Submerging history, culture and identity

Vibi Yhokha | Kohima, March 25

A visit to Chadong village, a Naga village under Ukhrul district in Manipur will give you a rare view of uncertainty and apprehension living under the shadow of a dam construction. The village carries a deserted look. There are no children playing around, no old people sunbathing outside and most houses are in a dilapidated condition. The Church too appears empty on a Sunday.

Chadong village is one among the 11 villages that will soon be submerged under the Mapithel Dam construction of the Thoubal Multi Purpose Project. On January 10 this year, the Thoubal river was blocked, leading the water levels to rise and submerging 10 hectares of land including paddy fields. By monsoon, most of the paddy fields will submerge.

Standing 66 metres high and 1074 metres long, the dam was approved by the Planning Commission in 1980. Ansal Properties and Industries Limited, New Delhi and Progressive Construction Limited Hyderabad are taking on the construction works. The project is set to produce 7.5 megawatt of electricity while providing 10 million gallons of water to Imphal, daily. However the project will displace over 12,000 people, submerge around 11 villages and 777.34 hectares of paddy fields, 110.75 hectares of homestead, 293. 53 hectares of jhum land and 595.1 hectares of forest land.

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Faced with this scenario, some men gathered in the community hall to talk about their struggle. Each face carried a gaunt look. That look is of fatigue – fatigue from protesting for almost twenty five years against the dam construction. They seem to have lost count of the protests and rallies held. In 2015 itself, four protests were held. One of them mentioned that this fatigue under the shadow of the dam has dissuaded them from building toilets for years. Their struggle is one of the longest against construction of dams in India. (See – Narmada,

Despite the area being a Seismic zone 5 (the highest risk zones), no Environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted, nor Social Impact Assessment (SIA) carried out, an assessment that is most crucial in any developmental projects that will determine the resettlement, rehabilitation and relocation of the inhabitants. The villagers were never given any Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

After much protest and talks, the Manipur government agreed to provide compensation, however only a few were compensated, that too in seven installments from 1996 to 2003. Demands were also made to the authorities to do a holistic review of the project.

The government never listened, says Thamni Kashung, a resident of Chadong and Advisor for the Mapithel Dam Affected Villages Organisation (MDAVO). “For us, we will continue to protest until our genuine demands are met,” asserts Thanmi. One of their demands being resettlement and relocation of the whole community together, so that the relationships are kept intact and their culture preserved. However no assurances were given.

(Someone asks about the year of establishment of the village over which Honreikhui Kashung replies, “There is no historical record, because we have been settling here since time immemorial.” Chadong village has been there since time immemorial that the villagers know the name of each plant and insect in their land. As is the case for many areas in the region, records of the village only appear with the arrival of Christianity in 1935.)

Our voice and struggle has become so powerless, says Honreikhui Kashung as he cites how the government continues to use different tactics to suppress their movements, to the extent of using outfits to threaten the activists.

As one passes through the dam site, 5 military deployments can be seen. Inside Chadong village, the Manipur Rifles and the Manipur Police are posted, with one attached right opposite the village church.

“They promised us a better future, but with the coming of the project we are feeling more insecure and apprehensive,” says Dominic, an advocate. He laments that the community that once rejoiced together in festivals is now finding themselves divided.

In recent years, divisions had already started among the villagers. Some groups formed a separate committee negotiating with the government without the people’s mandate. Fictitious households and names were included in a list demanding compensation. Soon the committee members received the money and fled the village.

“People here are all farmers. To look out for an alternative arrangement is very difficult. But we will still struggle. The thought of our future is very dark,” adds Dominic.

The Thoubal River (also known as Yangwui Kong in the Tangkhul Naga dialect) means the river of strength, because of its strong currents. Community fishing is held every year at the Chadong village, where the community fish and feast together. Chadong village is also known for its soil fertility and its bountiful granaries, where a year’s harvest can last for the next two years. The organic food products of Chadong such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms and wild vegetables are supplied in the markets of Imphal and Yaingangpokpi.

Chadong has a population of 1200 people. The project will displace over 12,000 people. Once the dam is inaugurated and implemented in full swing which is most likely to happen by April, Chadong village will submerge by monsoon. The villagers will relocate to another place. They will soon resort to jhum cultivation in the upper range of the lands which will have adverse impacts on the forest lands.

For the Manipur government, it will just be land that has been submerged. For people in villages like Chadong, it is not just a piece of land that will be submerged, but a community’s home, history, culture, identity, and livelihood. What took decades and centuries to build will be submerged within a few months of time.


This article by Vibi Yhokha has already been published in The Morung Express on March 25, 2015. She is a journalist who shares with us stories from the north eastern region of India.

