Vedanta – India’s shame

I read today with disappointment and resignation that Vedanta Industries have won their fight on appeal to establish a bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills in India.

I wrote a piece for the Indian magazine Tehelka about this story in 2007 and it can be seen here.

Vedanta Resources, a UK-registered ftse -100 company has fought a long campaign to establish the mine and despite judicial review it seems now that nothing can stop it.

The story typifies the very real problem of India’s industrial development. The Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa are sacred to the Dongria Kondhs, a protected tribal group of ‘original’ Aboriginal peoples. Allegedly, the British geologist who “discovered” these rich deposits nearly a century ago dubbed them “Khondalite” in tribute to the people who guided him there. It seems that this simple act of hospitality will mean the end of another of India’s pre-Aryan traditional cultures. The holy mountain will be raped for its ore and the people who haven’t already fled the company’s previously illegal building programme will be scattered. Those who stay will doubtless be housed in the stalag-like accommodation blocks I saw laying empty and crumbling in Lanjigarh. They will have to sell their land at government determined prices and then work as contract labourers. What has happened to countless other ‘primitive’ and powerless peoples all over India will happen to them. Displaced from their traditional homelands, sacred to their animist beliefs, women and girls often end up working as daily wagers, domestic helps or prostitutes. The women will also have to cope with alcoholism and domestic violence.

The author and social activist Arundhati Roy has described India’s unfettered race to Market Capitalism as nothing less than India ‘eating its own people’ and in this macabre metaphor one can see the reflections of the Enclosures and urbanisation of the rural communities of England in the nineteenth century.

Engels in his ‘Conditions of the Working Classes’ wrote about the squalor and appalling inhumanity of the Northern mill towns but these could be anywhere in the newly ‘industrialised zones’ of rural India.

I am no romantic when it come to India. I don’t share a Raj view of the colonial apologists (despite inevitably by dint of being British having reaped the indirect rewards of the subjugation of that country). I don’t yearn for quaint, underdeveloped communities full of poverty and colour. I want to see India progress. But I know the stink of international corporate power when I smell it.

India had no colonies from which to steal resources so it’s stealing them from its own weak and vulnerable. The profits of this mine will not be spread evenly to benefit the Indian economy – it will be hoarded in the off-shore bank accounts of those corrupt politicians and corporate executives who already think that India is theirs by right.

A new Middle Class India has been brought up to believe that a successful society means a consumerist society. Greed and nationalism go hand in hand: it is not the poor of India calling for war with their brothers and sisters in Pakistan.

Traditionally, Indians have protested injustice in a dignified Ghandian way with hunger strikes and marches. While the Western media and much of India has been marvelling at ‘Shining India’ it has failed to notice that a good deal of India is now under Maoist rebel control. In Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand the Indian state is fighting a battle it might not win.

A woman carries a pot of water from a stream in front of the Vedanta plant, Lanjigarh, Orissa

A tribal woman carries a pot of water from a stream in front of the Vedanta plant, Lanjigarh, Orissa

The Vansadhara river. The river is one of two that flows from Niramgiri mountain. The effect of the Vedanta plant will be to dry up streams that feed the river depriving the Dongria Kondh of fresh water

The Vansadhara river. The river is one of two that flows from Niramgiri mountain. The effect of the Vedanta plant will be to dry up streams that feed the river depriving the Dongria Kondh of fresh water

Widow Kadu Dei and her child, Harni Majhi, 2. Dei's husband was an anti- Vedanta Alumina activist who it is alleged, was killed in a hit and run accident by a car used by Vedanta employees. Dei is now forced to rely on the charity of her neighbours to survive. Kansari village, Orissa

Widow Kadu Dei and her child, Harni Majhi, 2..Dei's husband was an anti Vedanta Alumina activist who it is alleged, was killed in a hit and run accident by a car used by Vedanta employees. Dei is now forced to rely on the charity of her neighbours to survive. Kansari village, Orissa

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5 Responses to “Vedanta – India’s shame”

  1. Rajat Says:

    Orissa is in a bad shape, the people might benefit from the mining ops, they could have mined it themselves, but then they were not entrepreneur enough, so now they have to work as labors … being lazy, someone else will swoop in … tough but true…

  2. tapan patnaik Says:

    I am impressed with the comments. As you rightly said
    “India had no colonies from which to steal resources so it’s stealing them from its own weak and vulnerable. The profits of this mine will not be spread evenly to benefit the Indian economy – it will be hoarded in the off-shore bank accounts of those corrupt politicians and corporate executives who already think that India is theirs by right.”
    The problem with the so called middle class ( I am also a part of that) is its could not careless attitude.
    I have spent my childhood in a place called KEONJHARGARH it used to be a beautiful place full of natural beauty and wild life. Now it is a hub of illegal iron ore mines and ruined forests.
    I believe we are doomed. The problem with people like me that we are too scared about our families and furure of our children so we too join these transnational corporation and get some leftover crumbs for ourselves.
    Now they have started using a new term ” called ” sustainable development” and God only knows what it means and how it is being effected.
    Thanks for your blogs at least that will not allow many people sleep confortably at the end of the day.

  3. Umbra Sumus» Blog Archive » A length of rope Says:

    […] us to shame in actually how much we have and how little we value it. Now, as I’ve said in a previous post about India, I’m not a romantic about the Developing World: far from it. There’s nothing lovely […]

  4. Ivan Moreno Says:

    It is so embarassing for the human race to witness the way some people behave/comment and as vedanta and others criminally “work”. There is no revolt in our hearts because nothing really great is expected from vedanta and companies like them. There is the natural feeling of immense shame though.

  5. Umbra Sumus» Blog Archive » The women and the mountain Says:

    […] wrote about this back in May 2009 (India – Vedanta’s shame) and also for Tehelka in late 2007 (Knocked Out by […]