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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Learning to Lead: Biography of a Bhil leader from Narmada Valley’ 24th March, 2015 .


‘Learning to Lead:
Biography of a Bhil leader from Narmada Valley’


Dr. Vikramaditya Thakur,
London School of Economics,


Sardar Sarovar dam on river Narmada has remained the focus of public attention within both India and across the world for over three decades. There is a voluminous literature on it by news media and academics, besides filmmakers and international evaluations, focusing on the various aspects of the dam’s adverse impacts and the struggle against the project. These have however hardly focused much on Bhils, the Scheduled Tribe group directly impacted by the gigantic project, other than portraying them as helpless victims being rallied by external social activists against the powerful state before being eventually displaced. This paper spans a period exceeding thirty years covering two generations of Bhils in their eventual move from their former homes in the hills to the resettlement colonies in the plains. The story is told from the survivors’ point of view by focusing on one of their leaders through most of his adult life. By differentiating the varied positions of the external activists from the local Bhil leaders that widened over time as the movement against the dam continued, the paper argues that the work initiated by the external activists was a form of political education that unintentionally fostered the rise of new forms of leadership among the Bhils. The paper revisits the classic subaltern-elite divide to analyze how it stands in the contemporary postcolonial period.


Dr. Vikramaditya Thakur received his Ph.D from Yale University, USA in sociocultural anthropology. His thesis was a study of the resettlement of villages affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam on river Narmada in the Maharashtra portion. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Inequality and Poverty Research Programme, London School of Economics, UK. He is presently pursing his fieldwork in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra studying agricultural change.

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