Indutai was different, very different. Parents of not all middle class activists in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) were happy that their well educated daughters and sons left lucrative careers to be a part of a people’s struggle, where there was not only no income but personal risk too- risk of facing state repression, jails, and attacks by political goons. But Indutai not only supported her daughter Medha Patkar lead the NBA but she faced the many added challenges that Medha took upon herself like indefinite fasts and jal samarpan. This was possible only because Indutai was as much a political activist in her own right as she was a mother. But today when Indutai is no more, I sit back and think how tumultuous it must have been for her to balance her political ideology with her feelings as a mother. Indutai did it with resilience, insulating the NBA from her turmoil in those trying times.
Indutai was as much an active part of the NBA as the hundreds of supporters of the struggle from outside the submergence zone who worked for the movement tirelessly with utmost commitment and zeal. It was because of ardent supporters like Indutai that the NBA spread far beyond the banks of the River Narmada.
After having retired from the postal department in the year 1987, Indutai dedicated her life to the issues of women as part of the organisation Swadhar. Her own upbringing was amidst Rashtriya Sewa Dal. Her husband Late Shri Vasant Khanolkar, was a well known trade unionist. With such background it is not surprising that Indutai was herself an active member of NBA and visited the Narmada valley often particularly when the villages were facing the threat of eviction or submergence. In those days roads and transport was poor. She took many arduous journeys through bumpy roads, rickety public transport and often on foot to reach the remote submergence villages in the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges to be with the people of the Narmada Valley struggling for their river and survival. Even at an advanced age, she lived like any other in the villages, even in those areas which had no electricity and/or occupied by police threatening people to move out. Coming from Mumbai it must have been hard but she was so much at home whenever she came that it felt she was herself a resident of the Narmada valley.
I will always remember her quiet but stead fast, ever so helpful presence not only in the Narmada valley, but also in many of the NBA programmes, fasts, indefinite sit – ins and dharnas in the cities too. In the early and mid nineties NBA had a full-fledged office in the city of Mumbai run by senior activists like Lata P M, Ganesh, and so many others. Indutai took up many of the responsibilities of NBA that typically spilled over out of the office and she was available 24x7 for any help that was required. Indutai’s own house was often like an extended office.
I wish to recount one incident narrated by Keshavbhau Vasave, a senior Adivasi leader of NBA which will vividly describe the diverse roles Indutai played in the movement. Originally told in Marathi, I translate some excerpts from Keshavbhau’s interview for wider readership. Here Keshavbhau talks about his ordeal when he went to Mumbai in the early nineties from his far away remotely located forest village Nimgavan on the banks of Narmada to get his passport issued. Keshavbhau as one of the founding members and leaders of NBA was chosen to go to Sweden to receive the Right Livelihood award on behalf of NBA along with Medha Patkar. Keshubhau shares:
“...After I was selected to go abroad I reached Mumbai to stay for a month to get my papers ready. I went to every office to get documents... While issuing passport the following question arose:
‘While going abroad, on your way and in case of an accident [death], your body will be reached to Mumbai. At whose house should it be reached in Mumbai? ...You belong to Dhule district. Who should it be reached to at Dhule?’
“I gave the address of Dashtrath Tatya at Dhule.
“[While in Mumbai] I was given place to stay at the Yuva office. I was staying there alone...After reaching there [Yuva office] different kinds of scenes began to float before my eyes. Since a month I have left my wife and children and have come to Mumbai. I have to go abroad. I have to accept the award.
“But where is your body to be reached?’
“After having been asked this question, I was reminded of it constantly- even in my sleep. After that, I thought, there is nothing wrong if I do not go. I have left my small children [back home] to come here [to Mumbai]. If something untoward will happen on the way, nothing of me will remain.”
It is interesting that when such thoughts were going on in Keshavbhau’s mind, his reference point in Mumbai was Indutai. This was often so with many other NBA activists also. Keshavbhau further narrates:
“Instead of that if I will cheat upon Medhatai’s mother and go away [back home] – what harm is in it? I picked up the phone and called Medhatai’s mother and lied to her- ‘Aji, I have not come prepared to go abroad. My clothes, etc are all at home. I had come to get my passport done. I need to get my clothes. So I will go home and come back’.
“‘No! No! Medha will surely be angry with me. You cannot go’, this is what she [Indutai] said.
“‘I will go today and return tomorrow or the day after’, I was saying this [to Indutai]. I was not able to concentrate. I was weary of staying in Mumbai for a month. I was spending days eating vada-pau.
“‘Okay, will you return day after tomorrow morning...If you will not return, Medha will definitely scold’, she said.
“‘Aji, please send a boy here. This is because I have not seen the ST stand’, I said. Immediately in no time, a young boy came and reached me to the ST Stand...”
This is how Indutai played so many different and important roles in the NBA and supported the many activists and activities of the struggle. For all of us who have been a part of the NBA, she will always be remembered as one among us and also as a very brave mother. Very brave indeed.
Today, Narmada Bachao Andolan loses yet another of its members in Indutai and we salute her.