To live as an exile, and be back home

via The Morung Express, by Vibi Yhokha, Kohima, 12 December 2014

“I still don’t know how to express the feeling of coming home. I feel like my old self again,”

says Luingam Luithui, sharing on living as an exile and coming back to his ancestral land. Luingam, who is currently in Ukhrul on a tourist visa issued as a result of legal proceedings in the High Court of Delhi, is home after almost 20 years in exile. On November 29, the day he arrived in Ukhrul, around 3000 people gathered at Tangkhul Naga Long Ground to welcome him.

In 1995, the human rights activist’s passport was impounded by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Since then, Luingam and his wife Peingam, have been living in exile in Canada. In 2003, he was allowed to visit his ailing mother for a short period on a special temporary passport issued by the Government of India. The Government of India had accused Luingam of assisting the NSCN (IM). “They know what I do, and what I do cannot be classified as any criminal offence. They are unable to convince each other,” asserts Luingam.

The first human rights violation case that Luingam Luithui clearly remembers was in the 1960s. As a young teenager, he recalls his elder brother leaving for Jessami village as part of a fact finding team to record atrocities committed by the Indian army in the village. He also remembers how his father never expected his older son to ever come home alive. His brother did return but later died in the 1990s due to complications after being tortured by the armed forces.

After completing his Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Anthony’s Shillong, Luingam came home determined to become a farmer. He went to the extent of digging 2000 pits to plant apple trees in his village. At the same time he worked part time as a teacher in Model High School in Ukhrul for almost a year. In the meantime he also served as the President of the Tangkhul Students Union, setting the foundation for him to become a human rights activist. He was locked up in jail four or five times for protesting against the atrocities meted out under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Fearing for his life, Luingam’s mother soon sent him to Delhi. Luingam belonged to the first batch of the School for International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Naga students were ‘very united’ then, he recalls. It was a historic time when strong social movements like Naxalism, and Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for ‘revolution,’ were emerging in India. Many young people his age had died, which he says helped him to think beyond his studies.

Lui, as he is fondly called, was the first person from the North East to become a council member of JNU Students Union (JNUSU) where he served for two terms. He was also a part of Student Federation of India (SFI), involved in providing medical treatment to construction workers who lived under inhuman living conditions in Delhi. He is also one of the founding members of the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), one of the first few movements in India to challenge the Constitution of India. It focused on violations of human rights, peace and cooperation through enforcement of constitutional rights.

By 1978, NPMHR members started working from morning till night, typing affidavits and documenting human rights violations of the Nagas. In December 1978, the group travelled to Nagaland to seek advice from Naga elders. On December 15, a gathering was held in Kohima despite the imposition of 144 CrPC. Elders from villages close by walked all the way to Kohima to support the movement. It was also the first time since the 1951 Plebiscite that Nagas came together and where victims of AFSPA shared their stories. Soon his room in JNU was raided and his documents taken away.

When the Emergency was declared in India, Lui was arrested at dawn and charged as a Naga national worker. A close associate of Sitaram Yechury of the CPI (M), back in JNU, they would stage protests, write slogans and put up posters at night to defend the rights of the citizens of India.

One of the most satisfying victories for Lui was the imposition of rule nisi (When admitting a writ petition for being heard, a court orders rule nisi which means that the respondents are asked to show cause why the petition should not be allowed, i.e. why the rule issued may not be made absolute) by the Supreme Court of India. In 1982, NPMHR filed a letter petition before the Supreme Court against atrocities under AFSPA, which made the Court to direct the Indian armed forces not to use any religious or educational institutions in their operations. This allowed Nagas to truly celebrate Christmas after a very long time. That year, when he went home for Christmas, he remembered his mother telling him, “Your father would have been so proud of you.”

Luingam is one of the founders of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), one of the leading organizations for indigenous peoples in Asia. He is also a founding member of International Alliance of the Indigenous and Tribal People of the Tropical Forests.

If there is one thing he regrets as an activist, it is anger. “I wished we had been less angry and dealt issues in a more dignified manner,” he reflects.

“You could be burned out and be broken, and people couldn’t understand,” says Luingam, as he recalls the first few years living in exile in Canada where he and his wife survived through his wife’s job as a salesperson. His sister Chon Chon and her husband sent money every alternate month, and his brother was forced to sell their ancestral land. It was only in 2011 that he found the courage to start working again. He joined a catering company where he works 12 hours, cleaning more than 38 rooms per day.

All said and done it will be okay, says an optimistic Luingam, whose contribution to the Nagas and to indigenous groups in India cannot be overlooked. And a nation that strips the identity of its own citizen for defending the rights of the rest needs to question itself.

***

Chai Kadai is thrilled to welcome back Vibi Yhokha and her stories from Nagaland. Please read her article ‘My Nagaland,’ written two years back about multiple incomplete stories of a nation(s), and the ownership of homelands. That article comes with an extensive amount of reading material on Nagalim. Here are a few more articles and books available online-

+ Memoirs of a Student Leader by Dr. P.S. Lorin, Principal, from Degree of Thought, a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express.

