Dam Dissent: Protest Methods and Results in India’s Narmada River Valley


  • Lindsay Gates


The Narmada River, India’s fifth largest, runs west through the middle of the subcontinent emptying into the Arabian Sea. The river is not only important economically for fishing and transport it has long been valued as sacred to Hindu’s of the nation. Along the banks of the river live peasant farmers and adivasi, forest dwellers who still live in tribes and obtain their livelihood from the rich forests growing along the Narmada. In 1979, the Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, finalized plans to build a series of dams along the Narmada. Studies projected that these dams would provide greater irrigation for parched
farmlands, hydroelectric power, and increased amounts of drinking water. The largest dam, the Sardar Sarovar, became a point of contention. The people dwelling in the areas joined with grassroots organizations to fight the dam and “save the Narmada.” They used non-violent protest
methods, court legislation, and international opinion. Their protests in the Narmada resulted in landmark studies on dams and their effects on individuals and societies and how the international community discussed and viewed large dam projects.