New report exposes brutal persecution of Adivasi women defending their land

March 8, 2022

Hidme Markam, an Adivasi activist arrested for peacefully campaigning for her people’s rights. © Survival

WARNING: Contains images some may find disturbing

A devastating new report from Survival International – launched on International Women’s Day, March 8 – exposes how Adivasi (Indigenous) women in India are being brutally persecuted for defending their lands against a massive corporate and governmental mining rush.

Amongst its key findings:

- This mining rush, including plans to increase coal production to one billion tonnes a year, is massively concentrated in six central states that are home to 57 million Adivasi people, who rely on their land for their livelihoods and sacred sites.

- Adivasi women are playing a central role in resisting this destruction of their land by mining, and are being beaten, arrested, raped, imprisoned and killed because of it. Their attackers almost always act with impunity.

- Government agencies, police and the security forces are intimately involved in these attempts to terrorise Adivasi women.

- Draconian anti-terrorism laws are used to silence dissent, and any who resist are falsely labelled as members of the Maoist armed insurgency. Since Narendra Modi came to power, the number of women charged with “sedition” has nearly trebled.

Adivasi (Indigenous) people of Hasdeo Forest protest against coal mining plans that would destroy their forest. Fattepur Village, Chhattisgarh © Vijay Ramamurthy

The report highlights several Adivasi women who have become victims of state repression:

- Hidme Markam: At an International Women’s Day event in Chhattisgarh in 2021, Adivasi activist Hidme Markam was bundled into a vehicle and taken into custody, where she remains. Her arrest was punishment for her active, public stance on resisting the mining of a site sacred to her Koya Adivasi people. She had previously said: “Villagers who protest against the government handing over these lands to corporations are being jailed. We have lost faith in the government but will continue to fight to save our sacred lands and our forests.”

- Kuni Sikaka: a Dongria Kondh woman targeted for her role in defending her people’s sacred mountain, Kuni Sikaka was arrested and paraded in front of local media as a “surrendered insurgent.”

- Soni Sori: Adivasi activist and leader Soni Sori has been incarcerated, tortured, sexually abused and faced barrages of defamation and harassment for galvanising Adivasi women to resist the violation of their lands, rights and bodies. Soni was a teacher and activist when she was arrested as an ‘insurgent’ and imprisoned, enduring horrific torture and sexual violence in prison. On her eventual release, Soni was attacked by men who rubbed caustic paste on her face, burning and scarring her. Soni continues to fight for an end to the violation of Adivasi rights and lives.

- Madkam Hidme: Security forces dragged Madkam Hidme into the forest in front of her distraught mother. Her body was returned, beaten and wrapped in plastic, a few days later. The police claim she was ‘encountered’ in the forest, and released a photo of her in crisply ironed, spotless black overalls with a gun at her side – killed, they said, after a “fierce gun battle.”

Madkam Lakshmi holds a photo that the police released of her daughter, Hidme. The police claim she was killed in a gun battle. Lakshmi saw them drag her daughter, dressed in a sari, out of their house. © The Bunt Line

Dayamani Barla, an Adivasi leader from Jharkhand is quoted in the report: “Modi’s government is violating our constitutional rights and is trying to sell every inch of our lands, mountains and rivers. Adivasi people – not only in Jharkhand but right across India – are not safe and neither are their lands and territories. Every inch of our lands is being given to the corporates.”

Dr. Jo Woodman of Survival International said today: “Across central India tens of thousands of Adivasi people are defying the corporate takeover of their lands with incredible bravery. Women are at the forefront of this resistance, and are being abused, imprisoned and killed for their courage on a truly horrific scale.

“The repression they face isn’t crushing their spirit – on the contrary, resistance is growing. But there’s an urgent need for support from around the world to join Adivasi people in opposition to this illegal and immoral assault on their lands and lives.”