+ Forbidden Land: The Quest for Nagalim by Frans Welman – the story of three attempts by Frans Welman and his companions to enter Nagaland, the land of more than forty Naga tribes. Although all three efforts ended in failure, the attempts demonstrate how India and the lesser-known Burma, now known as Myanmar, have been succcessful in keeping foreigners out. Neither country wants outsiders to observe the raging war that started shortly after independence from colonial Britain. The Naga’s, who time and time again have made it known to both former colonizer Britain and newly emerging India that they wanted to be left alone, were invaded by India in 1954. Now 50 years later, the war is still on, although for the second time in its history peace talks are taking place. This war, forgotten by the international community, was the challenge for Welman and his companions. Their goal was to check on the rare yet compelling accounts of the land and people that told of beauty and democracy among the Nagas and their tenacity to not give in to a powerful alien master.

+ The Right to Self-Determination and Development of Indigenous Peoples, AIPP – The world is becoming crowded, and there is a scramble for resources in the name of “sustainable development”. Pressure is being put upon indigenous peoples and on their land and resources that they have inherited from their ancestors and are obliged to pass it on to the next generation for their collective survival. This comic provides a simplified overview of the problems faced by indigenous peoples, their rights and their contributions to sustainable development based on their distinct lifestyles and values.

Celebrating Resistance: An Exhibition to Remember Three Decades of Struggle in Bhopal

Yes, Warren Anderson lived a full life of 92 years, escaping every law suit or call or cry possible. He probably had a wonderful memorial service organized by friends, family and colleagues. He will probably go down in corporate text books as the most resilient force against human rights movements as The Escapist, The Illusionist…

We can’t forget him. But, why does any struggle that questions economic growth, foreign investment, environmental degradation, or human right violations need to be part of our memory? Can’t we forget it as just another disaster? The thing is, these issues are not just happening in Bhopal, Cuddalore, Idinthakarai, or any one place. It is not a localized thing…

So The Remember Bhopal Trust inspired by the three decades of struggle by the Bhopal survivors, want to travel around the country, collect stories from similar struggles and weave it all in to a permanent museum in Bhopal.

As a start, from this Sunday, 9th of November 2014 to next Saturday the 15th of November 2014, in Chennai, the Trust has organized an exhibition of the lived memories of the disaster and the struggle that has followed.

Check out the event on Facebook. Join, invite, and go. Read and learn about the struggle at Bhopal.net

Update: Nemmeli Desal Plant Dumping Effluents on Beach – Fact Finding Team

18 September 2013. Reposted from sipcotcuddalore.com

A fact-finding team that looked into allegations of police excesses against fisherfolk who were voicing concerns about the Nemmeli desalination plant has found Metrowater to be in violation of environmental norms, and the Kanchipuram police to have acted in a malafide manner in dealing with the issues raised by the fisherfolk. The team comprising former I.A.S officer Louis Menezes, President of PUCL-TN & Pondy Prof. Saraswathy, High Court advocate P. Sundararajan, and writer activist Nityanand Jayaraman was set up by the Chennai Solidarity Group which was acting on complaints by villagers about a midnight raid by the police on 28 August.

The team found that Metrowater’s Nemmeli desalination plant is dumping highly saline RO rejects directly onto the beach instead of disposing it through a pipeline as per its environmental license conditions. At full capacity, the plant will discharge about 2000 litres of polluted effluents per second on the beach. This has altered the profile of the beach, and rendered the drinking water handpumps in the entire village unfit for drinking. “It is ironical that the Nemmeli desalination plant which was set up to convert salt water to freshwater, has ended up converting freshwater to salt water,” the team observed. “The Ministry of Environment & Forests, the State Coastal Zone Management Authority and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board are missing in action,” the team’s report stated. “A blatant and visible violation of the law – i.e. the discharge of saline effluents on the beach – is not only being ignored, but the violators are being offered the protection of the State Police,” the report stated.

The team also found that road-like structures constructed into the sea by Metrowater’s consultant VA Tech WABAG to transport equipment had eroded the beach of Sulerikattukuppam resulting in the collapse of several community halls. This has drastically affected the livelihoods of local fisherfolk. Several people complained that their children were being taunted by teachers because of their inability to pay school fees.

The fact-finding team found Metro Water guilty of crimes under the Indian Penal Code, including fouling public water supplies, negligent handling of a noxious substance, damaging public property, and endangering lives by causing sea erosion. Elected representatives and officials such as the District Collector have failed to effectively intervene to address the legitimate grievances of the affected fisherfolk. Ignoring lawfully articulated demands would prompt people to resort to desperate measures.

