India is like a blanket, one woven with threads of various cultures, languages and people. That is the allure of India. A heterogeneity that is unified; an amalgamation of the modern with the quondam; the co-existence of high rise buildings that mark the skyline and the Banyan Trees with roots that penetrate into the depths of the earth. India is also home to one of the largest populations of tribal people, approximately 8.6% according to the 2011 census. Tribal people in India are called Adivasi. It is an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ethnic and tribal groups considered the aboriginal population of India.
“A study from Bastar, Madhya Pradesh shows that tribal women migrate on large proportion in search of jobs. They use migration as a survival strategy to escape out of abject poverty. Thousands of tribal women and young girls migrate from their hinterlands in the tribal areas to urban centers mainly in search of employment. They are new to the city life style and environment and find it difficult to make adjustment with the changed situation and environment. They have to face a number of problems in the cities after the migration. Moreover, the non-tribal in the cities exploits them both financially and sexually. A large majority of migrant tribal women are in the age group of 24 to 47 years and the tribal girls in the age group of 16 to 23 years. They face problems like difficulty of communication in local language, getting accommodation and employment, education of children, local contacts, and adjustment with city life and environment etc. Circular and seasonal migration in India is particularly high among the poor, scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs)”
The Dongria Kondh are a Scheduled Tribe, residing in the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha, India. They see no allure in capitalism, but venerate the land that feeds them. Orissa is the poorest state in India, with 87% of the Scheduled Tribe living below the poverty line. However, Niyamgiri is rich with flaura and fauna: from fertile soils and flowing rivers to dense forests and varied wildlife. The Dongria Kondh sustain themselves from this land, and revere it for all that it gives them. They worship their god Niyam Raja, who they believe provides them with these resources, and live in harmony with their surroundings.
However, for over the past 10 years former FTSE 100 company Vedanta threatened to displace the Dongria Kondh and destroy the untouched hills of Niyamgiri land in order to extract Bauxite from under them. Vedanta saw lucrative benefits in building a mine, but refused to acknowledge that they would be violating not just the land but the people whom rightfully belonged there. Deleterious effects on the environment, the people and the heritage of the tribal community would ensue.
Survival is a UK based NGO, and they decided to be a voice for the voiceless. To allow, for the first time an indigenous community in India to keep the land that rightfully belonged to them, and thus began their "David and Goliath" fight. Survival’s vision is: A world where tribal peoples are respected as contemporary societies and their human rights protected. While it is Survival’s mission is to help tribal people, their capacity at the time was limited, so they could only take on a certain number of cases at a given time. Survival had been aware of the case of Dongria Kondh for a while, and had found out about them through anthropologist Dr.Felix Padel.
Dr.Felix Padel had been involved with the Dongria for some years, and had a long history with Survival. He asked Survival to help in the resistance against the mine. They would have liked to have gotten involved sooner, but could only do so once they had reached capacity.
Before long, Survival took the case on, and were determined to see how they could support the Dongria. It was incredibly clear how strongly the Dongria wanted to defend their land from this mine, and how united they were in that. Because Vedanta is nominally a UK based company it was easier for Survival to take certain action to draw attention to Vedanta's involvement. Their campaign helped to help amplify the Dongrias’ voice- which is what they believe at Survival of making sure: that tribal people defending their land are heard.
Survival faced many obstacles in their fight for the Dongria. Since the Dongria speak a rare dialect, language posed to be a huge problem. Most of their communication (between Survival and the Dongria) had to be dependent upon Oriya translators. There was also a looming threat and intimidation that Survival faced from Vedanta's goons as well as from the police. Furthermore, the venal Indian bureaucracy made any advances difficult.
Survival also faced another major problem right from the start. How could they make a situation regarding a tribal community- no one had heard of, in a corner of India- no one knew of, taking a stand against a major Mining company- people were unaware of? How were they going to make people care?
Survival was successful in doing this by making the issue at hand became an internationally relevant story. Vedanta was a British mining company, which had rules and regulations it ought to be complying with; the rights of tribal people it ought to be respecting. Survival was soon backed by enormous media support in India and internationally. The Dongria were holding marches, forming road blocks and forming human chains. Survival successfully drew attention to their tactics.
Survival triumphant in showing the Dongria's determination to the world. One of the main reasons Survival attributes to why the campaign was a success was the determination of the Dongria, who where just were not going to allow their mountain to be taken away from them. The pride they have in themselves and land couldn't be taken away.
Survival's work with the Dongria exemplifies the indomitable human spirit, that is unified regardless of class, creed or gender when fighting for what is right. Survival is a UK based organization, with little or no experience in the Indian sub-continent prior to this; with no interactions with Indian people, particularly tribal men and women. Yet, they helped the Dongria's like they were their own, to help them secure rights they never would have otherwise.
In conclusion, understanding the issues faced by tribal men and women is not simply acknowledging them as a people who need our sympathy. It is naïve to think that being given the status of “Scheduled Tribe” by the Indian government offers much protection to them- if any at all- as seen by the Dongria Kondh’s fight against Vedanta. The idea of ST in India is like a rope: at first it seems to be one thing, one entity, until you start teasing the ends, and then it begins to fray. And perhaps this is its most challenging aspect: there’s no one problem, which means there’s no one solution. Factors combine and connect: forces intersect and amplify, and it is these very people who are most affected, yet their troubles and complaints go unheard. Today, more than ever before there is a need for extensive discourse on tribal affairs to stop the exploitation of a people, that are weakened by systemic factors arrayed against them. In his book: Environmental communication and the public sphere, Robert Cox highlights the myriad of channels and conduits through which “Diverse Voices” relay specific needs and challenges in real-time, to the authorities who make decisions. According to him this “landscape of communication” is as varied and multifarious as the ecology of the Galapagos or the Amazon. According to Cox, human communication is in itself a form of symbolic action, and this is rightly so. The spectrum ranges from ordinary citizens to environmental groups to corporations. It is this very discourse that ultimately shapes our beliefs, ethics and actions. However, advocacy must be translated into action. Survival has been successful in achieving just this, and helping the Dongria claim what is rightfully theirs. But the fight is not over. Even today the Dongria continue to be harassed by officials. We cannot stagnate, and cling to victories of the past: because the future is now, and we are accountable.
As experts in tribal peoples’ rights Survival fights optimistically to have the rights of the tribal men and women protected. They are radical, visionary and trustworthy.They reject national government money as they believe governments are the main violators of tribal peoples’ rights. Further, they refuse to accept funds from corporations. Integrity is their priority.
The campaign coordinator of Survival Dr. Jo Woodman saw their role as two things.
1) Getting the Dongrias’ voice heard
2) Doing what they could to expose actions of the company that was disrespecting the rights of the Dongria, and help the Dongria in their mission to stop the mine.