David beats Goliath


I was delighted to read over the weekend in a piece by Dean Nelson and Simon de Trey-White in the Daily Telegraph of the decision by Vedanta Mining to respect the wishes of the Dongria Kondh tribe and cease mining their sacred mountain for bauxite.

Vedanta Resources, a UK-registered ftse -100 company wanted to mine the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa which are sacred to  Dongria Kondh, a protected tribal group of ‘original’ Aboriginal peoples. The Orissa state government had agreed to the destruction of the Tribal peoples land in 2005 but the decision was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court after a tortuous appeals process. The final decision was made by the Dongria Kondh themselves at a gathering at the weekend.

I covered the story in 2007 and wrote about it for the Indian magazine Tehelka (see here).

In a blog post on this site in 2009 I wrote that,

“I am no romantic when it come to India. I don’t share a Raj view of the colonial apologists (despite inevitably by dint of being British having reaped the indirect rewards of the subjugation of that country). I don’t yearn for quaint, underdeveloped communities full of poverty and colour. I want to see India progress. But I know the stink of international corporate power when I smell it… India had no colonies from which to steal resources so it’s stealing them from its own weak and vulnerable. The profits of this mine will not be spread evenly to benefit the Indian economy – it will be hoarded in the off-shore bank accounts of those corrupt politicians and corporate executives who already think that India is theirs by right.

A new middle class India has been brought up to believe that a successful society means a consumerist society. Greed and nationalism go hand in hand: it is not the poor of India calling for war with their brothers and sisters in Pakistan.”

It is a deeply significant victory for the Dongria Kondh but as Nelson correctly points out the flow of modernity is inevitable.

As I also wrote in 2009,

“Traditionally, Indians have protested injustice in a dignified Ghandian way with hunger strikes and marches. While the Western media and much of India has been marvelling at ‘Shining India’ it has failed to notice that a good deal of India is now under (mostly Maoist) rebel control. In Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand the Indian state is fighting a battle it might not win.”

I’ve used before Arundhati Roy‘s metaphor of India ‘eating its own people’ to describe that country’s unfettered race to Market Capitalism’. I hope that the Dongria Kondh’s victory for their peaceful, traditional way of life in harmony with the land of their fathers will last for as long it can.



India - Orissa - Dabu Limajhi, a tribal woman in her home in Kankasarpa village, India – Orissa – Dabu Limajhi, a tribal woman in her home in Kankasarpa village,