Instead of addressing the concerns of the villagers, Metrowater has sought police assistance to shut people up. The Police too have responded in a one-sided manner in accepting and acting with great promptness and viciousness on the complaints by Metro Water. The team also found that the Police have acted in a malafide manner by conducting a door-to-door midnight raid on 28 August, by verbally abusing women, using sexual innuendos, and picking up and detaining innocent people for an entire day. The team said that the “Police have acted illegally and mercilessly in beating and detaining two school students as part of their midnight raid.”

The team has made the following recommendations, among others:

  1. Withdrawal of all FIRs filed against the villagers; stern action against officials who have misbehaved with residents (particularly women and children) of Sulerikattukuppam.
  2. The Ministry of Environment & Forests and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board should institute an enquiry based on this report, and suspend Metrowater’s environmental clearance if it is found to have violaged the conditions of clearance.
  3. Tamil Nadu Government should appoint a committee to assess losses sustained by villagers to their property and livelihoods, and compensate them for it.
  4. Drinking water should be provided immediately, and children’s school fees should be paid by Metrowater.

For more information, contact: Chennai Solidarity Group

Nityanand Jayaraman. No. 92, Thiruvalluvar Nagar 3rd Cross, Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090

Read the Full Report:

Childless, Naturally

from Livemint.com (click to read full article)

English: Urvashi Butalia, publisher, writer an...

Urvashi Butalia runs a publishing house called Zubaan: an imprint of Kali for women.  Childless, Naturally is part of a just published collectionOf Mothers and Others: Stories, Essays, Poems, edited by Jaishree Misra. Urvashi writes,

I’ve set up my own publishing house, publishing books by and about women. I am fiercely passionate about this, it’s what gives me joy, it’s what involves me, I know this is what I want to do all my life. I want somehow to make a dent in the way the world sees women, to be part of that change. Is this madness, this obsession? Why didn’t I feel this way about children? Or am I just deflecting an unfulfilled desire? I’m told motherhood is a woman’s destiny, it’s what completes her. So what’s all this about publishing? But I don’t feel incomplete, or that I have missed my destiny. Is there something wrong with me?

In this essay, she explores how we choose to understand a woman and motherhood as one and the same. She asks, who is a mother? Does motherhood come naturally to a woman? Is it selfish if a woman is unwilling to have children? Can anyone be a mother? Can motherhood be learned? Is motherhood about unconditional love? If so, how or why do children pay back? Can mothers be violent? Is the relationship between a mother and a child always a wonderful one?

Childless, Naturally is very beautifully written. Please send it to anyone you know.

Families are diverse. Courtesy: Gender Anarchy

Families are diverse. Courtesy: Gender Anarchy

Kalpakkam Update: 129 People Jailed for Protesting Against Kalpakkam Reactor

29 March, 2013 — In a bid to intimidate fenceline communities living around the Kalpakkam nuclear reactors, the Tamil Nadu Police has jailed 129 people of the 650 that were detained in wedding halls yesterday. Those detained were protesting to highlight that the nuclear complex in Kalpakkam was all threat and risk to the local community with no benefits either in the form of jobs or electricity.

A peaceful protest involving more than 1000 people was broken up by the police. Nearly 650 people peacefully boarded buses to court arrest. Given the peaceful nature of the protest, and the cooperation extended by the people to the police, those detained would normally have been released by evening. However, the Police invited a magistrate to the wedding hall where 129 people were detained, and filed two separate cases against them — one case naming 27 people (mostly leaders and organisers); and another naming 102 people.

Prominent among those arrested are leaders of the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The  police has slapped the following charges against the villagers:
Section 143 IPC: Punishment for Unlawful Assembly
Section 147 IPC: Punishment for rioting
Section 148 IPC: Rioting, armed with deadly weapons
Section 158 IPC: Whoever is engaged, or hired, or offers or attempts to be hired or engaged, to do or assist in doing any of the acts specified in section 141, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.

or to go armed. or to go armed.– and whoever, being so engaged or hired as aforesaid, goes armed, or engages or offers to go armed, with any deadly weapon or with anything which used as a weapon of offence is likely to cause death, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. 

Section 353 IPC: Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty.– Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any person being a public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant, or with intent to prevent or deter that person from discharging his duty as such public servant, or in consequence of anything done or attempted to be done by such person to the lawful discharge of his duty as such public servant, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

All above sections are to be read with Section 7(1)(A) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1953:

with intent to cause any person to abstain from doing or to do any act which such person has a right to do or to abstain from doing, obstructs or uses violence to or intimidates such person or any member of his family or person in his employ, or loiters at or near a place where such person or member or employed person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, or persistently follows him from place to place, or interferes with any property owned or used by him or deprives him of or hinders him in the use thereof, or. . .

update from Nityanand J.

News coverage of Kalpakkam protests:

458 held for token Kalpakkam protest (The New Indian Express 29 March 2013)

Fishermen lathi-charged at Kalpakkam nuclear plant (Deccan Herald. 26 March 2013)

கல்பாக்கத்தில் அணு உலையை முற்றுகையிட்டு பொதுமக்கள் போராட்டம் (Dinakaran. 25 March 2013)

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Vedanta-Sterlite: Dangerous by Design

(from Kafila.org)

by Nityanand Jayaraman

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory.  Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory. Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

On 23 March, 2013, a toxic gas leak from Vedanta-subsidary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi spread panic and discomfort for several kilometres around the plant. The leak once again highlighted the increased potential for major catastrophes due to an atmosphere of collusion between regulators and polluters. The company, which was shut down for maintenance, resumed operations in the early hours of 23 March. Within hours, people in the nearby areas complained of suffocation and eye and nose irritation. A 35-year old Bihari contract labourer, who was working at Sterlite’s thermal power plant nearly a kilometre away, reportedly succumbed to the effects of the toxic gas. Irate residents rallied to the District Collector’s office demanding permanent closure of the offending factory.

The District Collector suggested that sulphur dioxide may have been the culprit. But anyone who knows the history of this plant would lay the blame not on this gas or that, but squarely on pliant regulators, and perhaps the judiciary.

The 1200 tonne per day (tpd) copper smelter was constructed in two phases – both with dubious legality – with active support of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the chairperson of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC). In September 2004, when SCMC visited Thoothukudi, it found that Sterlite had constructed a 900 tonne per day copper smelter complex without obtaining an Envirnomental Clearance from the MoEF. Neither did the plant have the mandatory Consents to Establish under Air and Water Acts.

Citing poor pollution management, the SCMC recommended that clearance should not be given. It ordered the TNPCB to verify the illegal constructions and take action. Contrary to recommendations, clearance was given a day after of the Committee’s visit to Sterlite. TNPCB inspected and confirmed the illegal constructions, but did nothing more.

On 7 April, 2005, a director at the MoEF wrote to the chairperson of TNPCB urging her to grant a Consent to Operate to Sterlite. “The directions issued by SCMC in this regard has (sic) been discussed with Chairman, SCMC, who has desired that TNPCB may now decide regarding granting consent for expansion to M/s Sterlite Industries India Ltd (SIIL) Tuticorin, Tamilnadu,” she wrote. The Air and Water Acts do not have any provision for legalising units constructed without a valid Consent to Establish. TNPCB obliged and issued a consent on 19 April 2005.

Sterlite went on to expand its capacity to 1200 tpd. To get its licenses, Sterlite exaggerated the extent of land in its possession. In 2007, Sterlite submitted an Environment Impact Assessment report that suggested that it had greened 26 hectares of its 102.5 hectare plant site. It claimed that it had sufficient lands – about 176 ha — in its possession to accommodate the expanded capacity and the resultant pollution (solid waste, air emission and effluents). It promised to plant 43 hectares with pollution-abating trees. Subsequent inspection reports by the TNPCB even state that the company had greened 25 percent of its 176 hectare land holding.

On 28 September 2010, the Madras High Court ordered closure of the copper plant. One key grounds for closure was the industry’s failure to comply with the condition requiring the development of a 25 metre greenbelt around the factory. TNPCB was chided for arbitrarily reducing the greenbelt requirement from 250 metres to 25 metres in response to Sterlite’s lament about high land costs associated with the wider belt.

The Madras High Court had rightly held that the failure to comply with greenbelt requirements was a crippling lapse. Indeed, had a thick belt existed, the effects of the recent gas leak would not have reached the city.
When Sterlite was shut down by the High Court, the factory was running without valid licenses under Air and Water Acts. Two days later, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order and unwittingly authorised the unlicensed operation of a disputed facility.

In May 2011, Sterlite’s non-compliance of greenbelt requirements and its land fraud came to light in a report submitted by NEERI to the Supreme Court. Against a requirement of 176 hectares for the 1200 tonne plant, Sterlite had only 102.5 hectares, the report found. Also, less than 13 hectares – as against 43 hectares – had been greened.

Since October 2010, Sterlite has functioned on leave granted by the Supreme Court. During the apex court’s watch, at least 8 hazardous incidents were recorded where 3 workers were killed, four more injured. Several hundred people in the vicinity of the plant have been gassed.

Under the circumstances, faith in the rule of law is not an easy belief system to sustain.

