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Open letter to President of India – Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti of Dongria Kondh adivasis are not linked to Maoists

Dear Shri Pranab Mukherjee,

We are writing to express our concern and anguish at the recently released Annual Report 2016-17 of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which has linked the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS) with ‘Maoist’ organizations. The report states that Maoists ‘guide’ the activities of the NSS.

The Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti is a collective of the Dongria Kondh adivasi people and other local communities who have been organizing themselves for more than a decade against bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills (Odisha), which is their only home. The continued targeting of the Dongria Kondh community (with a population of less than ten thousand people) in reports like these, and in continued state actions on the ground, raises serious doubts: is this being purposely done to break their continued resolve to oppose the mining of the Niyamgiri hills?

The resistance of the Dongria Kondh to the mining proposal is based on several grounds: Niyamgiri is their traditional and ancestral home, it is a sacred landscape, it is the source of their livelihood and culture, they have special rights guaranteed in the Constitution, and they have full rights to it under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and the Forest Rights Act, both laws passed by the Indian Parliament. In fact under the Forest Rights Act, the community has the right and is empowered to protect their habitat, and natural ecosystems in it, which is precisely what they are doing in resisting the mining. All this was recognized by the NC Saxena Committee set up by the Government of India in 2010, which strongly recommended against mining in the hills.1 Subsequently the Supreme Court too recognized these aspects.

However, since the Supreme Court ordered that the Dongria Kondh need to be consulted about mining in the region in April 2013, and the subsequent unanimous rejection by the Dongria Kondh gram sabhas of the mining proposal, we have observed with great perturbation the repeated attempts by the state government to reintroduce the proposal and to start mining in the region. Recently, the Odisha Mining Corporation filed a petition in the Supreme Court to reopen the mining. The Supreme Court refused to admit the petition.

Apart from these attempts, there has been constant intimidation and violence on the community by security forces. In the last 2-3 years, several Dongria Kondh youth and elders have been arrested, harassed, and killed, and one has committed suicide after repeated harassment and alleged torture by security forces. In none of these cases, have the forces been able to produce evidence linking them to so-called Maoists.

The Ministry of Home Affairs appears to have ignored the overwhelming response of the Dongria Kondh, when Maoist organisations told them to oppose or boycott the gram sabha meetings organised by the state at the behest of the Supreme Court order of April 2013. Hundreds of Dongria Kondh had flocked from village to village to take part in the meetings, openly defying this call.2

The Government should also pay heed to the wisdom of the Supreme Court expressed in the case of Nandini Sundar and Ors vs The State of Chhattisgarh (WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 250 OF 2007), also referred to as the Salwa Judum Judgement. In this it reiterated that the current social order which treats any person speaking for human rights and questioning the current paradigm of the State, as a ‘Maoist’ or a ‘Maoist’ sympathizer, has become a serious problem affecting our nation. It noted that any peaceful dissent or dissatisfaction which is a positive feature of democracy, is often not recognized by the authorities and is met with severe repression.

The MHA appears to be questioning the credibility of the Supreme Court’s orders and observations in the above matters; and additionally of the Indian Parliament by ignoring the Dongria Kondh’s rights under PESA and FRA.

Actions such as what the state is doing in the Niyamgiri hills, and language such as that used in the MHA report, only serve to undermine democracy. Apart from the suffering and injustice that the state’s repressive actions cause, they also push people who are peacefully exercising their freedom of speech to turn to violence, which helps no one.

We therefore urge you to use your responsibility of upholding the Constitution, and in particular the safeguards for adivasis contained in it, noting also that the Dongria Kondh are a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group with special safeguards. We urge you to direct the MHA to retract the statements made about the NSS in its report, to stop the intimidation of the adivasis and attempts to restart the mining, and to allow the Dongria Kondh and other communities of the Niyamgiri hills to live a dignified life of self-determination for their present and future.

We reiterate our support for the struggle of the Dongria Kondh, and of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, in safeguarding their habitat, livelihoods, identity, and dignity.

