India: tribespeople march against mining company

Thousands of protestors in India marched against British mining firm Vedanta on Jan. 18 to oppose the company’s plans to mine a sacred mountain and feed its aluminium refinery. Reports suggest that up to 7,000 demonstrators marched to the gates of the refinery, destroying some of the Vedanta branded sign boards which litter the Niyamgiri area of Orissa state. The protestors included hundreds of Dongria Kondh tribespeople, other Kondh tribal groups, farmers and day laborers.

Vedanta is intent on creating an open-pit mine on the top of the Dongria Kondh hill tribe’s sacred mountain. The mine would devastate the ecology of the region and spell the end of the Dongria Kondh’s independent way of life, polluting the streams and destroying the forests they rely on.

Ill health, misery and destitution already afflict many hundreds of other Kondh people in the area, thanks to the Vedanta refinery at the base of the Niyamgiri hills.

Vedanta’s presence in Niyamgiri is overwhelming. One Dongria Kondh man, Lodu Sikaka, says, “There was no Vedanta government earlier, we are used to the Indian government. Vedanta government has come and devastated so many people. It is not letting us live in peace. It is killing so many people and it is also wiping out our Gods and trees and hills.”

India’s Supreme Court gave the mine the green light in August last year, but the Dongria Kondh and other Kondh tribes are determined to save their sacred site from destruction. Regular road blocks have so far kept construction vehicles off the mountain.

Survival International is campaigning for shareholders in Vedanta Resources, including the UK’s Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton and Gloucestershire councils, to pull out of the company. Survival has also made a formal complaint about Vedanta to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

From Survival International, Jan. 22

See our last posts on India and other tribal struggles.