice.