An Open Letter to the President of India from the People of Kutrumali, Sijimali and Majhingmali on 26 January


Honorable Madam,

We express our heartfelt greetings on Republic Day!

We are ordinary people from Kutrumali, Sijimali and Majhingmali, mainly Adivasis and Dalits. Our region spreads across Kashipur of Raygada district and Thuamal Rampur of Kalahandi district in South Odisha. It is the land of forests, hills and streams. According to the Constitution of India, this area comes under the Fifth Schedule. We have the courage and confidence to write to you because you are from our Odisha and also understand Odia. We are also proud that you are one from among us, an Adivasi who is the Constitutional head of this country.  Being a woman also, you will understand more easily the predicament of people like us.

In February 2023, the government granted a lease to Vedanta to carry out bauxite mining in our hills. Despite there being constitutional guarantee to seek our consent, our opinion was not sought nor our consent taken. No administrative authority conducted any Gram sabha or Palli sabha. Instead, the personnel of a contract company of Vedanta by the name of Mythri  began making rounds of our villages. They tried coaxing and persuading people to let go of their villages, their land and their hills. As a result, unrest grew in our villages. The local administration and the police did not pay any heed to our written appeals. Instead, the company officials, in August 2023, attempted to enter the hills with their equipment and accompanied by the local police. We, the inhabitants of the hills, especially women, opposed their entry into the area through peaceful means. We demanded that right at the beginning people’s consent needs to be sought through Gram sabhas as mandated by the laws of the country. The district administration and police did not listen to this even. In response, they conducted midnight raids and picked up people at random and put 24 of our people in jail for over three months.

Is it not most unjust that without our consent and without abiding by the laws of the land, our lands, hills, rivers and streams have been sold off to the company? Does it become a crime to protest against this injustice? We believe that our ancestors Birsa Munda, Laxman Naik and Rendo Majhi would have protested this injustice, if they were amongst us today. We also believe that being an Adivasi, you will be able to understand our thoughts and feelings.

While our people were in jail, two public hearings took place, on 16and 18 October, 2023, for the environmental clearance for Vedanta. We still participated and expressed our views there. What the government views as only a bauxite mountain, for us it is our forests and hills, our mother and our life-source. It is the abode of our ancestors. It is also the abode of our deities, and place of our worship. There are rituals and festivals throughout the year. There also live a large variety of living creatures and trees and plants that we worship and regard as an inherent part of the community. They are all tied inextricably to our cultural and spiritual lives and heritage.

We grow a wide variety of crops here like suan, mandia, kangu, kosala and so on. From the forests we get kandha, karudi, chatu, wood, leaves, saag and many daily necessities of life. Since generations we have lived protecting the hills and forests. Our ancestors have lived here even before any government came into existence. They protected these hills and left the hills for us. The hills belong to us.  Government officials are asking us for its proof. Can the fish give any proof to say that it lives in water?

The hills are the source of countless streams. In our culture, it is not merely a common noun. Each stream has a name to it. Just as a mother nurtures children with breast milk, we cultivators live on the water from these streams that come from the hills. And more significantly, these streams join and merge into rivers. These rivers take many twists and turns to empty into the sea, which is our coastal Odisha. The silt that they carry with them from the hills and the forests make the plains of coastal Odisha so rich and fertile. The rivers connect the hilly regions to the coastal regions.  If the hills disappear for a few tonnes of bauxite and for a few crores of rupees, these rivers will also die. The entire of Odisha will be destroyed forever, the entire of Odisha will become one vast desert.

Today, the Odisha government is carrying out the Millet Mission and has taken it to a global level. The millet that is bringing fame to Odisha in the global arena ripens on our hills. If the hills go, will there be any millet? If the hills go, will there remain our cultural identity? We will become a rootless people.  As an Adivasi, we hope you can well understand our torment and pain.

We see how the coalfields in Sundargarh and Talcher, iron ore fields in Keonjhar and Jajpur and chromite mining in Sukinda have turned each one of these regions into a breeding ground of diseases and deaths caused by pollution. Mining and industries have not only caused the drying up of streams but are also polluting all large rivers in Odisha through the nonstop discharge of chemical effluents and other toxic waste. Leave alone humans, this water is toxic for cattle and other animals. In our Kashipur block, there is widespread environmental degradation caused by the mining operations and the refinery plant of Aditya Birla. In the absence of employment prospects, youths of the region are migrating to faraway places like Chennai and Kerala in search of a living. We fear the same will happen in Kutrumali, Sijimali and Majhingmali by the entry of Vedanta and Adani. When the entire world is taking steps to prevent the environmental and ecological hazards posed by the climate crisis, our government is forsaking everything for the profits of a handful of companies in the name of development. Needless to say that the consequences of such mining and industrialization are going to be disastrous in the coming days.

Since the last six or seven months, we are experiencing how the laws of the land, constitutional guarantees, and institutions are there to support the companies, and not for ordinary citizens like us. Even political parties of the region have declared their open support for the companies. When we raise our voices for the protection of our land, hills and streams, the custodians of law criminalize us. So, what do we do and where do we go?

We would repeat once again that since we consider you to be one of us and also being the Constitutional head of this country, we share our thoughts with you. We also hope that you will certainly take measures to put an end to this mindless process of mining and deforestation not only for the benefit of our region but for the entire state and the country.

We hope all is well with you.

Yours sincerely,

People of Kutrumali, Sijimali and Majhingmali

Ma Mati Mali Surakhya Mancha (Raygada-Kalahandi)

Signed by over 160 people from 8 villages

(Translated from Odia)

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