(Meenal Tatpati / Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh)

[email protected]

on behalf of the undersigned organisations and individuals

Copy to:

Prime Minister’s Office

Ministry of Tribal Affairs

Ministry of Home Affairs

Governor of Odisha

CM of Odisha

Commissioner of STs

Endorsing organisations

Samir Mehta, River Basin Friends, and International Rivers South Asia, Mumbai

Tultul Biswas, Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch, Bhopal

Sudha Bharadwaj, General Secretary, Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)

Binayak Sen and Kavita Srivastava, PUCL

Nitin Rai, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore

Ananya Mehta, Karnataka Alliance for Safe Food, and Buffalo Back Collective

Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune

Viren Lobo, Convenor, Community Control of Natural Resources and Indian Community

Activists Network

Sangram Mallik, Ambedkar Lohia Bichar Manch, Bhubaneswar

Seema Kulkarni, Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM) and Society for Promoting

Participatory Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune

Joy K J, SOPPECOM, Pune

Soma KP and Rukmini Rao, MAKAAM

Teesta Setalvad, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai

Bittu Karthik, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression

Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), Odisha

Aakar Patel, Amnesty International, India

Ananthoo, Safe Food Alliance, Tamil Nadu

Gopi Deva, Organic Farmers Market, Chennai

Balaji Sankar, Tharcharbu Iyakkam, Sirkali

Radhika Rammohan, reStore, Chennai

Pamayan, Thalanmai Uzhavar Iyakkam

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM)

Suhas Kolhekar, Suniti SR, and Prasad Bagwe, NAPM Maharashtra

Meera Sanghamitra, NAPM Telangana and Andhra Pradesh

Sudhir Vombatkere, Senior Activist, NAPM, Karnataka

Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, and Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and

National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)

Anjali Bharadwaj, NCPRI

Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Odisha

Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party, Uttar Pradesh

Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, Tamil Nadu

Arul Doss, NAPM Tamil Nadu

Arundhati Dhuru, Nandlal Master, and Manesh Gupta, NAPM Uttar Pradesh

Richa Singh, Sangathit Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, Uttar Pradesh

Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan, and Prof. Kusumam, NAPM Kerala

Vimal Bhai, Matu Jan Sangathan, Uttarakhand

Jabar Singh, NAPM Uttarakhand

Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union, Karnataka

Rukmini V.P., Garment Labour Union, Karnataka

Anand Mazgaonkar and Krishnakant, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat

 Ashish Ranjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, Bihar

Mahendra Yadav, Kosi Navnirman Manch, Bihar

Sister Dorothy, NAPM Bihar

Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astivtva Raksha Samiti, Jharkhand

Dr. Sunilam and Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Madhya Pradesh

Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan Sangharsh Vahini, Delhi

Rajendra Ravi, Nanu Prasad, Madhuresh Kumar, Amit Kumar, Himnshi Singh, Uma Kapari, Zaved Mazumder, NAPM Delhi

Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar and J S Walia, NAPM Haryana

Kailash Meena, NAPM Rajasthan;

Samar Bagchi, Amitava Mitra, and Avik Saha, NAPM West Bengal

P. Chennaiah, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruttidarulua Union (APVVU), Andhra Pradesh

Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI, Andhra Pradesh

Gautam Bandopadhyay, NAPM, Chhattisgarh

Kaladas Dahariya, Relaa Collective, Chhattisgarh

Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai

K. Sajaja, Freelance journalist and documentary film maker, Caring Citizens Collective,

Hyderabad

Prabhat Kumar Sinha, Convenor, All India Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti

Prahlad Singh Shekhawat, Director, Alternative Development and Research Centre, Jaipur

Rajesh Yedida, Jeevan Kumar, and Jayasree Kakumani, Human Rights Forum, Telangana and

Andhra Pradesh

Vissa Kiran Kumar and Ajay Kumar, Rythu Swarajya Vedika, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh

V. Rukmini Rao, Executive Director, Gramya Resource Centre for Women

Shivani Chaudhry, Housing and Land Rights Network, Delhi

Babloo Loitongbam, Human Rights Alert, Manipur

Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group, Bangalore

P. Shankar, Dalit Bahujana Front, Telangana

Chakri, Samalochana

Adv. MA Shakeel, Centre for Study of Constitution and Society, Hyderabad, Telangana.

