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Plural Narratives from Narmada Valley

Published by

Delhi Solidarity Group

Pre Publication Edition Published by:

Delhi Solidarity Group

c/o F 10/12 Malaviya Nagar

New Delhi – 110017

October 2010

Pallav NBA Archives


Joe Athialy

Page Layout:

Anil xx
Printed by:

Jerry xxx


In case you need help...

Andolan / NBA

Narmada Bachao Andolan


Sardar Sarovar Project

NWDTA / Award

Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award


Narmada valley

Didi / Jiji / tai

Elder sister. Unless it is a suffix to any other name, it is referred to Medha Patkar.


Right to Information


Schools of life – schools which NBA started in the tribal areas of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.


Upstream dam on Narmada, built near Jabalpur. One of the large dams to be completed in the valley.

Tawa, Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, Man, Jobat

Upstream dams on either river Narmada or on its tributary.


A major town in the submergence zone of Indira Sagar dam


National Alliance of People’s Movements. It is an alliance of a large number of people’s organizations and movements in India.

Indira Sagar

One of the two major dams on river Narmada (the other is SSP), built in Madhya Pradesh.

Police patil

Village Police official


Wooden canoe


Forest guard


Village head


Madhya Pradesh




Is a tree whose flowers used for making oil, local liquor, etc.

Tendu Patta

Leaves, used to make bidis.

Talathi / Patwari

A local low-level land revenue official.

Nimad Bachao Andolan

The Nimad Bachao Andolan was formed in the late ‘70s, after the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award (NWDTA), to fight for the rights of adivasis and farmers affected by this project. Led by political parties of that time, this movement died out due to differences and various political sell-outs.

Harsud Sammelan

On 28th September 1987 50,000 people came together in this first major rally since Independence against destructive development and displacement, known as Harsud Sammelan, Harsud city was a symbolic venue as it faced complete submergence by the rising waters of the Indira Sagar project on the Narmada river. 

Ferkuva rally

Jan Vikas Sangharsh Yatra (Ferkuva rally) began from Badwani on foot, with over 5000 tribals and farmers, towards the SSP dam site in Gujarat, demanding complete stoppage of the dam. At the Madhya Pradesh-Gujarat border, they were stopped by the police and the contingent sat on a dharna. Seven of them undertook an indefinite fast which lasted for 22 days and withdrawn when the World Bank announced an Independent Review of SSP.


Punya Wasave

Gokhru Mangal

Kailash Awasya

Devrambhai Kanera

Dedlibai Wasave

Bawa Mahariya

Shantabai Mokati

Ashish Mandloi

Bijya Jugala Wasave

Noorji Padvi

Kamala Yadav


Ranya Gonjya Padvi



Why are narratives of movements always linear? Why do they always present one story? What about the plural narratives that exists among the participants of the movement? And what about writing about movements, representing the plurality of narratives? A woman thinks differently from a man, a younger man thinks differently from an elder woman, so on and so forth. And actually there are several cases in the country to try and present the plural narratives from the ground, both as a critique to the linear academic, scholarly narratives – not demeaning them necessarily, but saying that there are different way in which people’s life stories, people’s struggles, and life could be ‘written about’.”

(Smitu Kothari, March 2009)

From three different organizations representing people from three states affected by the Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Project (SSP) nearly a quarter century ago – unheard and stranded, yet committed and perseverant – the emergence of a formidable people's movement – Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) – was a result of a unique journey. A journey the world has documented in different fashions, in different shades, often squeezing it to fit different lenses.

A movement, more often than not, having to do fire fighting with three different state governments, different ministries at the central government, international lending agencies, digging out and dissecting piles of documents, threading a difficult terrain to reach out and mobilize masses in the Narmada valley and supporters worldwide found itself falling short when it comes to tell its own story loud and clear. Yet, the innumerable supporters from many walks of life became the mouthpieces of NBA, spreading the stories of struggle – the victories and shortcomings – to the larger world.

NBA, which started with a focus of making the rehabilitation of the dam affected better, learned in due course the fallibility of the project, rich in promises and poor in delivery, and started questioning the very project, which in one way they set out to help, by making the rehabilitation work better. Realization of what SSP actually is, opened the eyes of NBA. That the story of SSP is not an exception but is a repeat of many similar hydro-electric and big infrastructure projects in the past was soon clear. That a paradigm rooted in its lopsided understanding of development and where human and nature is not in its core was identified as the driver of such projects. NBA challenged the fundamentals of this technocratic model of development and showed the way by developing the alternatives to big dams in the villages and in the process renewing the debate on political economy of the developmental planning itself worldwide.

