Violence against tribes opposing British companies in India

June 2, 2010

Armed police face down demonstrators in Chandia village, Kalinganagar, in India’s Odisha state. © Samadrusti

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Survival has called for an urgent investigation into the increased violence against tribal peoples in the state of Odisha, India. Police have fired into crowds trying to prevent the demolition of houses to make way for a steelworks run by UK-linked company TATA, which owns Jaguar, Land Rover, Corus and Tetley. Survival is concerned that protests against FTSE-100 company Vedanta Resources in the same state will also be met with violence.

In shocking scenes last month police opened fire on tribal people protesting against their removal for a TATA steel plant planned on their land. One man was killed, others were injured. The shooting was in Kalinganagar area of Odisha (formerly Orissa) state, India.

At least nine people were injured and Laxman Jamuda, a member of the Munda tribe, died. His nephew, Chandramohan, said, ‘The police attacked us and chased us out of the village – elderly women, children, little girls – all were beaten up. My uncle was carrying my child in his arms. He was shot in the back and even my little daughter was hit by shrapnel on her cheek.’

The Odisha administration has been actively supporting companies such as TATA, Vedanta and POSCO with projects that have failed to get the consent of those on whose land they operate.

Jema Hanaka, a woman beaten by police in May, said, ‘A hefty policeman started shouting, “break all the houses”… we told him we have everything here: home, hearth, farms, gardens, families, everything. The policeman taunted us saying we are poor beggars and said he’d break our houses at any cost… Then the police attacked us on all sides and beat us up mercilessly.’

Many tribespeople of Kalinganagar region are bitterly opposed to TATA’s project, and have been resisting it for years. In 2006, at least twelve were killed when police fired on demonstrators. In March this year, police and others opened fire on the tribal village of Baligotha, injuring about twenty people. Witnesses say houses were destroyed and kerosene poured into drinking wells.

The industrialization of the state has led to further unrest and police crackdowns. In Jagatsingpur district, farmers have been resisting a POSCO steel project for five years. This month police broke up their long-term peaceful demonstration using teargas and batons.

The Dongria Kondh tribe of the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha are also resisting a mine planned on their land by FTSE 100 company Vedanta Resources. The Odisha government is supporting Vedanta, even though the tribe has made it clear they do not want the mine.

Police have repeatedly arrested local people demonstrating against Vedanta’s mine and associated refinery, and Survival staff have received reports of thugs intimidating those who speak out against the company. Survival staff were followed and harassed by thugs on a visit to the area recently.

Survival is concerned that the situation will tip into more violence if Vedanta’s project is not stopped soon.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said, ‘The violence must stop. Forcing large industrial projects on to tribal peoples who don’t want them is unjust, illegal, and can only end in disaster.’

Dongria Kondh