Challuri Babu and Andrew Kap Lian Gualnam
IJDTSA Vol.4, Issue 1, No.4 pp.48 to 62, February, 2019

Dawn of a New Social Movement: Forced Consciousness among the Oustees of Sardar Sarovar Project

Published On: Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Challuri Babu and Andrew Kap Lian Gualnam

IJDTSA Vol.4, Issue 1, No.4 pp.48 to 62, February, 2019


Development-induced displacement has been becoming a trend in the life of the tribals after the onset of neo-liberal economic policies. In the name of eminent domain, the state has been involved in the displacement of tribals. The paper examines the emerging social movement among the Adivasi oustees in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra who were adversely affected and perpetually displaced due to the controversial development project called the Sardar Sarovar Project, (SSP). The paper further highlights the emergence of political consciousness among the Project Affected Families, (PAFs) who were neither educated nor politically conscious prior to the intervention of the state in the name of the eminent domain to initiate the development project. This led to the rise of a new social movement that further enlightens the advent of an identity consciousness on who they are, what is the impact of their existence and even on how their existence itself is endangered. The paper also seeks to highlight the limitations of the dominant discourses of the various theoretical frameworks which are predominantly discussed in the discourse of social sciences and social work, that is, theoretical frameworks that are not applicable in the socio-economic life of the Adivasis. The paper further illuminates the limited relationship between theory and practice particularly in the discourses of social work research. The paper seeks to answer the impact of development on livelihoods, denial of basic rights to land, water, and forest of Adivasi oustees by the corporate state: How their ancestral livelihoods have been forcibly and abruptly altered due to the changes in their geographical and ecological attributes in their vicinity, so as to attune to the upcoming livelihoods activities which are the by-product of the developmental projects in the name of liberalization, privatization, and globalization.

Key Words: Tribal, Development-induced displacement, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Sardar Sarovar Project, Social Movement, Involuntary displacement.


The word ‘forced’ is used in the title to indicate the coercion of the state-led development projects that are being imposed to the tribals which later becomes an igniting force for the tribals’ political consciousness with the intervention of Narmada Bachao Andolan. The word ‘tribe’ is perceived to be synonymous to backwardness, displacement, deprivation and dispossession in the context of India. The tribals in India have been persistent victims of displacement, dispossession, unemployment, deprivation, hunger, poverty and violence due to the state hegemony. Tribals in India constitute 8.6 per cent of the total population according to Census 2011. But the tribals comprise many heterogeneous, complex and diverse groups, and are scattering throughout the states of India. Hence, defining ‘tribe’ has been conceived as ambiguous. As a result, there is no specific term to determine the tribe in the constitution of India. But, as per Article 366 (25) of the Indian Constitution, Scheduled Tribes are referred to as those communities who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342. This article defined that, Scheduled Tribe will be considered only those communities who have been declared as such by the President through an initial public notification or a subsequent amending Act of Parliament. Also, Geographical isolation is taken into account as the major characteristics while defining ‘tribe’.

Chronological Trends of Tribal deprivation

Poverty and deprivation are related to the business cycle in the world scenario. But in the case of India, poverty is confined to a specific context and is chronic. The tribals in India are born in poverty, live in poverty and die in poverty. The tribals become the victim of poverty and deprivation as a result of their loss of control over their resources. Hence, poverty and deprivation are new and forcibly dump to the tribals. Keeping in mind the extent of their longitudinal and chronological sufferings, one can strongly argue that the deprivation and poverty of the tribals are not due to the business cycle. Let us analyze the chronological trajectory of poverty among the tribals, pre and post-colonial era.

Pre- Colonial Period:

Prior to the colonial invasion, basically, there were two social formations prevailing in the Indian sub-continent: (a) mainland social formation, which is based on a vertical structure of the caste system and (b) social formation of people who were living in hilly and far fledged areas, known as the primitive tribal society which is based on a horizontal structure with respect to the access to resources, gender equity and symbolic relationship with nature unlike the social formation in the mainland. This process of equity prevailing among the tribals is not a deliberate attempt but is inherent in their culture. In the mainland social formation, the Dalits (who were now known as the Scheduled Caste) were the victims of social exclusion within the vertical structure of the caste system. But, the tribals (Scheduled Tribes) were geographically isolated from the mainland social system.

During the pre-colonial period, the tribals were not concerned about the exchange value in terms of labour, production, and reproduction in the economy of their society. Their economy is completely based on the used value of commodities unlike the so-called developed and advanced economies of the outside world which immeasurably focus on the exchange value. Their economic system reproduces repeatedly without any alteration in size and value. It is a self-sustaining system and an organic process without the intervention of anybody. Theirs was an ‘organic development’.

