Last month in a referendum, Dongaria Kondh tribals rejected Vendanta’s project of mining bauxite in Niyamgiri hills. Dongaria Kondhs got support from anthropologists like Dr.Felix Padel, naxals and human rights groups.
While these groups declared this as victory of innocent and simple tribals over bad industrialists, Kondhs logic is simple, Niyamgiri hills is very reason for their existence- it provides them with water, food, medicine etc.
Infact these hills make them distinct from other Khonds- Dongar means hills, hence Dongaria Kondh. Mining of Niyamgiri hills will threaten their very livelihood and destroy abode of their god – Niyam Raja.
But is this the correct picture?
While allowing mining in Niyamgiri hills may destroy the delicate ecosystem and pollute the area, industrialists claim that once mining is over, trees can be planted again on mined land, besides the tribals will benefit in terms of concrete houses, roads, schools, hospitals, jobs in plant etc. Educated Kondhs can aspire to become engineers, doctors, bureaucrats etc. which in turn will benefit the community as a whole.
India, in order to support its huge population needs to create 15 million new jobs each year. Not all jobs will be in service sector, some jobs have to come from manufacturing and mining sector. Giving such veto powers to tribals will make it difficult to set up plants in mineral rich states of Orissa and Jharkhand.
Tribals have their own logic. They don’t trust government and industrialists, most fear that after mining, industrialists will leave behind dry streams and barren land .They don’t like the idea of working as daily wage worker, for them forest is source of their livelihood. They want to be left alone and decide their fate.
For Kondas there are two prime gods- Dharani Penu (Earth Goddess) and Niyam Penu ( Niyamgiri hills). So much is their attachment to earth that earlier they used to offer human sacrifice to please Dharani Penu. When British tried to stop practice of human sacrifice, the Kondhs rose in rebellion against British under their leader Rindo Majhi. Rindo Majhi was killed and rebellion was supressed, practice of human sacrifice was given up, instead they started sacrificing buffalo as substitute for human.
Famous anthropologist Verrier Elwin advised then prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru to follow policy of isolationism towards tribals i.e leave tribals alone, and make no efforts to bring them in mainstream.
While future of tribals should be decided by tribals themselves, they should rethink on isolationism and take national level view of progress.