Medha Patkar: A Legacy of Activism and Commitment
Medha Patkar, born on December 1, 1954, in Mumbai, Maharashtra, has devoted her life to championing the rights of marginalised communities in India. She is an iconic figure in social and political activism, recognised for her unwavering pursuit of justice for tribals, Dalits, farmers, labourers, and women facing injustice.
Early Life and Educational Foundation
Medha Patkar’s journey commenced with a solid foundation in social work and advocacy. Holding an MA in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), a prestigious institution for social science research in India, her educational background equipped her with the tools to comprehend the complexities of socio-economic issues that would later become the focal point of her activism.
Patkar’s familial background, with her father being a freedom fighter and labour union leader, and her mother holding a gazetted officer position, played a significant role in shaping her values and sense of responsibility towards society’s most vulnerable members.
The Birth of Narmada Bachao Andolan
A pivotal aspect of Medha Patkar’s activist career is her role as the founder of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a social movement that emerged in 1985. The NBA aimed to protest against the construction of dams on the Narmada River, particularly the Sardar Sarovar Dam project.
This movement brought together a diverse group, including Adivasis, farmers, fishworkers, labourers, and intellectual allies such as environmentalists, human rights activists, scientists, academicians, and artists. Together, they opposed undemocratic planning, social and environmental costs, and unjust distribution of benefits associated with these dam projects. The NBA’s non-violent struggle has persisted for decades, advocating for fair rehabilitation for those affected by the dams.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements
Beyond her role in the NBA, Medha Patkar co-founded the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), an alliance of progressive people’s organisations in India. NAPM addresses issues related to socio-economic justice, political justice, and equity. Serving as the national convener of NAPM, Patkar facilitates unity and strength for people’s movements fighting against oppression and advocating for a just alternative to the current development model.
Advocating for Slum-Dwellers’ Rights
Patkar’s activism extends beyond environmental and tribal issues. In 2005, she initiated the “Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan,” a struggle for housing rights in Mumbai. This movement fights for the rights of slum-dwellers and those affected by rehabilitation and redevelopment projects. Through mass actions and community mobilisation, the movement has succeeded in rebuilding communities that were demolished without proper compensation.
A Lifetime of Advocacy
Throughout her career, Medha Patkar has been a tireless advocate for the rights of the marginalised and disenfranchised. Her work addresses injustice in various forms, including casteism, communalism, and discrimination. She has contributed to national policies and enactments related to land acquisition, unorganised sector workers, hawkers, slum-dwellers, and forest-dwelling Adivasis.
While her activism has earned international recognition and awards, including the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environment Award, Patkar has also faced controversy and criticism. Critics argue that her opposition to certain development projects, like the Narmada Dam, has hindered benefits such as power generation, irrigation, and drinking water provision.
A Life of Courage and Conviction
Medha Patkar’s career is a testament to the transformative power of activism and commitment in addressing critical societal issues. Her unwavering dedication to social justice, environmental sustainability, and the rights of marginalised communities has left an indelible mark on India’s history. Her work continues to inspire generations of activists and advocates who believe in the transformative power of individuals to make a meaningful difference.