How modest offices of Narmada Bachao Andolan coordinated non-violent struggle in Narmada Valley

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The first office of the Narmada Ghati Navnirman Samiti functioned from a Gandhi Ashram/school at Tavlai, Manawar district, Madhya Pradesh

By Nandini Oza*

State power deliberately undermines people’s movements that get their strength from the collective — collective conviction, collective determination, collective voices, and collective resistance. Mass resistance and people’s struggles do not need foreign funds or guns. One of the most powerful people’s movements of independent India, the NBA, runs the movement from simple karyalayas (offices). The karyalayas also functioned as homes to the activists of the movement and its people. All the NBA offices were absolutely simple, many had no running water, those in the Adivasi area had no electricity. There were no cots or mattresses or chairs and tables. Activists slept on the daries and cooked simple food. It was only later that three offices had second hand computers and working tables.

It is from these modest offices that the NBA coordinated/coordinates its non-violent struggle in the Narmada Valley to fight the destructive dams on the River Narmada, pushed by the authoritarian State. It is from here that the NBA fought against  powerful international institutions and brought the World Bank to its knees.  Some of the karyalayas continue to function even after several decades of resistance while there are others that may not be functional today but their stories remain alive.

The first karyalaya of the Narmada Ghati Navnirman Samiti (NGNS) functioned from a Gandhi Asharam/School at Tavlai in Manawar district in Madhya Pradesh (MP), not far from the River Narmada. This office to challenge the large dams on the River Narmada was established by veteran Gandhians and freedom fighters like late Kashinathji Trivedi, late Baijnath Mahoday, Prabhakar Mandlikji, etc. They were joined in their efforts by local farmers and social activists like late Fulchandbhai Patel who donated his land for the Tavlai Ashram, late Shobharambhai Jat, late Ambarambhai Mukati, late  Surajmalji Lunkad and many others.

Later, as the NBA grew and the number of full time activists increased, the NGNS up-karyalaya (sub-office) in Badwani, MP, came up. Although it became one of the main offices of the NBA it continued to be called NGNS up-karayalaya. This karyalaya (below) was given to the NBA by a farmer Badribhai Jat of village Bagud, one of the 245 submergence villages of SSP. Badribhai never charged any rent for the several years that NBA functioned out of this office.

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On the balcony is one of the founding members of NGNS and NBA late Shobharambhai Jat from Bagud

Later, as the office above needed renovations, one of the senior members of NBA and respected resident of Badwani, late Mahajansaab Vakil, gave his premises to be used as NBA karyalaya. It is here that NBA functioned for over two decades.

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NBA karyalaya in Badwani with senior activists Joe Athialy, Chittaroopa Palit (Silvy). The person with his back to the camera is possibly Dr Samyak of Sarvoday Press Service, Indore
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Senior women leaders of NBA, from left Rukmaniben Patidar, Kamluben Yadav (submergence village Chota Badada), one of the many young full time activists of NBA Chogalal Dawar (submergence village Kundia)

When late respected Baba Amte decided to shift from Anandwan to the village Choti Kasravad on the banks of the River Narmada near Badwani, his small house was built by the people of the Narmada valley with contributions from the town of Badwani. The three room house was named Nijbal, where Baba lived for over a decade with Sadhana Tai opposing the SSP. After Baba returned to Anandwan due to his and Sadhanatai’s failing health and advancing age, the premises which had been by then turned green with trees grown by Baba and his team, was managed by senior activist of the NBA Rehmat and late Gangarambhai Yadav. However the State would not have it and sealed the premises forcefully against people’s resistance. Nijbal which was once the center of resistance against SSP and other large dams in the Narmada valley, lies in dilapidated condition today.

The legendary karyalaya of NBA named Narmada Aai, in the renowned village of Manibeli, the first Adivasi village in the submergence zone of the SSP in Maharashtra was the center of the struggle for several years in the 1990s. It is here that the Morse commission appointed by the World Bank to review SSP had its first meeting with the NBA. The people’s struggle of and at Manibeli became so well known worldwide that in recognition, a call by organizations from across the world for moratorium on funding by World Bank to large dams was named ‘Manibeli Declaration’. It was Manibeli Declaration that was finally instrumental in the setting up of the World Commission on Dams (click HERE and HERE).

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Narmada Aai at Manibeli

When the Government of Maharashtra raised to the ground Narmada Aai with the aid of police, it was once again built through the popular practice of collective labor among the Adivasis called Laha.

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At Narmada Aai

Narmada Aai would not have functioned without late Gangarambhai  Yadav (in the center in the photo above belonging to submergence village Chottabadda) giving his full time to its management and looking after hundreds of visitors every month. There were other activists who helped him. To the right, standing in the photo above is Gendalal Mujalde  – one among the many full time activists of NBA (submergence village Kundiya). In the front is one of the many international students and researchers who visited the NBA, Layla Mehta. She is now a research fellow at IDS, University of Sussex, UK. The others are Project Affected People from different villages in the Narmada Valley and members of the NBA.

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Fulltime activists of NBA Shantilal Yadav and Rama Atya at Narmada Aai
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Arundhati Dhuru, a member of Samarpit Dal of the NBA at Narmada Aai, along with Patrick MaCully of International Rivers Network, who helped NBA’s international campaign against the World Bank

Illegal submergence as a result of the increase in the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam without rehabilitation of the people, finally drowned Narmada Aai in the mid nineties.

