Deomali is a huge bauxite mountain range in Koraput district of Odisha. It is the property of the people of Odisha as a whole. The mountain peak is called Mount Mali. It has 33 fountains. People are living on agriculture and for that they profusely rely on the water of the fountains.
The Mali mountain belongs to everyone. So, the government needs to be cognizant. The spirit of democracy is the people. The writings on the wall of government residences of officers and babus mention that this is public property, which mean it belongs to the people. If common people ask for enjoying their property gifted by Nature, then how is it democratic that government engages police and touts to snatch away their right to inherited natural property?
We are the members of the Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti (Mali Parbat Security Committee). Hindalco held a Public Hearing at Kankadaambo village. Prior to this, our people were kept completely under house arrest. We were not allowed to enter the public hearing site even if we produced our genuine credentials.
On the previous day of the public hearing (22 November 2021) police forces, fully loaded in two to three vehicles, came to each of 44 villages located under Mount Mali and threatened the villagers not to go to the public hearing site. People were threatened that if they did try to go to the site, they would be put behind the bar. We were told that we had no right to be present in such public hearings.
A government official was hurt during our protest at the Public hearing held on last September. That time the District Administration had cancelled the public hearing blaming us. Police often accuse us saying that we are responsible for that. Not even one of our arrested people attacked that officer.
We want that the attacker, whoever he may be, must be arrested. Instead, 28 people were arrested on a raft of charges in September 2021. Till the date our people are being arrested in false and fabricated cases only to silence one genuine protest. We still don’t know who attacked that officer. But that incident was the precursor of bad days for us.
In a democracy, everyone has the equal rights. But the Public hearing in November was not really a public hearing, it was a meeting organized as well as attended by police. This time the Public hearing was an event, only of companies’ henchmen and officers. The meeting venue turned into a fortress as 30 platoons of police force were deployed for this purpose. You can see the related videos; you won’t find people from the villages surrounding Mount Mali in that meeting. Outsiders participated in that meeting. People working in the company attended that meeting. A Public hearing was held where company has brought in its supporter group of villagers. This Public hearing was funded by the company.
How is this called a public hearing? Who are they hearing? The police or the barbed wires they put to keep us out? The police were asking, one by one, are you in support of Parbat or Company? If a person said, he was supporting Company, he was allowed to attend the public hearing. When we answered that we support the Mali Parbat, we were detained and forced to sit on the road, instead. Are we living in an autocracy or democracy? A huge police force surrounded our area that day in such a way that we thought as if the Prime Minister was coming. The meeting place, where the public hearing was ought to be conducted, was cordoned with a kilo-meter long barbed-wire fencing. The drones were flying overhead, ostensibly to help police monitor protestor. Those who wanted to reach the meeting place, by scaling down the hill, were threatened that they would be simply gunned down by the police and labelled them as Naxals. Nothing would be known.
The police administration itself should also know what the rights of the people are. They are bent upon taking away people’s property, not even allowing people to place their views in defense. Is this the democracy? The administration ought to know how people will live in the coming days. We came to know that the Odisha government has now become a broker of the company without being a government of the people. People from Maitri Company, a mining lessee of HINDALCO, came to the village and said, we have already purchased the Odisha government, and now you have no right over the hill.
In fact, people create a leader, and not the vice-versa. If the leader betrays his people, his supporters, it’s all over! And the company! Company won’t vote in the elections. People will vote and with only peoples’ vote one has to become a leader. These leaders are now betraying us, they must face the consequences in the coming days.
Today none of the MLAs, ministers and leaders protested against the police repression around the Mali mountain. While we are protesting, none of the leaders stood with us and protested in the media. Rather everyone is telling, ‘You are fighting with the company knowingly. Whether you are picked up by the police or picked up by the goons we have nothing to say’. All the leaders of Koraput told us in similar vein. We felt sorrow after experiencing such kind of response from our leaders. If after being honoured as peoples’ leader, if you act like a faithful dog of a company for some pieces of crumb, you will certainly suffer the consequences in the coming days.
The brave son of Koraput, Shahid Laxman Naik, was born on 22 November 1899. He started fighting against tyranny of British Imperialism at the age of 22. He joined the ongoing struggle for independence of our country under Gandhiji’s leadership. He used to bring together tribals against British rule. He gave a clarion call to his tribal brethren to oppose the British regime. He used to enlighten the tribals in Koraput. His assets were confiscated during World War II. He was hanged by the British government. Hanging is also a violence. They killed the tribals. Even today, the governments of independent India are killing us even when we were alive. We miss Laxman Naik more in our present fight against corporate exploitation.
Organization is the power of the people. Naveen Babu is the head of BJD today. His people have become MLAs. We, the Adivasis, the stakeholders of Mali mountain range, have come together forming a coordination of 28 organizations. Even if we survive, we are being killed slowly and steadily, we shall certainly protest against this. We will surely raise a big and hard fight against this onslaught. The government should be aware of this.
If the government claim all the properties belong to them only, how the people, whose existence depends on Nature and its gifts (Land, Water & Jungle), will survive? Is it possible to remove the soul of a person and ask him to live? Asking us to give up Mali Hill for mining is like asking us to live without souls.
Today, Hindalco, in order to facilitate the extraction and taking away of bauxite from Mali Mountain, pocketed everyone, the administration, the police and the government. These companies will not leave any area of Odisha from their avaricious exploitation. If they succeed in taking away bauxite from Mali mountain peak, they will not leave Deomali mountain range. They will not leave any area of Koraput. This will pollute the soil, water, air and ecology of Odisha. The water sources will dry up, the lash green forest will be destroyed, the pride of Deomali, its flora and fauna will be vanished. The identity of the tribals is “soil, water and forest” (JOMI, JALO, JANGAL). No living being on earth can survive in absence of pollution-free air. Hence, we appeal to you all that to live a healthy life in an unpolluted natural environment we have to preserve our water sources, we have to save our forests and we have to conserve our soil, the gifts of our Nature. Thus, we hope that you must be joining with us in this uncompromising struggle to save our environment and lend us your unflinching support. ####
Devendra and Arjun: Both are Adivasi Leaders Maliparbat Surakhya Samiti (MPSS). Hindaco is mining bauxite from Hisri and Pakhar of Jharkhand for its Renukoot Alumina Plant (UP). But due to exhaustion of those mining the Company was doing bauxite mining illegally in Mali Parbat of Odisha. Local people opposed it. So, the Company and the Odisha government are trying to make such plan of extraction legal. Both tried to fulfil legal formalities like organising Public Hearing for environment clearance and did the same with heavy police presence. The tribal people of the area have been opposing the Company. This article earlier had come in Odia magazine Ganabhiti. This is translated by Lalatendu Samantara. Contact: email@example.com