Narmada Baldeva GOND
ASIA · India
A Ghandian Adivasi warrior changes a whole region
Narmada Baldeva Gond (60) is an outstanding rural tribal woman of the Adivasi community. The Adivasis (aboriginal inhabitants) are among the most despised and disadvantaged people of the subcontinent. From an illiterate laborer who was expelled from her forest with thousands of others, struggling to make a livelihood of 20-35 Rupees per day (55-90 US cents), she became the main organizer of a whole region and has given back pride to the downtrodden.
Twenty years ago Narmada participated in a training program of ‘Ekta Parishad’, a Gandhian organization, using a third option – “between silence and violence there is non-violence” – for empowering the rural masses of India to use the democratic space. She discovered that poverty was not due to karma but to various social and economic conditions that could be changed. A few years later she convinced 200 families living in absolute destitution to occupy unutilised land. Despite vigorous police opposition, the Adivasi held out non-violently and managed to overcome innumerable obstacles. This was the first time Narmada declared herself a community leader. Training herself ceaselessly, she introduced numerous reforms in the newly created village of Chilghat, including organizing a panchayat (village council) to which she was elected. In 2007, Narmada was among the activists supporting the organisation in setting up a peaceful 30-day march of 25,000 landless peasants to New Delhi to claim their right to land, water and forest. The march sparked the creation of a National Commission for Agrarian Reform and major changes in the forest laws to effectively protect the indigenous population.
In the village of Chilghat, 19 families obtained property rights by requesting that the law, which makes them land owners after they till the soil for five years, be applied.
Much too often, government laws are not implemented, which is the reason for a new mobilization in 2012 with local and national actions, which will be covered by the world’s media. Jan Satyagraha, or “the force of truth” is a non-violent march for justice. The march will unite, in its last phase, 100,000 deprived people to give an ultimatum to the New Delhi government regarding the necessary implementation of their fundamental rights. Narmada is campaigning for this event. She is the living illustration of someone who refuses the limits imposed by culture, gender and birth and becomes self-empowered. In Narmada’s own words: “With Ekta Parishad, we have discovered another world! We were so ignorant, but now our eyes are opened. From slaves condemned to live in the slums of Delhi or Bombay, we have become human beings proud to fight for our rights.”