ORAL HISTORY NARMADA - The lived experiences of the people of the Narmada Valley

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Constructing large dams on rivers and diverting water has been one of the major interventions of human beings in the water cycle. India has been the world’s third largest dam builder (after China and the USA), constructing over 5500 dams and “taming” almost all rivers of India. These large dams, hailed as “temples of modern India” by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, have contributed significantly to the country’s economic development. But there have been many hidden and not-so-hidden costs that the nation had to pay. Submerging large tracts of land, forests and displacing millions of people from their homes has been a huge cost. For many decades, those who were rendered homeless due to dams did not have a voice; justice and fairness was denied to even the most vulnerable among them, such as the tribal communities. They were just invisible in a completely insensitive development discourse. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), the movement to protect and save the holy river Narmada, gave visibility to these millions of oustees of large dams and brought home their voices to the nation’s conscience. After NBA, it was no longer possible to ignore these “project-affected-people” and pretend as if they did not exist. 

A still capturing the indomitable spirit of the women of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Photo source: Oral History Narmada website