I met with Medha Patkar, one of India’s best-known and respected social activists, at an informal get-together in Berkeley today.
Patkar is the founder of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement) and the National Alliance of People’s Movements – both social movements consisting of adivasis (tribal people), farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists. For the past 20 years she’s been leading a nonviolent struggle against the Sardar Sarovar dam project – being built across the Narmada river in Gujarat, India. The project has already rendered some 300,000 people homeless and threatens to displace many thousands more.
Patkar’s long struggle against the construction of mega-dams on the Narmada has become symbolic of a global struggle for social and environmental justice. She has organized mass demonstrations and hunger strikes and been jailed several times.
I had travelled with her to Nandigram a few days after the 14 March 2007 West Bengal state offensive where many villagers, opposed to a proposed chemical complex on their farmland, were killed. Her dedication to social and environment justice is inspiring.
At the three-hour long meeting today, Patkar called on young US-based Indians to take up the baton from the people of her generation and get more involved in people’s movements in India.
Ideally though, she would like all expat Indians return to the country and be active members of Indian civil society. “That would be first priority. But I know that magic will not happen,” she said. So instead she called on Indian Americans to speak out against “global neo-liberal economy and politics” at international forums whenever they could.