Activist Prabhubhai Tadvi died, his village has the world's tallest statue, but no hospital

Prabhubhai Tadvi was one of the tallest Adivasi leaders of the Narmada Bachao Movement,

Credit : Indie Journal

“A book would be insufficient to list the contribution of Prabhubhai Tadvi in building and running the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA),” says Nandini Oza, formerly an activist with NBA and President of Oral History Association of India. Yet, Tadvi passed away on April 28th, quietly in his home in Kevadia. He was suspected to have several COVID-19 symptoms, however, was neither tested nor treated for the same. There is no hospital in Kevadia, his village that houses the world’s tallest statue.

Part of the NBA since the 1960s, Tadvi’s home in Kevadia was the NBA office for the longest time. “Anyone close to Narmada Bachao Andolan would need no introduction to Prabhubhai Tadvi. Prabhubhai and Kapilaben are among the first families of the NBA. While their home was the NBA's office, it was home to the activists and supporters of the movement. And his family, including his two sons and daughter forever ready to welcome anyone from the movement day and night,” Oza said.

Describing him, Shripad Dharmadhikary, researcher and a former activist  of NBA says, "For me, Prabhubhai (and Kapila ben) epitomised what NBA was; what Baba Amte put as ' ordinary people exhibiting extraordinary courage' and of course extraordinary commitment, intelligence, hard work."


Adivasi Leadership in NBA

"Without the local Adivasi leadership in Gujarat, like that of Prahubhai Tadvi and so many others like him, it was not possible for the NBA to operate in a state that had termed the Sardar Sarovar Project its lifeline and any opposition to the project was countered with an iron fist," Oza states.

It wasn't just the government that promoted the mega-dam. Even some of the prestigious and progressive Non-Government Organisations, Sarvoday members, progressive civil society members and the media were hostile to the NBA. Oza adds that amid all these odds, Tadvi’s home, located right below the Sardar Sarovar Project conglomerate in Kevadia, continued to be the NBA office for years. The protest continued for years from the project site itself.



The Kevadia Issue

Tadvi came from one of the six tribal villages and people who lost their lands and resources due to the construction of Kevadia colony and project-related infrastructure in the year 1961.

“They were never considered project-affected people and never provided rehabilitation. Many of the affected people had to work on the dam site after losing land as daily workers or as employees of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL), the dam-building authority, facing great humiliation. Many Adivasi women affected by the Kevadia Colony had to work as domestic help at the homes of project officers and staff. Prabhubhai himself was employed by the  SSNNL and suffered for his leadership role in the NBA,” Oza added.

As mentioned above, there is no hospital in Kevadia that is currently grasped by the second wave of coronavirus pandemic. “Prabhubhai was a stalwart of the anti-dam movement in the Narmada valley. I stayed several times at his home in Kevadia, where decades ago the first groups of indigenous tribespeople were thrown off their lands to make room for the dam-builders and officers’ colony. Displaced families like Prabhubhai still remain on the edges of that colony, impoverished and unsettled, transgressors on land that was once theirs,” Arundhati Roy wrote in a recent article.

As his struggle continued until the very end, just as lakhs of others like him, Tadvi passed away quietly, displaced, without any medical treatment, media attention or accolades.