India, 14 August 2010. The Dongria Kondh are the indigenous tribe who live on and around Mt Niyamgiri, in the central Indian state of Orissa. Vedanta Resources is a British based mining company planning to establish an open cut mine on top of the mountain that the Dongria Kondh revere as god.
Avatar fiction this is not. Help them save their sacred land.
As a revered deity, Mt Niyamgiri has escaped the deforestation and degradation common to many natural areas of poverty stricken India. The forests of Niyamgiri boast an elephant reserve that is home to wild leopards and tigers, branched antlered sambars, Barking Deer, various species of birds and other endangered wildlife species. There are over three hundred species of plants and trees covering the land, including approximately fifty species of medicinal plants.
Vedanta’s plans will damage the delicate ecostructure and destroy the forests, wildlife and way of life which the Dongria Kondh people have known since time immemorial. The mine will potentially yield in excess of 17 million tonnes of Bauxite, the base element used for aluminium
production. Aluminium is a costly and dirty metal to manufacture, which is more efficiently recycled than processed anew.
This sets the scene for a real life “Avatar”, except it’s not in the movies occurring in the future on some distant planet with exotic alien life. It’s happening now, in India with human beings in real life.
Real life 'Avatar's campaigning
Of course, in India nothing is simple and the politics and business of the proposed Vedanta mine is no exception. In India, situations develop because of layer upon layer of actions occurring influenced by numerous factors, including social caste and class, tribal and religious traditions, historical collaborations and disaffiliations, colonial deeds and tribal titles, dodgy deals and corrupted authorities and historical precedence and vested interests. This complex web of interactions is further tinged by propaganda and clouded with double-speak.
One example of this paradox is the name that Vedanta mining has chosen. To Hindus, Vedanta is the highest path of truth as laid out in their ancient texts, The Upanishads. This Hindu bible teaches Vedanta, which states that the believer’s goal is to transcend the limitations of self-identity and realize one's unity with Brahman or God. Such a unity is akin to the connection with the land common to indigenous people. The Dongria Kondh acknowledge their sacred mountain is their soul. Vedanta Mining want to open cut that to access their god: financial gain.
There is a civil war raging in the middle of India. Central to the battle is the “natural resource”. From one side, the mining company and governmental business men perceive “natural resources” as mineral tonnes for export to China and substantial financial profits. From the other
side, the tribal people and socialist Maoist forces, perceived it as preserving the connection to ancestral land, a fragile and awesome ecosystem, conserving space for the beings that inhabit it and the protecting the rights of indigenous people to live their lives.
Forests, ecosystems surrounding Mt Niyamgiri will be sacrificed for Vedanta's bauxite mining.
The bottom line is an all too familiar story. The legend of David and Goliath is evoked. Corporate Goliath armed with helicopter gunships, thermal imaging, laser range-finders, an enormous budget and powerful network verses tribal David, with a crude weaponry of knives, bows and
arrows, home made pistols and on a shoestring budget, backed up from the controversial Maoist militia, with their more serious rifles and warring abilities.
However David has found support from the world community – Action Aid has weighed into the battle, as has Amnesty International whose report “Don’t Mine us out of Existence” is a scathing condemnation of Vedanta Resources. Survival International (www.survival international.org) are also very active in the swelling worldwide campaign to protect the Dongria and their sacred mountain.
The destruction of precious, life sustaining forest and the displacement of humans and other beings from their ancestral land in the name of “harvesting” financial gain.
One has to question how many more times can such a tale unfold before there are no forests left on earth. Nor minerals left to exploit. Will we one day be surrounded by mountains of money yet no real wealth? Will we one day starve from a lack of other species and diversity, as much as
from a lack of food and water?
As humans alive today, each of us knows somewhere inside ourselves that we can’t continue to exploit the earth in this way. Neglecting other beings existence is not sowing the way towards healthy life on the planet.
Stop the threat of destruction to Dongria Kondh age-old lifestyle.
The key to stopping this mine is for people to pressure the people in positions to prevent this disaster. Visit www.niyamgiri.net and with a few clicks of your mouse, you can email the companies holding substantial shares in Vedanta, the Indian Minister for Environment and the UK's Department of International Development all who have the power to prevent this ecological destruction and injustice from taking place.
Help create a happy ending for this earth version of “Avatar” in real-D. Access the true power of Vedanta and use your power to work in harmony with life on earth.
With thanks to Survival International (www.survival international.org) who have generously allowed us to use their photos with this article.