On 2nd September indigenous Dongria Kondh and Dalit Bahujan residents of Niyamgiri mountain held a demonstration in Muniguda, Odisha, under the banner of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti. The protest demanded an end to harassment, false arrests and murder of indigenous activists by police and paramilitary forces, and rejected the involvement of NGO’s in their decades long movement to prevent Vedanta and other companies mining their sacred mountain.
The demonstration is part of ongoing anger at the false arrest of Dasuru Kadraka, the thirty year old Dongria Kondh youth leader of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS), who was picked up from the Muniguda market by the police six months ago, and subsequently brutally tortured and implicated in several false cases.
Five demands were issued to the media and local administration at the demonstration:
- Stop arresting innocent people in the name of Maoist repression.
- Release Dasuru Kadraka and Baka Majhi from false arrest.
- Stop anti-people combing operations in Niyamgiri region.
- Rehabilitate all the families of those killed in false encounters.
- Gudumaha of Kandhamal district, Nisanguda and Dangamati of Kalahandi and Niyamgiri region – the police officers involved in false encounter killings in these areas should be brought to justice.
One prominent banner stated: ‘Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti demands that all foreign and local NGOs in the area duping us should Go Back!’, while another handmade placard tied to a bicycle read proudly: ‘We rejected NGOs‘. Another read: ‘CRPF camps around Niyamgiri should be stopped. Stop road construction to Niyamgiri’.
“NGOs of all kinds and hues and sizes are cashing in on the popularity of the Adivasi Dalit movement against Vedanta by Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti but are never to be seen during the times of need.”
Three weeks later more than 100 Dongria Kondh torched a temporary camp of the para-military forces at Parsali in Kalyansinghpur block in Odisha’s Rayagada district, protesting road construction which they believe will be used to allocate mines in the Niyamgiri hills to Vedanta Aluminium Ltd. NSS President Lado Sikaka said:
“Why have they set-up a camp without taking our opinion? They will set-up camp on their own, they will construct a road on their own and will then threaten our people. This is no government. This is a government run by the companies. The setting-up of the camp here is part of the greater conspiracy.”
However, local Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Patitapaban Choudhury claimed that Maoists had burned the camp using Dongria Kondhs as cover.
The arrest and torture of Dasuru and Baka are just the latest in a long history of harassment by police and CRPF paramilitary forces in Niyamgiri under the guise of anti-Maoist activities, but clearly targeting leaders in the movement against Vedanta’s bauxite mine. In June 2013 in the run up to the precedent referendum which stopped mining on the mountain CRPF forces ransacked village houses and shot at bathing women and children telling them not to oppose the mine. This year alone there have been four notable State sponsored murders and several false imprisonments:
- On Nov 15th 2015 Jay Majhi, Jaya Shankar Naik and Sukru Majhi from Nisanguda village (Bhawanipatna Block, Kalahandi) were killed by anti-Maoist combat force Special Operation Group (SOG).
- In late November Drika Kadraka, an Adivasi (tribal) activist from Ambadhuni village (Rayagada district) was picked up and beaten by the anti Maoist squad. He committed suicide when he returned.
- On 27th February Dongria Kondh youth Manda Kadraka (20) was killed by police in a fake encounter leading to protests and uproar.
- On 7th April Dasuru Kadraka, the 25-year-old Adivasi youth leader and activist of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Council) was arrested from Muniguda market claiming that he was in hiding from police over Maoist activities.
- On 10th May Adivasi movement leader Baka Majhi was taken away by police and has not returned.
Fact finding teams led by former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Justice B G Kolse Patil, as well as the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) found state collusion between the police and Vedanta.
Subash Kulesika spoke at the demonstration addressing the police directly:
“By killing us you are increasing your stars (on your fatigues, ie promotion). We will not allow this to happen. Is this the rule of your district? Is the manner in which you administrate? You are flashing our Niyamgiri in your news and taking credit. You police arseholes, you think you are so smart. You come to the market, you cowards, and arrest us.”
Foil Vedanta members who attended the demonstration were able to share videos of the protest at Vedanta’s London AGM this year directly with Dongria activists. The picture shows women from Lakpadar and Gorta villages watching the video.