MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian tribals to protest in London

Published by MAC on 2007-08-15

One World South Asia -

August 2007

At Delhi International airport Phulme and I hand over our passports to the officials. The passports are crisp new documents with our photographs and details written in English which looks very different to Oriya (the main language of the Indian state we come from).

Bratindi who coordinates ActionAid’s work with indigenous communities across India and Ashok, a fieldworker in our area, helped us with the passport and visa applications. The whole process took 3 months. Without these we would not be able to leave India or enter England.

Phulme is 25 and a former Sarpanch (local elected leader) from a nearby village. She has travelled in India but has never left the country before. It is my first time outside Orissa.

Why are we coming so far from home? For us it is a matter of life or death. Niyamgiri Raja – the mountain that is sacred to the indigenous groups in the area – is under threat and with it our land, livelihood and way of life.

Last calls

Before boarding we receive calls from Sidarth chair of Sachetan Nagarik Manch, one of the growing groups of concerned people who are campaigning with us to stop the mining and refinery project which is causing so much sadness, shock and anger among our people. Anger and shock at the company’s behaviour. Sadness at its impact on our Mother Earth.

We also receive a message of support from a lawyer involved in the Supreme Court hearing on Vedanta’s operations in Lanjigarh. The case restarts on August 9 in Delhi. I hope they understand what a critical decision is before them…

In 52 years I have not taken a flight but now I am on my second in two days.

The first, an internal flight to Delhi, was two hours but Delhi to London is more than nine.

The plane is half empty so we take a row of seats each and catch up on sleep. We’ve been travelling for three days.

Leaving Lanjighar

After saying good bye to my children and two year old grandson on Thursday, we set off by bus leaving behind the green hills and trees of Niyamgiri, our paddy fields and painted mud homes.

Leaving Lanjigarh (our local administrative area) the bus bumps along the tarmac road full of potholes. Many heavy vehicles pass this way clearing trees and digging up earth to build the company’s refinery and huge waste ponds close to one of our main rivers.

Shoes to walk on Mother Earth

The bus arrived in Bhubeneshwar, capital of Orissa in time for a busy day with Bratindi. There were many preparations for the journey to London.

After much persuasion I finally agree to buy my first pair of shoes.

I have never needed shoes before – why do we need shoes to walk on our Mother Earth? But Bratindi insisted that in London, Mother Earth is already covered with stone and concrete and it is often cold, not like the soft warm earth around Niyamgiri. I leave the shop with shoes and socks.

Why London?

Why are we are going to London? This is where we the money comes from that funds Vedanta’s operation in Lanjigarh. Our sacred mountain is full of a mineral (bauxite) that the company wants to feed to their refinery to make aluminium which is used to make cooking pots.

Niyamgiri is powerful like a king. That’s why there are 32 streams two major rivers and a thick dense forest. It is not like other mountains in the area.

Niyamgiri is home to tigers, elephants, rabbits, deer, monkeys and wild boar and so many birds. When the mining starts where will they go? Where will we go?

We have lived for generations around the mountain. Niyamgiri Raja (king mountain) is our god. We collect leaves fruits and flowers from the forest that we use for food, drink, medicine and making plates and baskets.

The company people (shareholders) are having their big annual meeting in London. We want to tell them what is happening in their name far away from London. Everyone at home is hoping they will hear us.

If I had three minutes with the company director I would say: “We don’t want anything taken out of the mountain. Leave our mountain and people alone – we want to keep living the way we have for generations. Imagine how would you feel if someone invaded your home and land and destroyed all that was sacred to you?”

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