Progress?

What’s the worst thing that can happen to a poor but self-sufficient community of indigenous people?

The discovery, by others, that the land you’re living on is rich in mineral deposits – and therefore you are in the way.

Amnesty has reported today on the killings of two indigenous community leaders by the police in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. Andrew Nachika and Singanna were taking part in a peaceful protest outside the Narayanpatna police station in the Koraput district of Orissa on 20 November. They were among a group of up to 100 people demanding that the police stop harassing indigenous communities campaigning to stop illegal mining in the area. Eight others were injured.

Amnesty understands that the police violence was unprovoked. After the incident the police raided villages looking for the wounded, and subsequently arrested a prominent activist in what looks like an attempt to intimidate those tempted to complain.

Orissa is one of the poorest states in India but in recent years geologists have discovered that it has enormous mineral wealth, including coal, iron ore and the main aluminium ore, bauxite. Many in local and national government in India believe that all economic development is a good thing and are inclined to support all bids for mining concessions. But the rights and livelihoods of many poor and indigenous communities are often threatened by such huge industrial development projects, especially when they go ahead without proper impact assessments, without consulting local people, and without compensating people who are moved from their homes.

The bauxite refinery at Lanjigarh, Orissa, which is run by mining giant Vedanta, is another example of the tension created by the discovery of riches under land where poor people live. The construction of Vedanta’s refinery involved the eviction of more than 1,200 families from their homes, without proper consultation. Many of these people are now unable to make a living, and it is alleged that the local water table is now polluted. Vedanta is also trying to secure a concession to mine bauxite in the nearby Niyamgiri hills. If this goes ahead a separate group of indigenous people, the Dongria Kondh, will be forced from their traditional lands where they live self-sufficiently.

Ordinary people, from indigenous activists to dalits, are mobilising against developments which threaten their livelihoods, protesting locally and using the media and the courts when they can. There needs to be more international attention to this, especially in places like the UK where Vedanta is a registered company and where many of the products we buy are made from the very raw materials at issue. What price ‘development’? ‘Progress’ for who?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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