Berkeley, CA, Dipti Bhatnagar : Over 50 people packed into a small room here today, on short notice, to listen to and be inspired by internationally-renowned social activist Medha Patkar talking about the well-known Narmada Bachao Andolan as well as her involvement with many issues facing India and the world today. The event was
attended by representatives of International Rivers, Association for India’s Development (AID), Asha Bay Area, Friends of South Asia, International Accountability Project, the Story of Stuff project, Global Fund for Women, Progressive Bengali Network, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, KPFA 94.1FM, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, students from UC Berkeley, etc.
Medha Patkar is the founder and leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the River Narmada Movement). She is the recipient of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award (the alternative Nobel Prize), the Goldman Environmental Prize, and the Human Rights Defenders Award, among many others. She spoke to Bay Area social and environmental activists about the Narmada movement, where struggle against the disastrous Sardar Sarovar dam under construction in the Indian state of Gujarat,
has continued unabated for 25 years, and is slated to submerge a total of more than 40,000 hectares in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. She said that over six hundred guests from 20 states in India and from across the world joined thousands of farmers, fish workers, artisans, small traders, etc from the Narmada Valley to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the movement.
While the mandated rehabilitation of communities and environmental mitigation is not being done by the government, she averred, even the benefits of the project are not being realized. In fact, she stated, the state of Gujarat is currently using less than 10% of water available in the dam, because they have not constructed the canal network, yet keep insisting on pushing the dam height higher, without utilizing the available water. Meanwhile, the current cost of the project is a whopping Rs. 70,000
crores, having increased 10-fold from its original approved cost.
Today, Patkar, who founded the Narmada movement 25 years ago, is not just a symbol of that movement, but rather a national and international symbol of peoples’ power, rights-based struggles and non-violent resistance. She is also the Convener of the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM), founded in 1995, it an alliance of movements from all across India leading struggles against injustice and discrimination, asserting rights, leading reconstruction towards sustainability and selfreliance.
Last month, 150 organizations from across India were represented at the NAPM’s 8-biennial convention last month in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, after the Narmada celebrations.
Patkar is also one of the founders of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (Build Homes, Save Homes Movement), a movement of slum dwellers and the urban poor in Mumbai. The organization, along with NAPM, recently uncovered the Adarsh Housing Society scam, by effectively using India’s Right to Information Act (RTI). It is a huge scandal where homes allocated for Kargil war martyrs was instead usurped by top army generals, prominent politicians and bureaucrats, including Maharashtra Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, who greeted US President Obama in Mumbai and was sacked for his involvement in the Adarsh scam right after Obama’s plane took off from Mumbai. Patkar decried the Adarsh scam among many other scams ripe in the “un-real estate sector”, especially in cities like Mumbai, where land and housing comes at a fantastic premium.
“The peoples’ movements in India are the only ones challenging these conspiracies,” she asserted. People are fighting back with non-violence, she said, and they are “demanding right to resources, and right to development planning at the community level.”
Patkar bemoaned the 200,000 farmers who have committed suicide in the past 10 years, because of appropriation of their resources. She said the NAPM was holding a Jan Sansad, peoples’ parliament, in Vidarbha in November where most of the farmer suicides have taken place, and in Mumbai in January, where the movement of urban poor is powerful.
Her comments on Obama’s recent India visit were insightful. He once symbolized change and hope, a welcome departure from the war-ridden regime of George Bush, but after 2 years, it seems like there is “not much hope”, she said.
Obama spoke highly of Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore, Ambedkar and Vivekanand, but he didn’t have much to say about the still-struggling survivors of the Bhopal gas-tragedy, and their demand for the extradition of Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide Corporation, criminally responsible for the tragedy. Obama was also clearly ignorant about the havoc caused by the many existing plants of the Ambanis as he openly showed support for the Reliance mega-project of gas power plants, without also
realizing that these projects have not yet received environmental or social clearances, Patkar stated.
Patkar ended her talk by urging everyone in the Bay Area to support the non-violent peoples’ movements in India and raise a voice against injustice, just as they stood up vociferously against the unjust Iraq war.
She has always struggled non-violently, she asserted, and does not support picking up of arms by any movement. Peoples’ struggles raising .