One of the most powerful mass movements in independent India, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) brought together thousands of people across the country from a myriad social strata and callings. The central role played by the communities of Narmada Valley, especially the Adivasis, in this decades-long struggle cannot be overstated; yet their lifelong contribution, struggles and sacrifices are neither well-recorded nor known today.
This first English translation of the Marathi original Ladha Narmadecha bridges that gap and sees the Andolan from the eyes of the Adivasis who fought to save their forest, their land and their jeeva dori—river Narmada itself.
Nandini Oza—a full-time NBA activist for over twelve years—records this untold history of the Andolan in the voices of two pivotal Adivasi leaders: Keshavbhau and Kevalsingh Vasave. Both project-affected oustees whose homes and villages were submerged by the Sardar Sarovar Dam, they talk about the history of the struggle, their own roles in it, the impact of the dam and the Andolan on Adivasi lives, the trauma of displacement and life in the resettlement sites. They talk about Adivasi culture and their sustainable, eco-friendly livelihoods on the banks of the Narmada—now lost. They interrogate the destructive development continuing for decades, and outline future challenges for the movement.
Underlined by humility, candour, dignity and humour, these interviews contain vital lessons for mass movements striving to empower those on the margins of democracy. They also foreground the critical importance of oral history, and show us that listening to memory can be as much a political act as a transformational one; an invaluable volume for all activists, students of ecology, sociology, anthropology, development studies and human rights.
NANDINI OZA, writer, activist, chronicler and oral historian, has been a full-time Narmada Bachao Andolan activist for over twelve years. President of the Oral History Association of India (March 2020–March 2022), she is the author of Whither Justice: Stories of Women in Prison (2006), and Ladha Narmadecha (2017). She also maintains a website on the oral histories of the Narmada struggle: https://oralhistorynarmada.in/ and a blog: https://nandinikoza.blogspot.com.
The Translators:SUHAS PARANJAPE has been working on issues related to the participative management of eco-system resources for the last three decades and more. He retired from SOPPECOM (Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management) as Senior Research Fellow. He is currently a trustee for the Shankar Brahme Samaj Vidynan Granthalaya, Pune.
SWATIJA MANORAMA has been an active member of the Forum Against Oppression of Women for the last thirty-five years. She has co-authored books on issues related to women’s health, her main interest area, in both Hindi and English. She has also written and translated articles on women’s rights, gender justice and environmental issues.
The Foreword:INDIRA CHOWDHURY is Founder-Director Centre for Public History, Srishti-Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Srishti, Bengaluru. She is an oral historian, and former President of the International Oral History Association and of the Oral History Association of India. She is the
author of The Frail Hero and Virile History: Gender and the Politics of Culture in Colonial Bengal (1998), and Growing the Tree of Science: Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (2016).
Foreword: Listening to Voices from a Movement
Map of Sardar Sarovar Project
List of Abbreviations
My Journey: From Being an Andolan Activist to an Oral Historian and This Book
Narmada Bachao Andolan: A Timeline
I. A Conversation with Keshavbhau Vasave
II. A Conversation with Kevalsingh Vasave