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Medha Patkar

HRD & Founding Member
Narmada Bachao Andolan- NBA (Movement to Save the Narmada)

Medha Patkar is a prominent human rights defender and founding member of Narmada Bachao Andolan- NBA (Movement to Save the Narmada). NBA is an organisation which mainly works for the rights of persons displaced due to development projects alongside the Narmada River. This project is affecting people in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. For decades, Medha Patkar has been working on defending the political and economical rights of tribal communities in Western India. She has also helped establish a network of activists across the country – the National Alliance of People’s Movements. In 1992, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Human rights defenders in India face a diverse range of attacks and harassment for their work defending the rights of others, including killings, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, smear campaigns, and judicial harassment. People defending the rights of marginalised communities are targeted by state and non-state actors alike. Armed groups and private companies also target HRDs and community leaders for work related to economic development projects and their impact on the local communities or the environment. HRDs have also been labelled as "insurgents" or “Naxalites” (Maoists), in an attempt to discredit their work and justify their targeting.

HRDs making use of Right to Information Act have been targeted with physical attacks. At least two HRDs were killed in 2012 as a result of their work on access to information. Women human rights defenders (WHRDs), are particularly vulnerable in rural areas, especially in regions with a heavy presence of the military and armed groups. Dalits’ rights defenders encounter death threats, destruction of their properties, fabricated charges, physical attacks, as well as caste-based insults and discrimination.

Police officials are often the perpetrators of violence against HRDs, usually with impunity. While human rights bodies exist both at the national and at the state levels, human rights defenders expressed strong criticism at their work and effectiveness. Investigations carried out by the National Human Rights Commission and the State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) are often either inadequate or extremely delayed.