However, unfortunately, the British colonizers came in and started intruding into their life and property. They started exploiting their basic rights on land, forests, and water. The so-called civilized colonizers whose concern is all about the exchange value started extracting exchange value from the tribals region. They performed a reciprocal process of accumulation through extracting exchange value and extracting exchange value for accumulation. A dialectical tension arises within the two systems due to their conflict of interests which ultimately leads to the revolt of tribals against the British coloniser. The British colonial state was against the tribals and vice-versa. As a result, 150 tribes were recorded as ‘criminal tribesi’ by the colonizer because they fought against the colonial state to protect their basic rights on land, forest and water (Criminal Tribes Act, 1871). Unfortunately, their struggles continued until today in a so-called neo-liberal state and the democratic state of India even after 69 years of independence.

Post-Colonial Period:

The post-colonial era is also known as the Nehruvian era in the context of the tribals. Nehru was sincerely concerned about tribals’ issues and struggles. Along with his anthropologist friend, Verrier Elwin, he had been analyzing different approaches for tribals’ issues. Finally, he comes out with an integrated approach and promised to give them the opportunity to enjoy mainstream society. He was thinking about the integration of tribals with mainstream society. Nehru further developed a philosophy for tribals through the ‘Panchsheel’ Agreement where he promised five principles to the tribals; non-imposition of values, respect of their customs, development of tribals youth, the simplicity of administration and emphasis on human development. But, unfortunately, these principles have not been followed for the detriment of the tribals. And they have continued to be the victims of development, displacement and multiple dispositions much like in the colonial era. Ultimately, this led to the emergence of the Naxalite movement in the central belt of India in 1967 with the uprising of the Santhals in West Bengal. This becomes one of the reasons which ensued severe dispossession, deprivation and poverty among the tribals. Kunhaman (2016) strongly argues that unemployment, deprivation, and poverty among the tribals are the result of their loss in control of their resources due to the failure of the state. If not, there is no reason as to why the people living in the most resource-rich region of the country will be the victim of poverty, deprivation and general backwardness. He further argues that neo-liberal economics is the best policies for the tribals provided they have control over their resources.

Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP)

The Sardar Sarovar Project consists of building 30 big damsii, 135 medium dams and more than 3000 small dams along the Narmada River. The project has severely affected 192 villages and one township in Madhya Pradesh, 33 villages in Maharashtra and 19 villages in Gujarat. The Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is a multi-purpose project which is executed as a joint venture of the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It was aimed at proving irrigation, power and drinking water benefits to the four states. SSP comprises of a concrete gravity dam of 1210 meters long and 163 meters high across the Narmada River in the state of Gujarat. The project has a live storage capacity of 5800 Million Cubic Metre (MCM) (4.73 Million Acre Feet, MAF) and stretch 458,318 km along concrete lined Narmada Main Canal (NMC) with ahead discharge of 1133 cumecs to irrigate 17.92 lakh ha annually in Gujarat about 616 MCM (0.5 MAF) to irrigate 2.46 lakh ha in Rajasthan. The project was planned to generate power through a River Bed Power House (RBPH) with an installed capacity of 1200 MW (6 x 200 MW) and a Canal Head Power House (CHPH) with an installed capacity of 250 MW (5 x 50 MW). Out of which Gujarat has made a provision of 1307.5 MCM (1.06 MAF) for proving drinking, municipal and industrial uses to

135 urban centers and 9633 villages out of the total state allocation share of 9.0 MAF. Also, Rajasthan has planned to provide drinking water to three urban centers and 1336 villages from their total allocation share besides providing irrigation to 2.46 lakh ha of Cultivable Command Area (CCA) in Barmer and Jallore districts. In October 1988, the Planning Commission has accorded investment clearance for ₹6406.04 crores at 1986–7 price level vide their letter No. 2 (194)/88-ICB dated 05/10/88. The government of Gujarat has incurred an expenditure of ₹4572959 crores on the project as on 31st March 2015. Out of which ₹3062.76 crores have been incurred during the year 2014-15. Also, the Government of Rajasthan has incurred a cumulative expenditure of ₹2276.155 crores for the construction of Narmada Canal in Rajasthan as on March 2015 (Narmada Control Authority, Annual Report 2014-15). Table 1 represents the proposed share of states in power generation and water distribution from the project. However, the success of the implementation on the ground level is another big question.