S.Q. Masood, Centre for Peace Studies, Hyderabad, Telangana.

V.A. Ramesh Nathan, General Secretary, National Dalit Movement For Justice-

NDMJ (NCDHR), New Delhi

Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch, All India Network of Individuals and NGOs working with

National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI), and Human Rights

Defenders’ Alert – India (HRDA)

Indira Jaisingh, Lawyers Collective

Meenal Tatpati and Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh

K. Ramnarayan, Himal Prakriti, Munsiari

Malika Virdi, Maati Sangathan, Munsiari

Priya Pillai, Mahan Sangarsh Samiti , Singrauli , Madhya Pradesh

Endorsing individuals

N P Chekkutty, Chief Editor, Thejas Daily, Calicut

Rajinder Chaudhary, Former Professor, Department of Economics, M.D. University, Rohtak, Haryana

Dr. G. Vijay, Assistant Professor School of Economics, Adjunct Faculty Centre for Human Rights and Secretary, Centre for Social Concerns, University of Hyderabad

S. Durga Bhavani, Associate Professor, School of Computer and Information Sciences University of Hyderabad

Sujit Sinha, Faculty, Azim Premji University, Bangalore

Manasi Karthik, SOAS, University of London

Sanjana Kumari, MPhil Research Scholar, Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD)

Chitra Ravi, Azim Premji University, Bangalore

Rakesh Ranjan, University of Delhi

Felix Padel, Anthropologist, Activist

Miloon Kothari, former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Housing Rights, Delhi

Rahul Maganti, Independent Journalist, Vijayawada

Gutta Rohit, Human Rights Activist

Vimala Morthala, Independent Writer, Activist, Hyderabad

Usha Seethalaksmi, Independent Researcher

Adv. Ravi, High Court of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh

Shobha, Theatre Artist and Human Rights Activist, Bangalore

Aruna Chandrasekhar, Researcher and Independent journalist

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Feminist and Human Rights Activist, Mumbai

Divya Narain, Independent Researcher

Admiral L. Ramdas (Retd.), Former Chief of Naval Staff, Alibag , Maharashtra

Lalita Ramdas, Social Activist, Hyderabad, India

Tara Murali, Architect

Deba Ranjan, Filmmaker

Surya Dash, Filmmaker, Bhubaneshwar

Asad R. Rahmani, Conservationist, Mumbai

Mona Mishra, Social activist, Delhi

Ashim Choudhury, Communications Consultant

Usha Rai, Senior journalist, New Delhi

Achin Vanaik, Delhi

Aravinda Potluri, Hyderabad

Nikita Gandhi, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu

Anupama Potluri, Hyderabad

Harini Nagendra, Bangalore

K.S. Manjunath, Bangalore

Ravishankar B.T., Bangalore

Prasenjit Dasgupta, Ghaziabad (Delhi NCR)

Abhilash C.A, Chikkabalapur

Adnan Khan, Bangalore

Sunita Rao, Sirsi

Ratheesh Pisharody, Bangalore

Sharada Ganesh, Bangalore

Priti Rao, Bangalore

Ranu Garg, Bangalore

Arvind Kumar, Kanpur

Ajaya Kumar Singh, Bhubaneswar

Sandeep Kumar Pattnaik, Bhubaneshwar

E. Theophilus, Munsiari

Chhaya Datar

Samhita Barooah

Arundathi Vishwanath

Uma Shankari Narendranath

Swagato Sarkar

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Comment (1)

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    The adivasi organisation is fighting for the land rights guaranteed in the constitution. They are protesting mining activities which are harmful to the lives

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