UPDATE

Thoothukudi Gears up For Major Showdown with Sterlite

27 March, 2013. Thoothukudi – Residents of the coastal Tamilnadu town of Thoothukudi are gearing up for a major showdown with Sterlite on 28 March, less than a week after a massive gas leak injured hundreds of people for kilometres around the company’s controversial copper smelter. Numerous groups, cutting across political lines, will march from the city to Sterlite’s gates demanding its permanent closure. In the 20 years that it has functioned, Sterlite has been blamed for numerous mishaps, deaths and injuries. It has been closed twice by the Madras High Court, including in September 2010 when the High Court shut it down through its final order arguing that the company had violated siting setbacks, pollution norms and licence conditions.Tomorrow’s rally is gathering massive support as the Tamil Nadu Federation of Merchants led by Vellian, and the Esakkimuthu Conch Divers Association have said they will participate in the strike. The call for the strike was originally given by Vaiko, a political leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who said that this was an issue that transcended politics, and that the residents are united in their desire to rid their city of Sterlite’s Bhopal-like factory. Other prominent Thoothukudi-based workers organisations too have committed their support to the strike. The Anna Bus Stand Taxi Drivers Association, and the Anna Bus Stand Auto Drivers Welfare Association with nearly 200 auto drivers as members have said they will boycott work and join the residents demanding closure of Sterlite. Many more organisations and political parties are expected to join.“We are very angry. We have seen numerous such agitations start and then stop. We want an end to this nonsense. Sterlite must be shut down,” said 55 year old M. Shanmugavelu, Presidents of the Auto workers Association.34-year old M. Kishorekumar, who is the president of Taxi Drivers Association clarifies that they are not opposed to industries. “We want good industries to come to Thoothukudi, to Tamil Nadu. But Sterlite is not good for us. It is a dangerous factory. We have to think about our futures too,” he says. “My 11-year old son suffered because of the gas leak. It is now three days since the leak, and he is still complaining of head ache, eye and throat irritation, a bitter taste in his mouth and has no appetite. I have had to take him to hospital for three days. He has to go to school with all this because it is examination time,” Kishorekumar says.

List of Hazardous Incidents at Sterlite Industries between October 2010 and March 2013 during the time the plant has run on leave granted by Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Compiled by Nityanand Jayaraman, based on reports by Sterlite workers

Total: 3 dead; several injured in 8 incidents

Date

Incident

Number Dead/Injured

8.3.2013

Amalan, 30, sustained serious injuries after an electrical fire broke out at Motor Control Room of Phosphoric Acid Plant.

1 injured

18.3.2013

Swaminathan, 50, killed after falling into Phosphoric Acid tank. Due to the poor light conditions, the worker tripped on the scaffolding and fell 15 metres into an open and empty tank.

1 dead

23.3.2013

Massive gas leak, suspected to be Sulphur dioxide or trioxide, causes suffocation and panic around the Sterlite Copper plant. One Sterlite contract worker, Shailesh Mahadev, 35, reportedly succumbed to exposure to the gas.

1 dead; several injured

23.8.2011

One North Indian worker, sourced by labour contractor Lohit, and employed by Mahesh Engineering was injured while working in the Phosphoric Acid Plant. Workers, who said very little information was available about his condition and what actually happened. He is reported to have had 5 stitches.

1 injured

17.8.2011

A white gas (suspected to be Sulphur Dioxide) escaped for about 45 minutes at ground level throwing a scare among Sterlite workers, after a power outage caused a shutdown of the Copper smelter and sulphuric acid plant at around 10 a.m. today (17 August, 2011). The wind was blowing from East to West and carried the smoke away from the highway and the Milavittan village.

13.8.2011

Thangapandi, a 32-year old contract worker, engaged by OEG Ltd to work in Sterlite’s copper smelter factory sustained first degree burns due to an electrical accident. Thangapandi is a resident of Pandarampatti.

1 injured

31.5.2011

Amalanathan, a 28-year old crane maintenance mechanic, was electrocuted and killed in Vedanta-subsidiary Sterlite Copper’s premises today. According to workers, Amalanathan died on the spot at around 11.30 a.m. As of 3.30 p.m., the police had not yet registered a First Information Report. According to a Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) party worker, it was only after the communist unions and MDMK intervened by staging a road blockade did the Police even enter the scene. Amalanathan, who was married barely 3 months ago, is a resident of a locality called 3rd Mile, near Sterlite.

1 dead

3.3.2011

Ratheesh, a young contract employee from Sterlite, sustained 30 to 35 percent burn injuries on chest and hand. He was admitted to Apollo Hospital, Madurai, and underwent treatment until 24.3.2011. Inpatient Number: 205688. Referred by Dr. Vanitha Stephen, Tuticorin.

1 injured

 

Nityanand is a Chennai-based writer and environmental activist.

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Voices of the People vs. POSCO

Dhinkia, Orissa. Photograph by Sanjit Das. 2011.

Dhinkia, Orissa. Photograph by Sanjit Das. 2011.