Table 1. The share of States in Power Generation and Water from SSP

S. No

Party Sates

Share of the Parties

Power from SSP (%)

Narmada Water at SSP (MAF)


Madhya Pradesh



















Source: Narmada Control Authority Annual Report 2014-15.


The Sardar Sarovar Project since its inception has been concomitant with controversies not just on the issues of the technical feasibility but much more on its enormous impact on social, cultural, environmental, financial and humanity that have to pay over generations. So, the intense people’s agitation for more than three decades, since the initiation of the project seems to be much needed against the deliberate effort that is forced upon the Project Affected Peoples (PAPs). With the dam height sought to be raised to the maximum level of 138.68 meters, the question of the status of displacement, rehabilitation and resettlement for the PAFs becomes a serious concern as there is considerate evidence of non- compliance on the status of R & R for the PAFs as per the award. Also, the enormous cost, not just in terms of financial, but environmental, social and cultural, leads to an irreparable loss, that the project has been accompanied, almost surpasses the claim of benefits proposed by the authority. At the final height of the dam, the project will submerge almost 40,000 ha of land (including 13,800 ha of forests) and displace 2, 50,000 peoples and 51,000 families will as per the latest estimation (Indian Independent People’s Tribunal, 2010).

Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award, 1979:

The Narmada waters have been long-standing sources of contention between the three states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Broach Irrigation and Power Project was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister of India Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru on 5th April 1961, which later become the mighty Sardar Sarovar Project. Mutual agreement on the sharing of the Narmada waters among the three states could not be met despite several meetings held between the representatives and the concerned states. As per the Inter-State Water Disputes Act (1956), the Government of Gujarat filed a petition in July 1968, for the appointment of a Tribunal that will solve the ongoing disputes between the three states on sharing of Narmada waters and its cost and benefits of the project. Until the implementation of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal in 1979, the Government of Madhya Pradesh opposed the proposed project since the 1960s. Knowing the fact of the enormous impact that the state was going to face if the project goes through, the Government of Madhya Pradesh and all political parties in the agitations wanted to halt the construction of the dam. Eventually, the Government of Maharashtra also opposed the project against the huge cost and little benefits of the project. Lastly, the Award of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal was enacted in 1979 so as to address the perpetual disputes among the four states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan.

Development vs Displacement

Development-induced displacement has a significant effect on the life of the displaced people. Development has brought nothing but the loss of their ancestral land which eventually leads to food insecurity, hunger, deprivation and ultimately to poverty. Their self-employability has been replaced by humiliating dependency on the supply of laboring jobs which often required minimum skills. The egalitarian social structure of Adivasis has been replaced by an extreme hierarchize social structure. The cultural and traditional patterns of housing structure were neglected claiming that there was nothing but only ‘mud huts’! This signifies the conventional understanding of development in terms of infrastructure and modern materialistic constructs which outshines the obligatory requisite approaches to human development. Moreover, the houses and the social structure that is provided through the Rehabilitation and Resettlement policies will never meet the cultural and traditional values

attached to the indigenous houses and the social structure that was prevailing prior to the commencement of the so-called development projects. Cultural genocide is the least recognized, but perhaps the most painful impact of the so-called development project (Padel and Das 2008). Medha Patkar (1998) argued that after such a long continuous marginalization and deprivation, the Project Affected People (PAP) no longer take displacement for granted and have learned to question the rationale behind their displacement and the development policies associated with it. The people themselves started to question displacement itself? Why displacement? Why have only certain sections of the society to be displaced time and again? Displacement for whom? What is that ‘Public Purpose or interest’? Who decides that ‘Public purpose’?

Consciousness among the Oustees

Let us examine the conditions of the Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and Families (PAFs) from the practical field-based interactions which the author has carried out with the PAFs for a month in the affected region particularly in the state of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh particularly on the PAFs villages of Chikalda, Rajghat, Kalmad, Khaparkheda, Pipri, Pichhodi, Bhadal which are the original villages of the oustees in Madhya Pradesh and Gopalpur R & R sites in Taloda Taluka, Nandurbar district of Maharashtra where most of the PAFs are yet to be lawfully rehabilitated.

