Founder of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and co-founder of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, Medha Patkar is a strong advocate of causes of diverse sections like the tribals, dalits, labourers and women across different parts of India.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)
Founder of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and co-founder of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, Medha Patkar is a strong advocate of causes of diverse sections like the tribals, dalits, labourers and women across different parts of India.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)

Medha Patkar: Amplifying the commoner’s voice

Founder of the Narmada Bachao Andolan 34 years ago and co-founder of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, she is a strong advocate of causes of diverse sections like the tribals, dalits, farmers, labourers and women across different parts of India.
By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON SEP 03, 2019 02:02 PM IST

Born in Bombay (present-day Mumbai) on December 1,1954, to Vasant Khanolkar (freedom fighter and labour union leader) and Indumati (she worked for an organisation that supported financially weak women), Medha Khanolkar dedicated herself to social service at a very young age. Initially, Patkar pursued master’s degree in social work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. As a PhD scholar, she studied economic development and its impact on traditional societies. After working up to the MPhil level, she left the PhD unfinished due to her involvement in the work with tribal and peasant communities in the Narmada valley spread over Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Activism

Patkar launched her career by working for voluntary organizations in the slums of Mumbai. After working for several organisations, she devoted attention towards welfare activities in the tribal districts of Gujarat. She garnered the limelight by starting the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada) in 1985 to highlight issues faced by tribals, labourers, farmers, fishermen, their families and others living near the Narmada valley.

It also involved scientists and environmentalists who questioned what they saw as the undemocratic planning of dams and unfair distribution of benefits. Patkar argued that Sardar Sarovar Dam would displace more than 40,000 families who live along Narmada valley.

Her argument was supported by many as the government did not have any rehabilitation plan in place. She fasted for 22 days in protest, before winning the battle against the government. She is one of the founders of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), an alliance of hundreds of progressive people’s organisations.

Patkar was a commissioner on the World Commission on Dams which conducted thorough research on the environmental, social, political and economic aspects and impacts of the development of large dams globally and its alternatives. In 2005, she initiated the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan which highlighted the struggle for housing rights in Mumbai. The movement began when Maharashtra government demolished 75,000 houses, leaving thousands homeless. NAPM filed several public interest litigations including those against Adarsh Society, Lavasa Megacity, Hiranandani (Powai) and other builders.

She also opposed the proposal of Kovvada Atomic Power Project in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, stating that it would pose a great threat to the environment and to the people of the region, and joined social activist Anna Hazare in his fight against corruption.

Awards

Patkar was honoured with several awards for her services. She received the Right Livelihood Award (1991), and the Goldman Environmental Prize (1992). She has been bestowed with other honours such as Human Rights Defenders Award from Amnesty International, MA Thomas National Human Rights Award from Vigil India Movement (1999), the Deenanath Mangeshkar Award, Kundal Lal Award, Bhimabai Ambedkar Award, Mahatma Phule Award, and the Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice.

Interesting facts

1.Since 1992, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has been running Jeevanshalas (schools in the Narmada valley) and has regularly contributed in the sectors of health, environment and employment.

2.Patkar ventured into politics in 2014 by joining the Aam Aadmi Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal. She lost the Lok Sabha election, receiving only 8.9% votes in North East Mumbai. She left the party in March 2015.

3.She was bestowed with honours such as the Green Ribbon Award for Best International Political Campaigner by BBC in 1995. BBC also honoured Patkar with the Person of The Year, in 1999.

4.She also protested the construction of an automobile factory by Tata Motors at Singur, in West Bengal. Consequently,Tata stopped the construction and moved its factory to Sanand in Gujarat.

5.In 2009, Patkar was criticised after she refused to participate in the protest against the proposal of building Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, in Madban village, in th Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra.

Sources: Thefamouspeople.com, Wikipedia

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