Dongria Kondh tribe hold mountain festival and vow to stop Vedanta's mine

February 23, 2010

Dongria Kondh take part in the festival on top of Niyam Dongar Mountain. © Survival

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The Dongria Kondh tribe in India this weekend held their annual festival of worship on the top of their sacred mountain, which UK company Vedanta Resources is determined to mine for aluminium ore.

Hundreds of people danced and sang on top of their sacred mountain in Orissa State’s Niyamgiri Hills. The festival is usually only open to worshipers but this year the Dongria Kondh allowed journalists and activists to attend, to demonstrate the importance of their mountain to the outside world.

Dongria man Dodi has said, ‘Niyam Rajah is our god and we worship him. We cannot stop worshipping. This god is not for any government. He is there for us Adivasis [tribal peoples], …This place does not belong to any government.’

Neither Vedanta nor the Orissa government have consulted the Dongria Kondh about the mine planned for their sacred mountain. The project is rapidly becoming the most controversial mining venture in the world.

Vedanta has been trying to mine for aluminium ore in the Dongria’s land for several years, but local resistance, legal challenges and growing international outrage have so far stopped the project. Vedanta needs the ore to feed the refinery it has already built at the foot of the hills. The refinery, recently condemned by Amnesty International, left more than a hundred families landless and polluted the groundwater, a fact acknowledged by the state pollution board.

Dongria man Lodu said, ‘Now people in that area have realized and now they are speaking out against it. Vedanta has snatched everything away from them… they have become beggars.’

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is the most recent investor to dump Vedanta’s shares over human rights concerns, following the Church of England and the Norwegian government. The UK government has also condemned Vedanta, saying a change in the company’s behaviour is ‘essential.’

The central government of India has not issued final clearance to Vedanta’s mine, and the Minister for Environment and Forests told journalists that ‘there is still hope for Niyamgiri’.

Stephen Corry, Survival’s director, said today, ‘This weekend, the Dongria Kondh have demonstrated to the world how vital their sacred mountain is to them. Yet Vedanta is determined to destroy this site in blatant breach of its duty to respect the Dongria’s human rights. The tide is turning: investors are showing Vedanta that it cannot get away with such behaviour. Now the Indian government must protect the rights of its citizens and stop this mine once and for all.’

Dongria Kondh