In Gopalpuriii R & R sites, despite belonging to ST community and destitute households, not even a single displaced household were below poverty line (BPL) as per the methodologies adopted by the Government of India for identification of BPL. As a result, they have been ‘out-targeted’ from the targeted approaches of the various welfare schemes which are implemented for the welfare of the poor and marginalized sections of the society. Hence, there is a significant need to rethink the concept of ‘poor’ in the Indian context; when the people who are historically marginalized and deprived and who are born in displacement, live in displacement and die in displacement; they do not fall under the definition of poor that is monitored by the state through the targeted approach. ‘Though we have been continuously displaced and marginalized throughout our generations, yet we were not treated as Below Poverty Line (BPL) households. Hence, we do not get any benefits that are benefitted by BPL households in other parts of India”, stated Bikha Singh Pawara, the husband of the Sarpanchiv in Gopalpur R & R site.

Jeevan Shala, which means ‘school of life’ was established in the year 1995 by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). NBA runs seven Jeevan Shala schools in Maharashtra and two in Madhya Pradesh. The aims and objective of Jeevan Shala are to provide education to the displaced tribals who have never been to school throughout their ancestry, through relevant and holistic approaches. Yet, after 21 years of establishment, the so-called welfare state does not dare to provide any support. Forgetting about the support and funding, the Jeevan Shala are yet to be recognized as an academic institute to provide education by the concerned state education board. As a result, the NBA has been struggling to provide the displaced tribal students with basic needs and quality education since its inception.

In the Jeevan Shala in Bhadalv village, there are 61 students who are currently studying in the school from 1st standard to 5th standard. There are 45 boys and 16 girls. The students were taken care and given quality education by three male teachers, one of the teacher has completed higher secondary education, while the other two teachers were matric pass. Through education, the students of the Jeevan Shala gain political consciousness. The people who were treated and neglected as ‘barbaric’ and ‘backward’ now started fighting for their rights and entitlements. The students in the Jeevan Shala were shouting radical slogans like ‘Ladenge Jeetenge’, (We will fight, We will win), ‘Seekhenge Baddhenge!’ (We will learn, we will grow!) and Jeevan Shala ka kya hai baat? Larai padai sath sath! (What is the future of Jeevan Shala? Education and struggle; that will go hand in hand!). In one sense, the political consciousness that has been developed within the displaced persons is a progressive one so for fighting for their rights and entitlements as per Constitutional provisions. However, in the so-called world’s largest democratic and a welfare state like India, it is extremely distressing to see primary students who are still minors, forcibly made to be aware of the injustices being done to them throughout their generations. Nobody realises their existence. Everyday life is a struggle for them. They are not aware of the fact that they are Indians, but they are very much aware that they are the victims of development projects, their very existence is endangered. The life of the villagers was drastically affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project. As the Narmada River, which was just the size of the small stream which can be easily cross by foot becomes a large water body which can only be crossed by boat or any water transportation since the building of Sardar Sarovar Dam. As a result, villagers had to shift their houses and settled on the highest altitude of the mountains. Ultimately, the houses in the village were scattered throughout the mountains with more than a kilometer distant so as to escape from the submergence of the Narmada River in the future. So, visiting each other is nearly impossible due to the distance between each house in the mountain range which they have to pass through. There is no proper functioning of any of the government welfare schemes launched by the Government of India under the Ministry of Rural Development, which primarily focuses on the development and upliftment of rural India as per the ministry. But it is a total failure in Bhadal village, as one can observe that there is no proper road connection, no toilets, no proper house, no government school functioning, no Anganwadi center, no health care facilities. The villagers have to go to the district headquarter, Barwani, which is about 90kms for any serious illness, or have to travel four to five hours in a boat to reach the nearest hospital!

Shyama Bhai who belongs to the fisherman community from Picchodi village stated,

We do not need any intervention, please leave the river, leave the Narmada, do not destroy our properties, then eventually we will live our own life and find a living through our properties, that is, land, water, and forest! She argued that the building of the dam has made them deprived and now there is no meaning of being a fisherman as the quantity of fishes has declined significantly after the building of the dam. Hence, she joined the movement and now is an active member in the Narmada Bachao Andolan. She has participated in all the rallies, agitations and protests conducted by NBA. She stated, ‘As of now maybe we have not achieved anything yet, still we will continue our fight as definitely a day will come when we will reap the fruits of our hard work, our fight will not go in vain.’

I was just a simple lady who does not even know how to write my name, but due to the help of Didivi now I am self-sufficient and self-determined and understand the injustices that are happening and continuing and we will fight against it and we will not give up, even if our life is in danger. We are ready to give our life’, opined Kamala Yadavvii, who is an active member of the movement. She is taking charge of mobilizing and sensitizing the women.

