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Not everyone can alter the course of a river.

Medha Patkar, or Medha tai as she is known to people from Nandigram to Nandagudi, was 31 when she first became associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, protesting against the Narmada Valley Development Project which would potentially affect the lives and livelihood of over 2.5 crore people. An unstoppable force of nature herself, Patkar has since become synonymous with people’s movements across the length and span of the country, whether it is joining forces with slum-dwellers evicted against their will in Mumbai, or the anti-corruption movement with Anna Hazare.

Born to a trade union leader and freedom fighter, Patkar believes being a female activist enables her to access spaces and conversations where men cannot go, and instead of being perceived as a setback, gender can also be used to mobilize action. In the decades that have passed since she first visited the site of the Narmada dam as a young social researcher, Patkar has since earned the Right Livelihood Award, the Mahatma Phule Award, the Goldman Environment Prize, the Green Ribbon Award for the Best International Political Campaigner and the Human Rights Defender Award from Amnesty International. Among the most profound moments of her life, she counts the first time she stood neck deep in the waters of the Narmada along with thousands of tribal women — “it was a way of staking our lives, it was a turning point where you look back at the same time as you look forward.”

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