During the Domkhedi Satyagraha in 1999, after Medha Patkar broke her 8 day fast and silence, she delivered a very eloquent, moving speech. One that beautifully situates the history of the struggle and visualises a new world ahead. It is hard to convey the profund lyricism of her delivery, but this translation will convey some of the flavour.


One Tapa, One Vow

One tapa (twelve years) of the struggle in the Narmada valley is over. The struggle which started with the innocent, simple tribals dependent on the nature was spread further onto the fertile and flowering land of Nimad. The common people have kept it alive on their own strength while there was dialogue and active support from outside of the valley. The depressed and toilers were integrated as a part of the struggle, and number of activists in the valley, the supporters and Baba Amte-Sadhanatai contributed their mite. I have been only incidental, but never distinct from the valley.

First and foremost, the struggle has demanded the right to information about the cost-benefits of the dam, proof of its 'public purpose', the compensating the trauma of displacement and environmental destruction. From 1985 to 1987, from the level of village patwari (record keeper) to the World Bank, we did not get the answers to our queries. If there are no answers, no clearance for the dam by the people. The tribals of Vindhya-Satpuda ranges and people in Nimad declared their opposition to the dam and showed that the only the dam of their unity would be of any use to them ( ekina baandhana kamoma ava...)

The thought of opposing the dam itself was not evolved out of any alien dogma, philosophy or the foreign financing. It has been formulated by individual experience and experience of the people at each step. As a result, we have formulated the policy and opinion about the large dams, tribal life, the means of livelihood and their loot, the wide breach between agriculture and industry, village and city, the objectives and process of planning, the foreign hand, its intervention, its effect and pressure, the capitalist-market oriented objectives and environmentally sustainable vision, deception of the drought and flood affected people, the conspiracies of today and the future scenario, the self reliance in the direction of equality ... and an alternative paradigm of development of water and energy resources. We had explored every issue, tried to project these as far as possible, with reasonably efficacy. We have tried to reach out on every forum, extended the dialogue. This commitment and efforts bore some fruits.

  • In 1987, the friends within and outside the country warned and challenged the World Bank - "Vishva bank hai sahukar - janata bane karjadar" (World Bank is the moneylender - the people become indebted).
  • In 1989, thousands of people from the hundreds of organisations all over India declared that - "vikaas chahiye - vinash nahin" ( we want development and not destruction).
  • In 1990, thousands of people within and outside the valley came out for the Sangharsha Yatra ( March of struggle).
  • In 1991-94, the people faced the submergence, the tribals resolved "doobenge par nahin hatenge" (we will drown, but not move out)
  • The review process by the World Bank, at the Union government level, accepting most of the issues raised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Long fasts followed and the work on the dam was stopped.
  • The Court also sanctioned the stoppage of the dam and it was suspended at 81.5 meters. And now, it has allowed the dam to go upto 88 meters.


All this was not to save only one Narmada river and valley, or people affected by the Sardar Sarovar and all the big dams in it. We have to save the life, resources, the identity and dignity of the people, farms and forests of every oppressed and depressed people. That is why, we will have to stop the Sardar Sarovar dam. We will have to stop it from going upto 139 meters despite the fact that it was taken up forcibly upto 88 meters. We have to stop the game of the powerholders who cater to the interests of the few urban-industrial pockets while draining the natural resources and deceiving the people of Kutch and Saurashtra, in whose name the dam is being built.


How all this will be possible? We will have to fight on. On a number of fronts, simultaneously, exploring and involving all possible avenues like the river, nay like the ocean. It will have to be a whirlwind of the people's movement; and it will be like that if thousands and thousands participate in it.

Some points of such a struggle have been envisaged by all the colleagues. Some of them I feel as necessary and inevitable. I want to appeal for the support and participation of all the colleagues, supporters and people till the last moment. This is how the struggle can go ahead -

We will be confronting the submergence, (which is bound to come at any time) in the spirit of dedication and sacrifice. We will stay put resolutely at the centres of Satyagraha, in every house, wishing that the water may not rise - yet ready to sacrifice the life. We wish that the Mother Narmada shall remain free, flowing, even if we have to sacrifice. We will see how many and who all would come and from where to be with us.

The government shall not play the game of "saving the lives" after it had fully prepared to submerge the entire valley. No false promises. If that happens, we would confront their design. We will decide about the strategy, policy accordingly and will not leave them scot free this time.

The time has come to raise question on the judicial process through which the life and resources of the people in the valley are being taken away. Why not question it? After all the objective of such process is justice, and not certainly injustice. This is a part of the system created by human beings. It is not only the matter of abstract theory but the questions are being raised out of the actual reality.

