One of the world’s most controversial mines is back in the spotlight after hundreds protested against renewed efforts to mine India’s Niyamgiri Hills. According to Survival International, an activist group that supports human rights for native peoples worldwide, supporters of the Dongria Kondh and Niyamgiri peoples held their own ‘public hearing’ in Orissa state, where they restated their resolve not to allow mining on their sacred mountain.
The meeting coincided with a Supreme Court appeal in Delhi, which sought to overturn a 2010 ruling preventing UK mining company Vedanta Aluminium Limited from building an open-pit bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills. However, the appeal was adjourned on April 9 and India’s Supreme Court has yet to issue a new date for the hearing.
Shortly after the announcement, Indian activist Prafulla Samentra from the National Alliance of People’s Movements, spoke to Survival International. He said, "I hope India’s Supreme Court endorses the government’s ruling not to mine in Niyamgiri. This is in the interests of protecting natural resources and tribal peoples."
Miles away in the Niyamgiri Hills, two years after the Dongria Kondh historically defeated Vedanta, protesters continue to make their position clear. Dongria elder Dodhi Sikaka said, "Those who are fighting for their rights are beaten up and put behind bars. Now all we Dongrias are together in resisting this. We are fighting for our own people, for our ancestral land, for Niyamgiri."
According to villagers in the area, the 2008 opening of an aluminium refinery in neighbouring Lanjigarh by Vedanta has brought misery, disease and impoverishment. In an article in 2010, celebrity Bianca Jagger wrote in the Guardian newspaper, "The refinery has created two red mud ponds the size of several football pitches near Rengopali into which bauxite ore is washed, along with chemicals, causing toxic fumes and polluted dust. Lutni Majhi, a woman living in the village, tells me, 'Now, not only is it hot during the day, it is hot at night, as the refinery is functioning at night. Before, we had forest and trees around us, it was much cooler. We've never had this much heat, flies and mosquitoes.' The water sources are exposed to dangerous contamination."
The plight of India's Dongria Kondh has been likened to the native people depicted in James Cameron's animated sci-fi movie Avatar, who on a planet to be exploited for its resources by Earthlings, had blue skin and a preternatural ability to communicate with and control the horse-like steeds they rode into battle. Coincidently, some of the Hindu deities are depicted as having blue skin, while native peoples in the British Isles were once known to paint themselves blue when preparing for battle.
Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said on April 9, "By once again postponing this decision, the Supreme Court judges have left a sword of Damocles hanging over the Dongrias’ heads. But on Sunday the Dongria held their own day of judgment – a public hearing at which they vowed to protect their sacred mountain. Whatever the court may decide far away in Delhi, in the Niyamgiri Hills the Dongrias’ decision is clear."