Orissa: Tribals come together to save God-mountain
OVER 20,000 tribal men and women from Orissa's Niyamgiri area marched through the dense forest to create a 17km long human wall across their God-mountain Niyan Raja that faces destruction from mining.
In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the indigenous people recreated the centuries-old bond with the forest and the mountain, in which they have lived a sustainable life.
Marching to save their God
"I woke up long before sunrise to reach where the villagers gathered to stand around Niyamgiri. How could I not come, it is our life," says 45-year-old Dongaria Kondh.
She walked 70km from Khambehi village in Rayagarha to take part in the human chain that is part of the ongoing peaceful stand-off between the tribal and Vedanta, which is attempting to build an access to the mountain for mining.
People, including many children, from over 200 villages started converging since the wee hours to cover a 17km stretch along the Niyamgiri foothills. The chain traversed from Ijirupa, across Jaganathpur, Lanjigarh, Kansari, up to Balabhadrapur.
Our life for the God
"Jiben jao, pache Niyamgiri thau (Our lives will go but our God will survive)," said a community leader Gapa Majhi, while addressing the tribal congregation at Balabhadrapur.
The peaceful protesters chanted slogan of solidarity as smaller groups converged into bigger ones, as all the jungle paths converged on the forest road, on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon.
Echoing the popular sentiment, Kumuti Majhi stated, "No company can take our forest that we have been protecting as our home for generations."
"The peaceful protest and the formation of human chain is a strong message from the indigenous community that they will continue the struggle for their rights, right to the finish," says Bratindi Jena, who is a part of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, a platform spearheading the campaign to save the mountain from being mined.
Only a fortnight ago, Vedanta, the United Kingdom based mining giant, had attempted to smuggle in land-movers for constructing a road leading to the Niyamgiri mountain top for mining of bauxite in the dead of the night. This lead a spontaneous protest and vigil by the villagers.
Breach of rights
In a damning 2005 report, a Supreme Court panel, the Central Empowered Committee, accused Vedanta of violating environmental guidelines. It said, Vedanta had "deliberately and consciously concealed the involvement of the forest land in the project".
In addition to environmental concerns, two of India's strongest constitutional guarantees will be overturned if mining goes ahead. The right of a 'primitive tribal group' to their territorial integrity and to decide on their own path of development (Indian Constitution, Schedule V) and the right to religious practices and beliefs (Article 25).