Indien: Medha Patkar

In the choice of technologies and the priorities of goals and objectives, the preference should be given to the neediest sections, not to those who already have.

— Medha Patkar

Medha Patkar (born 1954) has been the force behind the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a massive grassroots mobilization of people against the construction of a series of dams across the Narmada river. For two decades, Medha has led the people in a struggle to win recognition for the rights of indigenous communities to their natural resources, and to establish the need for a sustainable model of development. While the Narmada question remains unresolved, Medha and her colleagues have managed to prominently pin the issue of big dams on the world map.

Medha Patkar is the face of the NBA, arguably one of the largest people's struggles worldwide. The World Bank-financed Sardar Sarovar and other big dam projects were coming up on the Narmada river about the time Medha began working in the tribal areas of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. In 1985, she organized the peasants and tribals of the three states to fight for information about the Narmada Valley Development Project. The NBA stressed the government's failure to involve the local communities in decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. As Medha and the NBA continued their work, and emerged as one of the strongest voices against this manner of insensate "development", even the World Bank was forced to undertake an unprecedented review of the Sardar Sarovar dam. The World Bank completed its review in 1991, concluding that the project had been ill-conceived. Medha's work did not begin and end with just the protest against unplanned and unsystematic development: she worked with villagers to develop alternative sources of energy and water. Education is another area she focused on: the Reva Jeevanshala, which the NBA set up, is a network of nine residential schools in the villages across the Narmada belt in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. A veteran of several fasts (including a 22-day fast in 1991 which nearly killed her), monsoon satyagrahas, marches, and rallies, Medha is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the concerns of the tribals from the Narmada valley into the living rooms of the urban elite.

Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM)