A social activist known for her tenacity and heart for the dis-empowered, chiefly through her work with people displaced by the Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP) – a large scale plan to dam the Narmada River and its tributaries in the States of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Born in December 1954 in the city of Mumbai to socially active parents, Medha Patkar grew up in an environment imbued with a sense of social justice and the need for emancipation. After earning her Master of Arts in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, she worked with voluntary organizations in Mumbai slums for 5 years as well as tribal districts of North East Gujarat for 2 years. As an ardent crusader for social and economic justice, Patkar founded her campaigns on two basic tenets in the Constitution of India: the rights to life and to livelihood.
Medha represents the humane face of development, as the background to her activism took place in the 1960’s and 70’s when the Indian Government was promoting dam building as a route to modernization. Though the initial intention of the development project was to harness river water for drinking, irrigation and for generating electricity in impoverished areas, thousands of people were going to be displaced in the process and rendered homeless in the quest for the development of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. On visiting the villages in the Narmada valley in 1985 Patkar became aware of the indifference exhibited by the local government officials towards the people who would be affected by the project. In 1986 Medha Patkar and her supporters organized marches and protests against the local government entity that was seeking financial grants from the World Bank for the Sardar Sarovar project. In that same year she established the organization Narmada Dharangrastra Samiti which in 1989 became the widely known Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada) whose major aim was to provide project information and legal representation to the concerned residents of the Narmada valley. Through the Narmada Bachao Andolan – Save the Narmada – as well as being inspired by the provisions of the Constitution of India: the right to life and to livelihood, Medha Patkar sought help for those rendered homeless and without livelihood because of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar and other large dams along the Narmada. Medha Patkar is an astute whistle blower as well as the true personification of the human face of development.