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Monday, June 09, 2014  
Primitive Tribals ready to take arms against Vedanta to save their god ‘NiyamRaja’

"The thick forest cover on the Niyamgiri hill range of Orissa is unique for the variety of flora and fauna and the wildlife that finds a suitable habitation opportunity in it. But for the government and the London based Vedanta Company, this thick vegetation, the wildlife and the bondage between tribal communities and the Niyamgiri hill do not make any sense except the bauxite the hill has in its belly. The company and a corporate loving Orissa government are so allured with the huge bauxite reserved inside the hill range that they do not bother to displace thousands of tribal families living in and around the hill range, destroying the unique thick green cover. And, to pursue the heinous agenda in the name of development, police and local administration has been repressive on the members of Dongria, Jernia and other tribal communities who are opposing to the mining project."

Basudev Mahapatra
   

The clash between the interests of Vedanta and the rightful desires of the tribal communities living in and around the Niyamgiri hill range seems to be moving towards a more furious turn. Opposing to the bauxite mining on Niyamgiri by a British company Vedanta Resources Plc., the tribal communities are determined to fight till the end to save the hill range that gives them all elements of life. The hill is worshipped by the tribal communities as NiyamRaja – ‘the king of law’.

The thick forest cover of the hill range is unique for a variety of flora and fauna and the wildlife that finds a suitable habitation in it. But for the government and the London based Vedanta Company, this thick vegetation and the wildlife do not make any sense except the bauxite the hill has in its belly. The company and a corporate loving Orissa government are so allured with the huge bauxite reserved inside the hill range that they do not bother to displace thousands of tribal families living in and around the hill range, destroying the unique thick green cover.

And, to pursue the heinous agenda in the name of development, police and local administration has been repressive on the tribal members who are opposing to the mining project. As alleged by the agitators and activists, tribal people have been booked under false charges and are being jailed with the objective of weakening the movement.

‘In the recent days, a tribal leader fighting against Vedanta was being murdered, but there has been no arrest or investigation by the police yet. Also, 16 people are in jail on false charges without commitment of any crime. And, six months back five dalit women were put in jail because they were in the movement to fight against Vedanta. Now, to suppress the movement and put the tribal members behind bars, the state police is vaguely linking the Save Niyamgiri movement with the armed Maoist movement’, says Prafulla Samantara, Convenor of National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM).

Recently, on August 9, two Dongria tribal members and leaders of the movement Lado Sikaka and Sana Sikaka were abducted by police and released on 12th August as there was strong reaction from different quarters worldwide. The abduction was planned and executed by the State police who came without uniform but with guns.

The two leaders were traveling to Delhi along with members of their community to attend a policy dialogue session on the topic ‘Niyamgiri: a test case for the defense of our forests and tribals’, organized jointly by Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology and the Save Niyamgiri Movement at Constitution Club, New Delhi. Few other Dongria Kondh representatives were also supposed to attend, but as their phones and car keys had been confiscated by the abductors, they were forced back to send the alarm to the kin.

‘The leader of Dongria tribe was taken away on gun point by the police in broad day light, was beaten up, tortured and warned not to be in the movement. But the leader like Lado Sikaka boldly told to the police that he cannot sacrifice Niyamgiri and will continue to fight for it’, said Prafulla Samantara, Convenor of NAPM who is actively associated with Save Niyamgiri Movement adding that, ‘doing all these, if Vedanta tries to ensure a smooth sail to start mining on the Niyamgiri hills, it shouldn’t think so. Rather every repressive measure has made the movement stronger’.

The tribal people have pledged not to sacrifice Niyamgiri – their lord, their soul to anybody for any price. They worship Niyamgiri as it has been the only source of life for them since generations. So these tribal people defy any authority that wants to handover their god to any outsider or company. ‘No government can give it to any outsider. It’s our property, the property of the tribals. Nobody can transfer it to any outsider’, says Kumti Majhi, President of Niyamgiri Suraksha Committee.

Niyamgiri gives them life and livelihood, and it also gives them a space to make their life full of joy. So, the tribals are determined to protect their soul and source of life – Niyamgiri. They are even ready to take arms to protect their god ‘NiyamRaja’. ‘If Vedanta comes to take Niyamgiri, we will cut it into pieces…Pieces like this..’ told a Dongria youth Sana Majhi holding the axe on his neck. Sana’s emotional out burst says that the tribals would not bother to take arms against any force that comes to take control of their ‘Niyamgiri’.

Since ages, Niyamgiri has not only been the source of livelihood for the tribal communities, but also the backbone of their life and culture. ‘If they live with Niyamgiri and dance with Niyamgiri, they can also die for Niyamgiri. We have pledged to sacrifice 20000 lives to save Niyamgiri’, says Kumti Majhi, President of Niyamgiri Suraksha Committee.

‘The tribal people living in and around Niyamgiri hill ranges get everything from the Hill. They grow pulse, millet and even vegetables on the slopes of the hill. They get water from the fountains flowing down the hill. The thick vegetation provides them fresh air to breath. To them, the hill is their source of life and the only reason for celebrations. So, they can’t spare it at any cost’, says Pradeep Purohit, an activist and a leader of the Gandhamardan Suraksha Andolan adding that, ‘we came out successful in protecting Gandhamardan from the eyes of Balco. So we are very much hopeful that we can also save Niyamgiri from the eyes of Vedanta’.

The movement is gathering strength and the tribals have pledged in a ceremony to go to the extreme end to save Niyamgiri as their life and culture as closely associated with it. They are now ready to take arms to save the Niyamgiri hill range. Looking at the movement, there has been number of committees instituted by various organisations. Supreme Court also sent the Central Empowered Committee to see the realities and report. But the tribal people are not happy with the outcome of all these committees and their reports. They now believe, Niyamgiri is their god and they have to protect it even if the government goes against their wish.

‘The movement is on since last seven years. People have not allowed mining in Niyamgiri. Illegally Vedanta has constructed the Alumina Plant. Central Empowered committee of the Supreme Court, for which I was a petitioner, recommended unanimously to ban mining in Niyamgiri. But the Supreme Court didn’t give any direction based upon its own committee’s recommendation. It’s unfortunate for the people of India. So, people are now supreme. People say, they are ready to sacrifice to save their mother Niyamgiri which gives them life and livelihood’, says Prafulla Samantara, Convenor of NAPM.

The tribal people living in and around Niyamgiri seem to be losing their patience. They must not be neglected in the name of development. Instead of taking them into confidence and plan development as per their needs if the government and the planners further impose an alienated development plan on these tribal people, they would not only try to stand as a power against the government but also would start hating the so called civilised society and the world outside their hamlets.

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