Anti-Vedanta Activists Get Bail

#SijimaliMatters Update # 5, November 23, 2023

The past three and a half months have been both tumultuous and decisive in shaping the antimining resistance of Adivasis and Dalits in South Odisha.  As we bring to you our fifth update, twenty three activists arrested since mid-August have stepped out of the confines of prison on bail.  There was also a joyous celebration of the Birsa Munda Jayanti in Kerpai Panchayat of Kalahandi district. Meanwhile, women in Majingmali have been on vigil against illegal incursion onto their sacred hills by OMC staff.

The High Court finally granted bail on 10th November to all those arrested on different days since 13th August 2023. The entire community waited in anticipation for the bail order that was made available online a week later 17th November late night. Three more days passed as the physical certified copy of the bail was obtained on 20th November and deposited at the Kashipur JMFC court on 21st November. The bail conditions imposed by the JMFC, Kashipur was mainly submission of two sureties and a bail bond of INR 20000 for each person. This is a harsh condition for people from marginalized sections struggling to save their land and livelihood. Such a condition to be imposed by the JMFC  when there were no conditions given by the High Court, amounts to a denial of justice.  

Those incarcerated stepped into freedom on Wednesday, 22nd November. Seven activists were released from Bissamkatak sub-jail, and sixteen from the Rayagada sub-jail. Hundreds of villagers greeted them amidst celebration. There are still two activists in jail whose bails are yet to be processed.

There was a huge gathering of over 2000 people on November 15 to celebrate Shaheed Birsa Munda Diwas. The courage and spirit of the revolutionary hero Birsa Munda continues to be a source of inspiration for struggles by Adivasi peoples across the country, especially in eastern India. The mass meeting evoked his fearless daring spirit to strengthen and carry on the ongoing resistance to bauxite mining in Tijmali, Kutrumali, Khandualmali, Majingmali, Niyamgiri and Sasubahumali. Also, a leaflet connecting the ongoing struggles to the history of Adivasi resistance in protecting their land was distributed among all present.

The welcome address was given by Kartik Naik from Bantij. The meeting was chaired by Lakhan Majhi from Kerpai village and coordinated by Hiramal Majhi from Majhigaon village. 

Social activists from Kesinga and Bhawanipatna expressed their solidarity for the struggle. Villagers and people’s representatives  from Sasubahumali and Khandualamali were also present in the meeting.

The meeting was addressed by noted environmentalist Prafulla Samantara, socialist Dalit leader and advisor of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti Lingaraj Azad,  President of Khandualmali Sthayee Surakhya Samiti Kartik Majhi among many others. Yes, Prafulla Samantara made his first appearance after his abduction allegedly by local police personnel from Rayagada on August 29. There has been no investigation into the incident until today.

Sijimali Bauxite Mining Vedanta

As always, there was an overwhelming presence of women who unitedly asserted their determination to save their sacred lands and mountains through resounding slogans. Around 10 women leaders, including Jeevan Dei Majhi from Majhigaon, Munni Dei Majhi from Kantamal and Sarpanch Neela Dei Majhi, addressed the gathering and reiterated their close affinity to the forests and mountains and their dependence on them through myriad ways.

The meeting ended with a reading out of demands to Odisha Government made by the people of Kashipur and Thuamul Rampur. The demands include:

  • cancelling of the mining lease given to Vedanta;
  • undiluted and complete recognition of rights under FRA in the region;
  • withdrawal of all false cases on leaders; and
  • the return of jewellery, other valuables and motorcycles taken by the police in the days preceding the environmental public hearing.

Women in Majingmali are on vigil for three weeks now. Barely had a few days passed since the Talaampadar public meeting when the Odisha government started its prospecting work for bauxite mining on November 4th on the hills adjoining Tijmali. At around 10 am two platoons of police, two JCB vehicles along with Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) staff reached the Gadeljhola road juncture near Kalagaon village (opposite Kalagaon school). This road leads to Majingmali, adjacent to Tijmali and Godamali. As news of this spread across villages, women from four nearby villages – Kalagaon, Kadejhola, Rugapadar and Majingmali, around 150-170 of them, reached the juncture and blocked the road, protesting against OMC officials going to the mountain top. They sat in front of the police vehicles and JCBs on the road leading up to the mountain top. Apparently, OMC officials had come there to do soil testing and carry out prospecting survey for bauxite. After several hours, the two JCBs were forced to return along with the OMC officials.

Sijimali Bauxite Mining Vedanta1

For the first two days, all 200 of the women camped at the site throughout the day and night guarding the entrance into Majingmali. Now they are organized to sit on the basis of village wise rotation as 10 police personnel continue to be stationed there on order of the SP, Rayagada. These women from different villages are holding sit-in protests, alert and vigilant all the time, resisting any attempts by OMC or police to enter Majingmali.

Majingmali and Tijmali overlap in coverage of villages. While Majingmali spreads across four panchayats – Sindhurghati, Sunger, Kerpai and Mandibisi, Tijmali spreads across the first three excluding Mandibisi.

Hinda Majhi from Lakris village, the village right at the foothills of Majingmali, said, “After leasing off Tijmali to Vedanta, now the Odisha government is targeting our Majingmali. We shall not give an inch of any of the Malis. Like all the Malis which are neighbours, we the people are also kith and kin of the different Malis. We shall die but not let any one of the Malis be destroyed.”




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