Brief excerpts from the executive summary of the fact-finding report by a team of three from Alternative Law Forum and Delhi Forum, after a visit to the Dhinkia panchayat, consisting of the three villages of Dhinkia, Govindpur and Paatna, in Odisha, between 22nd December 2012 to 24th December 2012.   

[Read, download, and share the complete fact finding report from here – Captive Democracy: Abuse of criminal system to curb dissent against the POSCO steel plant in Odisha. Feb 2013]

The Government of Orissa and Pohang Steel Company (POSCO), Republic of Korea signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on June 22, 2005 for setting up an Integrated Steel Plant in Orissa, in Jagatsinghpur district, affecting 8 villages of three Gram Panchayats of Kujang Tahsil, i.e. Dhinkia, Gadakujanga and Naogaon. The attempts by the district administration to acquire land have been thwarted by strong local opposition starting early 2006, primarily by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, that spearheads the movement against POSCO. In response to this resistance, the State Government has been using the tactic of the abuse of the criminal system to file numerous false criminal complaints against all persons resisting the project, including members of the PPSS leading to threats of arrest perpetually hanging over them.

The fact-finding report observed that the biased and arbitrary functioning of the police targets the villagers resisting the POSCO steel plant, instead of initiating any criminal action against the goons and other persons perpetrating violence against the villagers. The report outlined the following impacts of police actions –

  • The filing of false cases to curb this fundamental freedom of the people is nothing short of an attack on the democratic process and the values embedded in the Constitution.
  • The filing of cases and warrants against almost 2000 persons has resulted in the targeting of entire villages, who are under constant threat of arrest and have not left the villages in 6-7 years, and whenever they do leave, are constrained to do so surreptitiously. In many cases, entire families have been implicated, resulting in none of them leaving the village for years on end.
  • The inability to leave the village has resulted in a complete lack of access to medicines or any medical treatment to the villagers. A team of doctors who visited these villages found that at least 30 women needed urgent medical intervention, else their condition would deteriorate. Most arrests of persons take took place when villagers were compelled to leave the village to visit the doctor requiring medical assistance.
  • The inability to leave the village and maintain business ties has adversely impacted this trade which is the major source of livelihood for them
  • The Government has taken other forms of coercive action, and terminated government employees for having protested against the POSCO Project, including Shri Babaji Charan Samantara, who worked as postmaster in Dhinkia for 28 years and Shri Kailash Chandra Biswas was employed as a high school peon, at the Government School, Dhinkia, for over 20 years.
Over the last 8 years, the Government has made innumerable attempts to break the struggle against POSCO by employing various arm-twisting tactics. However, what is perhaps the greatest betrayal of the State against its own people, is the use of the criminal system to implicate villagers in a large number of false cases to intimidate them, instill fear in them and break them into submission.These are the days of emergency. A rapidly engulfing emergency where the State is using every underhand trick in the book to counter the legitimate and peaceful voices of dissent.
These are the days where the State does not even batter an eyelid while using water cannons on protestors against violence against women on the streets of Delhi, all under the glare of the media. Far away, where there are no cameras, no soundbites, the suppression is violent, illegal and with impunity. Our visits have revealed one character of the villagers and that is their indomitable spirit and quest for a peaceful and undisturbed life. This is what the struggle against POSCO is. And this is why we have to all join hands and mobilize all democratic means to end this continuing violence to give real meaning to our constitutional ideals.
In the light of the above, we make the following demands:
1. The Government should withdraw all the criminal cases foisted on villagers of POSCO affected villages and other members of PPSS
2. Cases must be immediately registered in regard to the violence perpetrated against the villagers of POSCO affect areas including but not restricted to the following:
a)  Against police officials in regard to the violence ob 15th May, 2010 at Balithut circle.
b)  Against hired goons in regard to the violence on 14th December, 2011during the peaceful protest against the construction of the coastal road connecting Paradip port to the proposed site of the POSCO steel plant.
3. The Government should immediately conduct an enquiry into the abuse of the criminal system to target villagers and take necessary action against all officials who are involved in the filing of false cases against villagers resisting the POSCO steel plant. The Government should respect and protect the constitutional rights of the villagers to protest and conduct itself in a democratic manner

The Children of Gaza: Samouni Street

Please watch this.

2011. 12 mins 56s. English subtitles

The story of 4 kids of the extended Samouni family in Gaza. With animated drawings they express what happened to them and their family during operation ‘Cast Lead’.

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Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket)

14 mins. 24 s.

The Ayoreo are the nomadic indigenous people of Eastern Bolivia. They believe in the legend of Direjná, the grandmother of a cricket whose songs can bring rain to this earth. She owned all the waters, and where she was it rained. But one day, she sang and sang in overjoy until the rain fell so hard and the lands were flooded. So, her grandchildren asked her to leave, and she retired to the second heaven. The hot, dry days of famine took over the earth. From the second heaven, Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket) sends rain every time someone tells her story. 