I have been beaten and sent to several jails including central jail, Baroda because of the agitation, but I will continue the fight. We want the land for land rehabilitation nothing else, we do not need your special rehabilitation package,’ stated Hirdaram Mama, a 70 year old PAP from Khaperkheda village in Madhya Pradesh. Prakash Tomar, a PAP from the same village stated, ‘I have questioned the authority staff that, why did you continuously ignore our applications, your pocket is not going to be affected, we are fighting for our rights under the provisions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award from the concerned authority.’

The whole concept of the state-led development, which lays its foundation on infrastructural and material construct notion of development, leads to large – scale displacement and deprivation, reminding me of the famous song composed by Bharat Vyas, which is sung in each and every corner of the Narmada valley among the project affected persons:

Nadiya na piya kabhi apna jal; Wariksh na khaye kabhi apne fal

Apne tan ka man ka dhan ka; Dujo ko de jo dan hai

Wo sacha insan are; In dharti ka bhagwan hai.


A river never drinks its own water; a tree never eats its own fruit.

One who sacrifice his body, mind and wealth to this earth and its people,

He is a true human being. No, not just human being, but he is a God on this earth. There is a beautiful meaning conveyed by the song. Everyone must rethink, re-imagine, and re-examine one’s life and try to understand the meaning associated with the song.


The forced consciousness that is developed among the displaced people has lit a light towards a new social movement. A political consciousness has been developed among the oustees of Sardar Sarovar Project, who now come together to fight for their rights and entitlements. The state-led development has awakened the so-called backward and barbaric tribals. A day will come all the marginalized and deprived section will gain a consciousness on the injustices that is historically being done to them, and will fight unitedly to overthrow their oppressor much like the revolution which Marx envisioned in his writings on class consciousness, where the working class or the proletariats will fight unitedly to overthrow the capitalist or the bourgeoisie.

The tribals and other marginalized sections of the society are not asking for development, rather they are fighting for control over their resources. The tribals have been waging a resource politics which is juxtaposing the power politics of the mainstream society. Development is an intimidation, an enervation. The argument is necessarily for an alternative to development, not alternative development. Capitalism succeeds in case of upper castes but it fails in the case of tribals and the marginalized groups though they are becoming more literate, determined and politically conscious much like the upper castes, why is that so? Why would the only entitlement for the poor and marginalized be ‘caste/tribe certificate’ or the ‘Below Poverty Line (BPL) card?’ (Kunhaman, 2016). Their limitations of the state can be well witnessed from the tribal oustees of Sardar Sarovar Project. Their struggles has been perpetual and the state cannot shy away from its responsibilities as the tribals are demanding their political rights and entitlements as per the Constitutional provisions which have been guaranteed to them on paper. But the state has a long way to go in fulfilling its promises in letter and spirit. Moreover, the state is responsible for bridging the broken nexus between the tribals and the state and meet its broken promises as history is not broken. If this does not happen, state versus tribals conflict will proliferate, leading to marginalization and deprivation of the tribals.


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Nehru, later in 1952 termed them as ‘de-notified tribes’.

ii Dam height of above 15 meters are called big dam, for details see

iii Gopalpur Rehabilitation and Resettlement site is in Taloda Tehsil, Nandurbar District, and Maharashtra. The R & R site is a home for the Project Affect Persons (PAFs) of SSP who were displaced from their original village including Sikka, Nimgavhan, Domkhedi, Surung, Roshmal. All these villages comes under Akrani Tehsil, Nandurbar district that was form out of Dhule district in 1998 as a tribal district in 1998.

iv The Sarpanch in Gopalpur R & R is Jamuna Bikha Pawara. She is the first Sarpanch of the village.

Bhadal is a tribal village in the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. There are about 75 households in the village and 350 Adivasi living in the village. But as per the villagers, there are only 11 households who were considered as project affected families (PAFs) as per the surveyed conducted by waiting for their rehabilitation.

vi Didi literally means elder sister. The members of NBA assigned ‘Didi’ as ‘big sister’ to Medha Patkar as an acknowledgement for her sacrifice and dedication for the sake of the marginalized community who are the victims of state-led development projects.

vii Kamala Yadav is known as Kamujiji among the member of Narmada Bachao Andolan. She has sacrifice her entire life along with Medha Patkar. She is living in the NBA office in Barwani in Madhya Pradesh.

Challuri Babu is Senior PhD-Research Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur campus.

Andrew Kap Lian Gualnam is pursuing MA-Rural Development in School of Rural Development, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur campus. Email:

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