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Lessons Learnt From Niyamgiri Tribals: A Story Of Determined Struggle And Resistance!

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By Neha Mayuri:

Have you heard of Niyamgiri Hills which form a mountain range in the Eastern Indian state of Orrisa? Well, they are home to more than 8,000 Niyamgiri Tribals and are well known for their dense forests as well as unusually rich wildlife. The Dongria Kondh (indigenous tribals) of India’s Niyamgiri Hills fought a heroic 10 year battle of survival to save their sacred mountain, a battle against the multinational mining giant UK based Vedanta Resources, who was set to mine their sacred mountain’s rich seam of bauxite.

Niyamgiri

In August 2010, the Ministry of Forests and Environment had stopped Vedanta Ltd. to mine bauxite at the top on the Niyamgiri Hill for processing in the nearby Lanjigarh factory. After nominating a special committee of enquiry, the Saxena Committee, the Minister had agreed to its findings that Vedanta Ltd. had infringed the Forest Right Act. And, after several appeals, the Supreme Court of India made a historic decision in April 2013, stating it was up to the local authorities to decide whether the project should go forward, all twelve villages voted against the project unanimously and the Dongria tribe won the determined struggle to save their existence.

The Dongrias worship the top of the mountain, they regard it as their temple and their God. The multinational mining giant Vedanta Resources wanted to mine the bauxite from the top of the same mountain. If the judgment were in favour of Vedanta Resources, many lives would have suffered. Snatching the mountain away from them would mean loss of livelihood, loss of identity, and loss of sanctity.

Kondh villagers who were removed from their homes for the refinery have suffered threats and intimidation. They have lost both their land and their means of supporting themselves. To the Dongria, Niyam Dongar hill is the seat of their God, Niyam Raja. To Vedanta it is a $2 billion deposit of bauxite.” stated Survival International, an NGO which campaigns for the right of tribal people.

Vedanta Resources has been trying to mine Niyamgiri’s bauxite since 2003! The relentless struggle to save their mountain took years of patience, determination, and dedication.

As many academics, journalists and activists visited this beautiful place, it has become a “Glocal conflict” indeed. Though, one fails to understand why this resource extraction conflict failed to fetch the major headlines! There have been instances where tribal communities have been exploited, and this story serves as a lesson for all of us.

“‘Even if Anil Agarwal (AGM of Vedanta Resources) himself comes here, we won’t leave our land. We will use all our strength to make them leave this place. Let us live our lives in peace “, two Dongria women said to the NGO, Survival International.

Dongria Kondhs” continued to fight standing united – it serves as an exemplary example of victory against a multinational mining giant. The tribal community has been allowed to claim cultural rights serves as a lesson in unity itself. It was due to the persistent efforts by the Dongrias that many public figures took up the cause and Vedanta received a setback. Victory by this indigenous group is a result of a collective action by ordinary people–the masses! Sending out a clear message to “Corporatocracy” the victory speaks for itself. When this local movement went global, it was purely due to the dedication and sheer will of the Dongria Kondh who refused to leave their home. The fight against social injustice and environmental destruction is our fight too, this serves as a lesson in standing tall to fight injustice.

If we, as a nation, take their story as a lesson to break free from “oppression”, “tyranny”, “corporatocracy”, “dictatorship”, and “corruption”, we would have learnt an important lesson about unity and the infinite power we possess in ourselves — the power of the people! The power to bring a change and sever from injustice. The power to change minds, change lives, and make the world a better place to live in.

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  1. Krishna Prasanth

    It is indeed heartening to know that the tribals have successfully retained their sacred mountain through peaceful means. This shows the strength of Indian democratic institutions and how they are still capable of delivering justice. More importantly, it also serves as an example for Naxalites and Maoists to emulate, in terms of how even they can use peaceful measures to achieve justice.

    1. Raj

      Maoists and naxalites are the last people to emulate such peaceful practices since it undermines their power and their . Don’t think for a moment that their cause is altruistic and just, but their means are wrong. They are power-hungry individuals whose want to spread their brand of socialism(i.e. communism) and gain control of the society and resources.

      I addressed the tribal point in the below comment.

  2. Raj

    I had posted a comment on a similar article, I’ll repeat it here. Basically what should be our policy towards these so-called “tribals” who claim vast hectares of land as their “home” based on some religious or legacy related reasons? Shouldn’t we have sensible property rights?
    What about educated urban-dwelling person like me? If I take up some backward practices like living in the jungle and worshiping trees, can I also claim entire forests for my “tribe” ? Why can’t I?

  3. Harsh Vasani

    The article is informative, but the author should also reflect on the lucidity of the turn of events. The place they claim as their God’s abode is sitting atop 73 million tonnes of bauxite! The Dongaria tribes won’t be evicted nor will be religious rights be infringed upon. Vedanta has invested 50,000 crore rs. in Odisha- the highest any corporate has! This bodes a very terrible message to the investors. The nation needs foreign investment. Last checked, rupee was at an all time low of 63 rupee to a $. How long will rules be made and broken by an extreme left wing anti-establishment fascists?

    1. Raj

      Well pointed out

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