In the years 1999 to 2000, there were massive protests in Cochabomba, in Bolivia, against the privatization of municipal water supply. In 2009, eight animators from Bolivia worked with French filmmaker Denis Chapon and The Animation Workshop of Denmark, chose to retell her story. Abuela Grillo sings as she walks the lowlands and mountains in the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. She settles in a village where she is initially welcomed. Overjoyed, she sings and sings until the valleys are flooded. The villagers get angry and chase her away. While traveling, she is lured by the black-suited, white-collared corporate giants who promise her fame and applause. They harness the rains, bottle water and sell it to the people. Now, the villagers whose lands had plenty start to run dry. Abuela Grillo gradually grows tired of the stage shows, but realizes she cannot leave. The corporates have her in captivity. They force her to sing more and more, until they tap her tears. The villagers come to know of Abuela Grillo’s plight and realize their mistake. They march into the city with all utility weapons they can find demanding the corporates let their grandmother go. Unfortunately, the white collars wage war against them with tear gas. Not able to stand it anymore, Abuela screams and her floods wash away the tear gas and destroys everything in the city. Free now, Abuela walks away, and is welcomed back in the village, where she sings and brings harvest all along her way.

A blogger from Bolivia details some of the themes in this film:

  • Exploitation of natural resources by greedy businessmen in the city. Shows the fear and the symbol of the bad guys as unsympathetic, large in stature, sharp edges around the body, physically abusive, cement gray and black in color as if mechanical or lacking life.
  • The move into the city being where trouble ensues.The grandmother is taken for granted in her homeland and is forced to wonder into the big city where she is exploited. This is a moral lesson for indigenous people torespect the wisdom of their elders even if they don’t initially understand the importance of tradition and song. The people of the countryside who kicked out abuelo grillo later find hardship when no water falls from the sky.
  • Indigenous knowledge of natural cycles and the old grandmother’s traditional skill. Abuelo Grillo’s ability to make it rain is a metaphor for her people’s inherited, old wisdom and spiritual power to retain balance and good health to their people and land.
  • Water is the most essential part of life, so the metaphor speaks to all the issues in the world over water and how we are connected. Even water use in British Columbia, a place so blessed with fresh glacial melt, has to be aware of the implications of masses of people who abuse it.
  • Cycles of nature taking over – the flood. This is reminiscent of the earth fighting back against human destruction and wrong-doing.

A blogger from Toronto, Canada adds to this that the grandmother cricket is the representative of old women in the society whose knowledge and contributions usually stand invisible. She also brings to notice this ridiculous advertisement campaign below. She writes, “I’m seriously not impressed with this new Evian campaign with people wearing pictures of babies on their shirts – “live young” and die young?–, although, admittedly, you’d have to have the brain of a 3 year-old to continue to purchase toxic-seeping water bottles…”

On a radio advertisement, a man complains in anxiety that there’s no safe place to drink water from, when his friend suggests him to get himself a safe and pure bottle of TATA Water Plus. But, how did our tap water get unhygienic or salty? How did our rivers become sewers? How did our wetlands become homes for high-rise SEZs and gated communities? How did water in a plastic container or anything packaged come to mean ‘clean’? How did water become something we pay for?

While Annie Leanord’s The Story of Bottled Water gave ideas how an urban middle class and rich audience can ask these questions and react to the privatization and commodification of natural resources like water, this simple beautiful film tells the story of how the indigenous population will react. Examples of this are in plenty. The protests against bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, the anti-nuclear protests in Idinthakarai, the jal satyagrahas against the massive dams, the Jaitapur villagers protesting against the uranium mines, the villagers who want to save their forests in Thervoy Kandigai from SIPCOT, farmers who are trying to preserve indigenous knowledge and systems against genetic modification and industrial farming, the fishermen who are fighting against privatized ports and elevated expressways, and the list goes on to tell the same story.

There is more reading below, which equips a citizen to assess both her luxuries and her part in this dialogue. Today, most of us buy water cans that cost up to Rs. 30, some families need two a day. Even if we remember to carry water with us, sometimes in the city its hard to not to buy a bottle of water (most restaurants or theaters don’t allow water brought from outside). The first step is to genuinely acknowledge and recognize the indigenous communities and their rights to hold on to their last pockets of ecological and cultural heritage.

Reading:

The Cochabamba Water Revolt and its Aftermath. Jim Shultz. University of California Press.

The political economy of public sector water utilities reform. Karen Coehlo. Info Change News & Features. 2005

Blue Gold. The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World’s Water Supply. Maude Barlow. National Chairperson, Council of Canadians Chair, IFG Committee on the Globalization of Water. Revised edition. 2001.

Water as a Human Right? John Scanlon, Angela Cassar and Noémi Nemes. IUCN Environmental Law Programme. 2004

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