It’s quite late in the evening by Nashik standards, past 9 pm. The gathering at Hutatma Smarak has waited patiently for Medha Patkar and is now agog as she starts speaking. She, visibly tired, fires off right away—a short recap of the latest agitation along with facts and figures, follow-up action with background, historical context of the issues. She then asks for suggestions and support from those present. Her days and nights are busy—public meetings, court cases, agitations, discussions with supporters and workers, appointments with officials. Patkar has been at it for 30 years with Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), protesting against large dams such as Sardar Sarovar on the river and demanding justice for the displaced. In the past few years, she has also been pleading cases on her own. Besides the NBA, she has also led movements elsewhere—for example, against constructions at Lavasa, the “private, planned city” being built near Pune, and against slum demolitions in Mumbai. She has skipped dinner tonight in Nashik to accommodate one more meeting. Tomorrow, she would be meeting the Nashik district collector early in the morning, followed by a press conference. It is from such a tight schedule that she took some time out for speaking to Outlook. The challenges are getting tougher and the impact weaker—the “manzil”, as she describes the movement’s goal, seems to have moved a step farther. But Patkar shows no signs of slowing down. Her energy and her enduring commitment to her ideals are unmistakable in this conversation with Prachi Pinglay-Plumber. Edited excerpts:
You are protesting against more villages getting submerged in the dam waters yet again. After all these years, do you feel the struggle is back to square one?