Social activists who devote their life selflessly to advancing the cause of justice and environment protection in peaceful and democratic ways are a source of great strength for any genuine democracy and any such country would take great pride in their achievements.
Medha Patkar and her close colleagues in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) are such activists whose achievements in this context have been widely recognized nationally and internationally. She has received, with her close and equally brave colleagues, many prestigious awards including the Right Livelihood Award, the Goldman Environment Award and Human Rights Defender Award. More precious has been the great love and respect she has received from people.
Millions of persons have derived inspiration from her and her close colleagues. Movements like the NBA (for protecting the rights of dam affected people and for reconsideration of decisions on destructive projects with incredibly high adverse social and ecological impacts) and the Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan (for protecting housing rights of slum dwellers in Mumbai) are considered very important milestones in the history of social movements. Apart from being associated very closely with these movements in leading roles, Medha and her close colleagues have played an important role in the coming together of social organizations and social movements in India in the form of the National Alliance of People’s Movements ( NAPM).
Medha Patkar was also a commissioner in the World Commission on Dams and played an important role in formulating policies on several issues of crucial interest to weaker sections and protection of environment.
It was increasingly realized by several social activists that it was important to combine activism with constructive activities, and the Narmada Nav Nirman Abhiyan (NNNA) was started to initiate innovative schools and various activities which will help to find an alternative development path.
It is highly regrettable that powerful forces have been again and again making efforts to implicate Medha Patkar and her close colleagues in false allegations. To give an example, one such such effort was made about 15 years back in 2007 in the form of a legal case which was dismissed by the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court judgment delivered on 10 July 2007 had criticized this ill-motivated litigation calling it a private interest case and imposing costs, adding also that the work of Medha Patkar was in the interests of rehabilitation of dam oustees.
Exactly 15 years after this judgment of the Supreme Court of India, a FIR has sought to implicate Medha Patkar and close colleagues in NNNA in several false allegations. Within a short time hundreds of activists, academics, journalists and others have rallied to the support of Medha and her close colleagues. In a statement titled ‘Withdraw the trumped up FIR filed against Medha Patkar and other trustees of NNNA’, the NAPM has stated, “ It is indeed atrocious that a public-spirited trust like NNNA which has been working for over two decades in the interests of the displacement affected adivasis and rural communities in the Narmada valley in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, is having to face such bizarre allegations from vested interests.”
The NAPM has recalled that following such ill-motivated acts in the past, the NNNA in a statement dated 6 April, 2022 has already replied to issues relating to some old transactions. The NAPM has called for immediate withdrawal of FIR against Medha and all trustees of NNNA while also calling upon the government to refrain from any coercive action.The NAPM has stated, “ We assert the constitutional right to organize and right to liberty of all activists who are facing state repression for their public-spirited work.”
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Planet in Peril, Man over Machine and When the Two Streams Met.