Among India's most dynamic activists, Medha tai or Medha didi, as she is called by schoolchildren and police alike, knows the Narmada Valley hamlet by hamlet. Equally fleetfooted on the narrow mountain paths with only a torch and the light of the moon and stars, or on the Indian Railways where all the Ticket Collectors (TCs) are familiar with her travelling karyalaya -- documents, banners, pamphlets -- Medha Patkar follows the truth to its lair. Veteran of several fasts, monsoon satyagrahas on the banks of the rising Narmada, her uncompromising insistence on the right to life and livelihood has compelled the post-Independence generation in India as well as around the world to revisit the basic questions of natural resources, human rights, environment, and development. Facing police beatings and many jail terms on the way, she continues to believe in the best of people and the democratic system. She has won over police and even government officers through her simple faith in justice and comprehensive analysis of the facts. At a recent occupation by the Narmada Bachao Andolan of the Ministry of Water Resources in Delhi, a police officer was heard saying on his mobile phone, "But this is not a law and order problem."
Linking the Narmada Bachao Andolan with hundreds of peasant, tribal, dalit, women and labour movements throught India, Medha Patkar is a Convener of the National Alliance of People's Movements - a non-electoral, secular political alliance opposed to globalisation-liberalisation based economic policy and for alternative development paradigm and plans. She has served as a Commissioner to the World Commission on Dams, the first independent global Commission constituted to enquire on the water, power and alternative issues, related to dams, across the world.
Taking up a two-pronged approach of sangharsh (struggle) and nirman (constructive work), Medha tai has worked with villagers and community groups to develop alternatives in energy, water harvesting, and education for tribal children. The Reva Jeevanshala, using both state and local syllabus taught by local teachers in the local language, is a system of 9 residential schools and 4 day-schools in the tribal villages of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat.
Medha Patkar has received numerous awards, including the Deena Nath Mangeshkar Award, Mahatma Phule Award, Right Livelihood Award, Goldman Environment Prize, Green Ribbon Award for Best International Political Campaigner by BBC, and the Human Rights Defender's Award from Amnesty International.
Medha Patkar can be reached at:
Narmada Bachao Andolan
B13 Shivam Flats
Vadodara 390 007
Contributed by Aravinda Pillalamarri, who also has the photo credit.