Politicians hate her, TNCs fear her, but Medha Patkar remains the darling of the deprived.
The 42-year-old Narmada Bachao Andolan crusader has now taken on the lords of
liberalisation with the National Alliance of People’s Movements: "Our next
crusade is against TNCs like Coke, Pepsi and Enron." The greatest challenge today,
says Patkar, is to tackle dwindling natural resources by encouraging alternative
lifestyles. And, to prove the point, lives in Gandhian austerity, speaks the dialects of
the people she fights for, and shuns foreign donations.
Her vision of a more equitable society took shape early. "It was perhaps my
parents’ zeal for social work that inspired me. If I had not been doing what I am
doing now, I would have become a doctor and practised in the villages," she says.
After a stint at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences followed by an unsatisfactory
experience with NGOs, she launched her struggle for rehabilitation of Narmada oustees.
That set the scene for more battles against anti-people development. A crusade that has
earned her the Alternative Nobel Prize in ’92, the Goldman Environment Prize in
’93 and the love of thousands.