Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Real education cannot take place inside closed doors – Activist Medha Patkar in an exclusive interview

Edited by – Robin Bhuyan (Editor-in -Chief)

Interviewed and written by – Shubhi Agrawal 

Medha Patkar is an environmental and social activist who is prominent for her work in the Narmada Bachao Andolan. She has worked a lot towards the well-being of underprivileged communities and for promoting justice and equality for them. She is recognized for her work by TIME Magazine and has received many awards as well such as The Golden Environment Award, Mahatma Phule Award, and more. Join us in a chat with her about her struggles, her work, current problems that India is facing, the education system, the role of government and politics, and more.

What inspired you to become an environmental activist? 

I started my work with so-called poor people, who are rich in natural resources and human power. So, I began working with these people in slums and Adivasi communities mainly to assert their rights over land, water, and resources. Later, I came to know about Narmada and that the communities that were going to be impacted by it were not even informed about it. It’s because of the laws that when there is a dispute regarding any water body between two states, only the state authorities are heard, no one else. So, these communities, they were not informed, and they didn’t even know how badly this would impact them. So, that’s when I decided to leave my organization in Mumbai and start working with these people in Ahmedabad, declaring that we would take no funds, and just work together as a community.

What challenges did you face during the initiative of Narmada Bachao Andolan?

The first and foremost challenge was to reach out to them, as they resided mostly in hilly communities. There were language barriers too. Another challenge was to know in detail about the project. However, the government was supportive in providing the information, but what I got in the reports was very shocking. The World Bank was pressurized into giving funds for the project, and it didn’t authorize the entire amount. But over time, over 90 thousand crores have been spent on the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project, and yet the benefits are yet to be seen.

Although, over the last 39 years, through constant struggle, we have achieved a lot, but again, a new challenge has come up as 15 thousand houses have submerged due to a severe calamity that occurred only because of the games that the government kept playing. So, mobilizing these people is also a challenge, but the mass strength that we have from all the communities that we are working with has been a factor that we are able to fight through these challenges.

What is your demand in the Narmada Bachao project now, after facing these challenges where the project was pushed without following the proper process of law?

Our demand now is that they accept that they played a false game in changing the water levels due to which over 16 thousand families were affected. We kept requesting to open the dam gates, they kept reassuring us that they are doing that, but nothing happened. On the PM’s birthday, the gates were opened almost after 30 hours, and water already rose in 150 villages and submergence occurred, collapsing houses, shops, farms, tirthas, etc. All we want now is that till everything that’s necessary is done according to the letter of the law, the reservoir levels must be kept at an optimum level. Until these communities get proper rehabilitation, the reservoir levels must not be raised to the maximum.

What can be done to reduce the impact that has been caused to these communities?

We seek support from youngsters and the media. We have been having dialogue to provide at least the relief amount, but the amount is so meagre compared to the loss.

What other works are you involved in?

We are working with the so-called organized and unorganized sector. I would say that the unorganized sector is rather unprotected, and we are working with them, fighting a number of things, including fraud.

What do you think of the current education system? Do you think that it must be made more practical, where real issues are taught to students?

Very good question! Yes, real education cannot be within closed doors. Thanks to our parents, during our childhood, I was fortunate that we used to go to rural areas during the holidays and experience what life is like there and learn about a lot of things, and it made a difference to our thought process. In view of that, we are running Jeevanshalas where students are taught about a lot of things that convey ideas about how to fight for the right to life and everything. It’s essential that things are done practically, and it must be reflected in the education system where students are encouraged to visit the slums to see what life is like there, join the People’s Movement, and have real experiences.

Why did you leave Aam Aadmi Party soon after joining it?

Our ways of working are very different. I didn’t want to join the party at all, I only wanted to influence them, as we can. It’s essential that we criticize the wrong decisions and policies. However, some senior people convinced us, and so I joined. But then, there were many things that were not acceptable despite the good work they are doing. So, since we are not in the electoral politics, it felt right to leave, and take positions only where it is necessary.

Do you feel there is any hope from the current political system?

The system itself needs to change. The electoral bond system has become a basis for corporatization, and it is very wrong. Another thing is that politics is ideology-less as people keep changing their parties and parties do not stick to their manifesto. So, it’s essential for us to challenge the working of these political parties and we have presented bills and letters mentioning our demands. The election commission and political parties must have bondage to their manifesto and the positions they are taking during their campaigns. Also, the funding must be transparent.

What are your expectations from the party that comes to power now?

They must give maximum value to equity and justice by taking the responsibility to impose proper taxation. They must protect the natural resources rather than having anything in the name of development. They should work on coming up with ways to reduce poverty in the country and there must be a richness line as well.

Would you like to comment on the recent arrest of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal?

We are not opposing enquiry, but these kind of actions of incarceration take place, only because some people are critical of actions of those in power, and that is not correct. It is really fascist; one must understand that and question.

Please give a final piece of advice for youths.

Don’t work just for money. Finding satisfaction in life is essential and it doesn’t come just from money alone. I appeal the youth to take a clear position against equity and violence and favour equity and justice.

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