"Dam" the Irony for Greater Common Good: A Critical Cultural Analysis of the Narmada Dam Debate

Tabassum Ruhi Khan


Arundhati Roy’s essay, The Greater Common Good, frames her vehement opposition to the construction of the Narmada Dam in central India. Roy contends that the project benefited a few at the expense of India’s poor, and the protest against its construction was much more than a fight to save the river valley; it was a struggle to reinstate justice in Indian democracy. However, the pro-Narmada Dam lobby, in a formal response (by civil society activist B. G. Verghese), dismissed her contentions as antidevelopment diatribes. Exemplifying the critical trend in cultural studies, this article analyzes why Roy’s powerful criticism of Indian democracy was misread, by situating the debate in the surrounding contexts of neoliberal globalization. It argues that as texts are discursive practices, meaning is constructed, circulated, and received within specific political/economic/social circumstances and power equations.

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