Once the critique was developed, NBA found allies soon – the ones who have been at the receiving end of such developmental projects – dams, industries, infrastructure development, and many more. The unique strategies of political actions, mobilization and effective use of Gandhian methods, along with its willingness to support and reach out to different movements across the country, made NBA one of the rarest of people's movements in the recent history of independent India, which is looked upon for inspiration and robust strategies across the globe.
While it has always been a collective effort of mobilization and rallying, NBA is known outside through a few activists. May be a struggle would need a 'face' and it makes easy for anyone to remember about it through a few images / idioms rather than a volley of them. However, the part played by a large number of activists in its nearly 25 years of journey – majority of them coming from the villages that NBA work – cannot be undermined and their voices need to be mulled over.
Apart from 'hearing' them – their views not just on the project and its nuances, but the larger issues of politics, state, judiciary, other movements, violence and non-violence alike would determine how NBA has been successful in making a cadre strong and sound, at par with its perceived political understanding and articulation. The story of their courage and the struggle has been written innumerable times but largely through the perspectives of the visible leadership and within the limitations of the language, understanding of the local nuance and cultural relations between communities. This leaves a gaping hole in the larger narrative of the heroic struggle of the masses in the Narmada valley.

This book is an attempt to put together the voices of activists of NBA coming from the Sardar Sarovar project affected areas, who are, to a great extend, devoid of the sophistication and complexities of articulation, have clear and strong perspectives about different socio-political issues around them/us. Their perspectives are far from bookish, but emerged from and rooted in experiences of some 20-25 years. Hence, their voices are strong, opinionated, diverse, sometimes contradictory to others’ opinions, and some reflecting their confusions and limitations, but nevertheless rich in content.

They were active actors in the struggle, something which completely transformed their lives in spite of always living on the edge and constantly facing the threat of submergence and evictions. These narratives are not only of transformation of the self but of fomenting a generation of activists who questioned and fought for an alternative development paradigm all across the country. They transformed the discourse of the environment movements across the world. It's inspirational, analytical and reflective. It's an attempt at writing history from below, an exercise in 'subaltern historiography'.
The book as a whole tries to reconstruct the narrative of the struggles of the Narmada with the voices of the village level cadres and web of leadership which emerged over a quarter of century.
These are individual reflections / comments and not any official position of Andolan. What each one of them say about how Andolan has been in the past and how it should go ahead are opinions of each of them and not any reflection of official Andolan strategies.
None of them are stand alone interviews. Narrations and reflections are understood better when they are read together.
As said in the quote by Smitu Kothari, a dear friend of Andolan and many such movements across the country, these are plural narratives and reflections from the ground – not a linear narration. Hence some of them may sound a bit different from the other – not necessarily contradicting each other, but a different perspective. They are acknowledged and respected, and never attempted in this book to make it ‘politically correct’.

These are also a reflection of people’s political education after NBA started its journey 25 years back. While one is not ignoring the different political engagements people in the valley had even before, NBA brought to the fore a different political process – where people and their rights were at the center and not political parties or party ideologies. The new political process questioned the development paradigm, offered alternatives and insisted on transparency and accountability at all levels of governance. Through raising issues on and about the Sardar Sarovar Project, it touched up wider issues like corruption, people-centric planning process and initiated nation-wide discussions on rehabilitation and resettlement. It made policy level interventions. An exponent of effective non-violent political strategies, Andolan effectively raised issues from the doorsteps of the World Bank to the local Tehsildar office; its ideology and political acumen brought together people from diverse professions and backgrounds – engineers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, house-husbands and many more – to support and play different roles in it; it reached out to all pillars of democracy, each time challenging it and pushing its limits; and not just confining to the social costs of the project, it questioned effectively the fundamentals of the project – both on technical, financial, social and environmental grounds as well as its political justifications and legal sanctions.

What does all this mean to the activists who have been a part of this legendry movement – some for longer and some of short durations? Especially, the ones from the affected communities, who despite many hurdles played a leadership role and many of them, still continue to do. How much did the larger political discourse percolate to the other levels of leadership? Andolan made a very bold decision of ascertaining it. May be first of its kind in India for a large political movement like Andolan, it decided to do undertake a process with those people at the leadership who are from the affected communities, both as an opportunity for the outside world to know their perspectives on various issues, as well as to ascertain the level of NBA’s role in empowering them. This work is such an attempt.

What they said or missed to say do not judge Andolan in any way. It only opens up an opportunity for Andolan to rethink about its strategies – both internally and externally.

What they talk may not be chronologically in order, nor their interpretation of policies or law necessarily correct (in a strict legal framework). What it reflects is the way they understand them and the way they look at those.
Each of the life stories has been constructed by a freewheeling conversation individually over a period of six months in the language they were comfortable in. The original interviews have been translated from Pawari, Bhilali, Marathi, Nimadi and Hindi. In the process of transcription and translation from the original language to English, it is possible that we have missed understanding some important points, omitted descriptions for want of space or importantly, failed to express with the intensity and fervour in which they narrate. We regret the same.

This work would not have been possible without the help and support of many. Dipti Bhatnagar, Sridevi Panikar, Tarini Manchanda, Anuradha Munshi, Himanshu Upadhyaya and Amrita Patwardhan helped in editing the interviews at different stages. We are grateful to them.

We are also thankful to all of them who gave their valuable time sharing their experiences and perspectives.

This is a pre publication edition. This volume has only fourteen interviews, while there are nearly twenty more interviews at different stages of editing. We hope in the next few months we will be able to bring all of them together. Your comments and suggestions would be invaluable.
Ojas S V

Madhuresh Kumar

Vijayan M J

Joe Athialy

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