Fighting for a mountain- the Dongria Kondhs of Odisha

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

If the mine goes ahead, the Dongria Kondh would lose their good health, their self-sufficiency and their expert knowledge of the hills, forests and farming systems that they have nurtured.
© Jason Taylor/Survival

The DFID aid programme in India targets some of its poorest states, one of which is Odisha. There has been some criticism over using this aid money, earmarked for poverty alleviation, to fight climate change. However, global warming and climate change deserve to be taken seriously, especially as it is the impoverished groups that suffer the most when sweeping measures for development are undertaken, and basic resources such as land and water are pilfered.

Odisha, a beautiful state on the eastern coast of India, richly endowed with forests. However, as the state is also rich in mineral resources, preserving some of these forests has been a challenge. The story of the Dongria Kondhs, an indigenous tribe in Odisha, illustrates this, as they fight against a multinational company to save their forests and a mountain they hold sacred to life and religious beliefs.

It is no surprise that foreign investment is eagerly welcomed in Odisha; Vedanta Resources, a UK-based mining company, has seized the opportunity to exploit the rich bauxite reserves on the Niyamgiri mountain, sacred to the Dongria Kondh tribe and also the main source of their livelihood. If the alumina refinery is to become reality, large swathes of forests will have to be cleared for mining and construction, disturbing the natural ecosystem and interfering with the supply of river water. The cultural importance of Niyamgiri for the local tribes can also not be underestimated – they have a right to live peacefully on land which has been theirs for generations. This video created by Survival International explains the significance of Niyamgiri for the Dongria Kondhs, and their attempts to fight against Vedanta’s actions:

Video created by Survival International: Mine – story of a sacred mountain

Vedanta tried to counter the negative publicity it has received in connection with its Odisha project through an advertising campaign. This advertisement attempted to depict the corporate social responsibility aspect of Vedanta‘s activities:

Video created by Vedanta Resources: Creating Happiness

But does the story of one family’s “happiness” atone for the massive displacement and ecological imbalance which are inevitable were it to go ahead with its Niyamgiri project? These attempts at an image makeover, which also included a film competition for students, were widely condemned across various social media platforms.

The Indian government’s Environment Ministry has put the project on hold, as the Odisha government, in support of Vedanta, has moved the Supreme Court against the Centre’s decision. If the verdict comes out in favour of the Dongria Kondhs, it will mark a tremendous victory for them as well as for environmental enthusiasts all over the world- properly mobilised support can go a long way in protecting our forests and keeping them safe from indiscriminate development.

Written by our guest writer Jaya Srinivasan

Dongria Kondh boy Kalia stands in front of the Niyamgiri hill range.
Dongria Kondh boy Kalia stands in front of the Niyamgiri hill range.
© Lewis Davids/Survival

Dongria Kondh girls.
Dongria Kondh girls.
© Jason Taylor

Sources:

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