The NBA karyalaya at Baroda was also one of the main centers of the struggle. Initially the Vadodara Kamdar Union (VKU) hosted NBA for several years and the NBA office ran from the VKU premises. But as NBA in Gujarat grew/spread, and the number of full time activists working in Gujarat grew, it shifted to its own (rented) office space (photo below). This was also because large number of people from the submergence villages came to the Baroda office for medical treatment. Besides, Baroda Karyalaya became the center connecting the NBA to the rest of the World.

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NBA activists Alok Agrawal and Kiran at NBA office, Baroda
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NBA activist Shripad Dharmadhikary at NBA office Baroda with an international supporter from Japan where a successful campaign forced the Japanese Government to withdraw its aid to SSP

It was only when this office was attacked and ransacked by goons of both the BJP and the Congress, that NBA had no choice but to get its own karyalaya as it was difficult to get any place on rent due to the fear of owners that they would be harassed by the state and other goons. Of course VKU, Swashraya, and other supporters’ offices were open to the NBA 24X7.  NBA supporters like Rameshbhai Kacholia, Vijayatai Chauhan, late  Kamalakar Dharmadhikary and late K.K.Oza came together and helped financially for the purchase of the NBA office in Baroda (below):

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NBA activists: Medha Patkar, Shripad Dharmadhikary, Raghu Raghuvanshi, Sukumaran Krishnan, late Sanjay Sangvai, and NBA supporters like senior Gandhians of Gujarat Rajubhai, Deeptiben, Prof. Gautam Appa etc.
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Late Sanjay Sangvai and Deepak Yadav at NBA Karyalaya, Baroda

NBA had its Karyalaya in village Kevadia,  a SSP colony affected village at the house of the senior Adivasi leader of the NBA Muljibhai Tadvi. Muljibhai had lost his land to the construction of Kevadia Colony in Gujarat. It is here that full time activists like late Tetabhai Vasave, etc worked and lived. Later, NBA had its karyalaya in the Adivasi village  Kothi at the home of the firebrand leader of the NBA late Baliben Tadvi who also had lost her land to the project colony. It is in these simple mud and tile houses that NBA functioned from for many years in Gujarat.

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On the right, one of the senior most leaders of NBA and NAPM Devrambhai Kanera and his wife Shakuntlabhabhi, herself an important member of the NBA. On the left is the full time activist of the NBA late Gopal Mujalde at NBA office, Kothi. Photo: Rehmat

After the passing away of Baliben, the NBA karyalaya functioned from the house of senior leaders of NBA Prabhubhai Tadvi and Kapilaben Tadvi at village Waghadia also a colony affected village near the dam site.

Then, NBA had its Karayalayas in the submergence villages of Jalsindhi and Domkhedi situated in the Adivasi villages of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These were built by the people through the practice of Laha. The illegal submergence due to SSP drowned these karyalayas.

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Full time activists of NBA Clifton D’Rozario and possibly late Shobha Whagh

As the NBA case in the Supreme Court of India went on for several years in Delhi, Delhi Forum shared its office (below) in solidarity with the NBA activists who lived and worked from its premises for several years in the nineties till the majority judgment of the SC allowed the work of the dam to proceed.

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In the photo above in Delhi Forum (DF) office where the NBA functioned, one of the finest activists that the country can have, Ashokbhai Sharma who has been supporting tirelessly peoples’ movements across the country when they come knocking at the doors of the many power centers in the Capital City.

NBA also had its full fledged office in the premises offered by its supporters in Mumbai for several years in the nineties, that was run by full time senior activists including well known feminist writer and scholar Lata Prama.

NBA has one of its longest running karyalayas in Dhadgao, Maharashtra. Unfortunately I do not have its photo in my collection. Currently NBA has its own office in Badwani built on land again donated by a local resident. NBA set up simplekaryalayas in Mandleshwar and Khandwa,  to fight the other large dams on the River Narmada and also in the Bargi area. Again I do not have the photos in my collection.  The list here is of course not exhaustive.

The power of the movements of the marginalized and the exploited communities across the country comes from the collective resistance based on truth, conviction and determination. It is the State that has the arms and the jails and the infinite resources at its disposal – domestic, corporate and international to curb any dissent as well as people’s struggles for justice and equity. The sooner this is accepted, the better.

*Independent researcher and activist, formerly with Narmada Bachao Andolan. Source:

2 thoughts on “How modest offices of Narmada Bachao Andolan coordinated non-violent struggle in Narmada Valley

  1. Thank you Nandini for this beautiful account of one of the most significant movements in this country after independence. I was taken back to the late 1990s and early 2000s when we, with several colleagues and students, visited the Narmada Valley each year, to learn about the dam and the resistance to it. We made lasting friends and were humbled in our learning from the village and tribal communities. We were lucky to learn from the NBA about People’s movements, about courage, simplicity and strength. As educators we learnt that if students do not understand the other India, the India of the villages and forests,, their education will always remain incomplete. Our learning has deeply influenced our future work.
    I hope you have seen the film made by our students.
    One thought the Narmada Dam was an aberration. Now wiser, one sees it as part of a skewed paradigm, of rogue development, of power vs dialogue and of short term gains. Once again we thank you and friends living and passed on, for sharing generously with us, opening our minds and hearts and welcoming children on the threshold of adulthood and us.
    Baba Amte’s words stay even today with many of us – “see the world through tear washed eyes, not year dimmed eyes”. They are relevant today as one asks again if we have learnt anything from the sorrows of the past. Or, drunk on power and haste, will we as a nation continue to spread sorrow, particularly among the voiceless.


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