The struggle had asserted the right of the people to their land, water and forests
“In the Narmada valley/The fight is still on” – thus sang the people of Bhadal in Madhya Pradesh, where Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar was heading a prayer meeting as part of the activities marking the completion of 25 years of the people's movement.
Rallies, meetings, folk songs and dances formed part of the struggle that asserted the right of the people to their land, water and forests and set a precedent for the subsequent social movements.
“The NBA is oxygen for other movements, giving them the strength to fight,” general secretary of the National Hawkers Union Shaktiman Ghosh told The Hindu.
Convener of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) from Orissa Prafulla Samantra said, “The Andolan is a milestone for people's movements in India. Although not successful, as the dam could not be prevented, the NBA has created an anti-big dam opinion in India and outside. It questioned the paradigm of development. As a democratic movement, it followed the Gandhian way 100 per cent. Democratic movements have been suppressed by State violence and the counter-violence has been taken over by Maoists. The Andolan mobilised people's strengths and gave a strong leadership. Any democratic movement depends upon sincere and dedicated leadership. People have become more organised. Fundamental rights of the displaced have been put forth.”
Shalmali Guttal from Focus on Global South and once associated with the movement drew a stark comparison between “horrific violence” in Laos and Cambodia, with the non-violence of the NBA.
“Non-violence and civil disobedience embodied in the movement are important. In the beginning, people were sceptical, but the Andolan showed that people can challenge financial power.”
In a grand show of solidarity, activists, environmentalists, farmers, adivasis and supporters, young and old, thronged the village square in Dhadgaon for a public meeting. Swami Agnivesh, B.D. Sharma, former Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former Union Secretary for Water Resources, attended the event.
“God made the earth, water and jungles for those who toil, not for looters,” said Swami Agnivesh to a packed village ground.
Pramod Kumar from Samvada, Bangalore, said, “Our organisation sends youths every year to the valley to sensitise them about social issues. It may change their values, their lives, and may inspire them to do something for the society.”
On their bus back to Mumbai, members of Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) carried with them the spirit of the Andolan. Their tambourines played, as they sang, “In the Narmada valley/The fight is still on.”