Deep inside the densely forested area of Niyamgiri Hills of western Odisha, there is a battle, Dongria Kondhs are fighting daily since 2003 with the horrendous outside world for their survival.
The battle was to safeguard their home from Vendanta Resources, London based company which entered into a MOU with Odisha Government in 2003. Their intend was to mine the bauxite rich Niyamgiri. To facilitate the construction, Dongris were persecuted. Some International organisations joined the forces with the bereft Dongriya Kondhs in this David-Goliath style battle and in 2004 PIL was filed in Supereme Court. Even after finding blatant violations of environmental regulations and serious concerns about the impact of mining on both environment and tribes, the Supereme court permitted Vedanta to proceed. Albeit, The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution instructs government to honor and uphold the land rights of schedule tribes. This battle ended with the referendum among 12 villages of the Niyamgiri Hills in 2013.
Even after a surprising win in a decade lasting battle, they are still worried with their parochial concerns. The efforts of the state are well intentioned but not felicitous in nature. Schools are provided but the medium of instruction is not “Kui” (tribal language). Their products our frequently sold at well below market prices. To curb naxalism forces are sent but the adivasis are facing interrogation and are being charged for terrorism. As hybrid crops and chemical supplements are introduced their traditional crops are at the cusp of dying out.
Again in the year 2013, The Odisha Mining Corporation appealed against the resolution of referendum, but it was rejected by Supreme Court.
One of the fruitful results of this agitation was the formation of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti which has emerged as the new face of tribe’s empowerment.
The Avatar of India still feel that their mountain God needs to be protected. “As long as mountain is alive, we will not die” Dongarian Kondh quoted. According to their doctrine, the mountain (Dongar) and the earth (Dharini) are male and female elements that unite elements that unite to bless the Kondh with prosperity, fertility and health.
As The Hindu quoted “The David versus Goliath narrative is powerful, and will sustain and inspire, but it is not complete. The market and the state have inextricably entered their lives.”
The adivasis can grow high variety of millets and their uncultivated wild food is food security for them. Policy should be made to empower farmers without neglecting climate change, food security and agriculture and to recognize the significance of uncultivated food and to preserve it. This is the high time when the government, the Kondhs, NGO’s and most importantly our society need to step up together and figure out how to channelize their respective resources in an encouraging way so that neither the adivasis feel alienated nor their knowledge goes neglected and most crucially their traditional values and rights remain protected.