Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Niyamgiri Times

A part of Niyamgiri Hill range

For the last 20 days, I've been working in Bissamcuttack, Orissa with Harsha Trust, under the aegis of Sir Ratan Tata Trust. Never mind the details of my job, basically, I go out and talk to villagers to understand their lot... something to do with social development.

This hill in the picture is part of the large Niyamgiri hill that has been in the news. Vedanta wants to mine these hills for its Lanjigarh Aluminum refinery. But, these hills are 'habitated' by the Dongaria Kondha Tribe and are the only source of livelihood for them. In fact, a tribal (kondha - a close cousin of the Dongaria Kondha) told me that Niyamgiri was the biggest hill range [in the world?, in India? - not very clear].

Admittedly, I am much more confused about 'development' than I was before starting work.
  • Is it really 'development' to keep the tribes away from the mainstream?
  • Isn't industrialization going to bring in the money to help the poor?
  • Is it fair for us to take away the only source of livelihood of a people living in their natural habitat. Imagine, if you had worked only in IT industry and one day someone said - 'boom!, no more IT coz I'm taking away all the resources for that' - that would shatter our world. Taking Niyamgiri away is something similar for them.
  • And, how come the land that a tribal has been living on, and living off since generations, suddenly belong to a company OR the government because someone happens to find something worthwhile under it, like minerals?
  • But, isn't industry going to generate employment, for a very poor and unemployed state like Orissa? Wouldn't it benefit a larger number of poor - who may not be living on this hill range, but do look up to industry and government for a source of livelihood?
  • Had man always thought of preserving the natural habitats, wouldn't we still be living in jungles?
  • In fact, isn't it unfair to the tribals that we want to live a comfortable modern life, but leave them to their lot, and for how long?
  • So, is it the Dongaria Kondha who want to not come down Niyamgiri OR is it the NGOs and 'well-wishers' who want to sign online petitions sitting in AC offices, while a tribal goes and looks for firewood for his chulha?
  • Well, I guess everyone should be able to decide for themselves (isn't having options, what development is all about?). But then, how does a tribal know what the mainstream holds for him? How does someone who has never had a gulab-jamun (or hamburger - for the urbanites) know if he wants to have one?
So, what really is development?

Too many questions... the journey has just begun...

Feb 02, 2010 Bissamcuttack, Orissa. TAS Rural Stint, Harsha Trust

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