The impending submergence would violate the stipulations of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) and the orders of the Court itself as there is no land or resettlement. At this juncture we will have to think of the justice and injustice. How come it cannot be? We are raising the issues, following the path of constitution and legal propriety, so that the judicial system should not be proved unjust due to the machinations of the poweholders, so that the dignity and position of the judiciary should be intact.

Is it not possible for the Court to examine all the issues raised by the tribals-peasants about the project?

Is it not necessary for the judiciary to evolve the new ways of finding out the truth in an independent way and do the justice, in a dispute between the state power and the common, depressed classes?

cCan not the court hold a "Jan Sunwai" ( Public Hearing) involving the victims, common people and people's organisations at their places about the issues affecting the hundreds and thousands of people? Why cannot the British legacy of judicial system be changed for the people?

Is it not right that any judicial process in an issue, like Narmada , with a large scale destruction of the life and nature be carried out only after suspending the project, without imposing this destruction?

Whether it is just for the Court to give an order, involving the violation of the constitution, law and its own previous orders, which would strengthen the hands of the state power to suppress, overawe the people's organisations, their feelings and thinking, allowing the state to become more oppressive?

If the Court realises the violation of the Constitution, law and its own previous orders and after realising the patent injustice done due to its order, cannot the Court issue a new order to demolish the cause of injustice (as in case of SSP from 81.5 meters to 88 meters) or any other way out (for the construction above 81.5 meters) to stop the impacts of earlier order?

Why cannot the apex court of this country challenge the administrative decision about any project in the name of "Public Purpose", which would cater only to the political interests and consumption of the small section of the society, based on fraudulent cost-benefit analysis, and on the violation of constitutional, human rights?

Why cannot this happen in a democratic polity ? We would like to ask, and ask we will, to this nation.

We are, beyond all these dimensions of the struggle, determined to stop the Sardar Sarovar Project in the larger chain of the large dams on Narmada.

The people's power has been challenging, in Narmada and elsewhere, the alien, destructive and iniquitous policy, on its own strength. On the basis of non-violent strategy. Now, the struggle in this monsoon in the valley will once again bring out before the nation and the world our policy and strategy. The intellectuals would contribute their mite. There will be appeals in and outside the court keeping with all its dignity. The state and central government knows about everything about the satyagraha, about the fight between the life and death.

And yet, despite all this, if the work on the Sardar Sarovar Project is allowed

- Without the review of the project through a of new tribunal and with the public hearing, without the complete and just resettlement according to the appropriate policy of those who have already been displaced by the dam and dam related works (canals, colony, sanctuary etc.),

In that event we would give an ultimate non-violent challenge to such an injustice though "Jal samarpan" (Sacrifice in Water). This would (depend) on the resumption of the work on the dam, in an appropriate situation and time.

This is not the frustration, fear or helplessness. Neither it is out of exhaustion and defeat. This is not an escape from the struggle, rather it is taking the struggle to its height. This is recognising the challenge and accepting it. For true development. This would serve as an appeal to the youth and for people's power for the decades to come. This is not any Kargil war; this war will be fought with equanimity instead of hatred, peace instead of violence, on the way to change, to its culmination.

We hope that this situation would not come. We also want to live intensely and with all the joy and beauty of life. We have to bring in the people's rule in this country without exploitation and oppression; to do away with casteism, communalism and war-mongering. We want to flourish with the nature and nature with us, and to assert the rights of the dalits, toilers tribals, peasants, women on that resource base. We have to bring in true development with the appropriate utilisation of scientific knowledge and technology, new research for sustainable and true water and energy policy and development paradigms. We have to internalise the valuess of equality, modest lifestyle and self dependence.

We will have to create a new politics, new force with the coordination and alliance of all the people's movements. An alternative with all the strength to face the present corrupt, anti-people electoral politics. This programme would also need unique Samarpan (sacrifice), "Jan Samarpan" (Dedication to the people) and not Jal samarpan (Sacrifice in Water).

This work has to be carried on with a long term view, thought and path. Yet another tapa (twelve years). For this Jan samarpan too, there is a need for a new strength and direction.

We need for the ongoing Narmada struggle and for the proposed struggle for a new world, a band of at least 50 young friends, who can give one year for this cause. "Yuva Vikas Dal" (Youth for Development). Immediately. They would be start the nucleus within Narmada valley and outside for the struggle and reconstruction. This is not only a dream, but an unbending faith in the making of a new society.

What will and will not happen ? Now, it will be the larger society, and not only people in the Narmada valley who will decide. We still believe, that the true development will evolve.

Narmada se sahi Vikas
Samarpiton ki yahin hain aas

(True development out of the Narmada struggle
this is the craving of the dedicated)

Medha Patkar
on behalf of Narmada Samarpit Dal

Domkhedi, Dist. Nandurbar, Maharashtra,
Narmada Satyagraha, 1999,
July 11, 1999