Image : The press meet addressed by NSS leaders – Dodi Pusika, activists Jagili Pusika, Kuni Sikaka, Dama Pushika, Dasuru’s mother Sitari Kadraka, Saiba’s sister Palenge Pusika and others.
Intimidation, Abduction and Wrongful Incarceration of Adivasi-Dalit leaders, activists and members of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti by Odisha Police to further the interests of Vedanta.
This is to bring to your attention that the Adivasi-Dalit members of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti have been made a victim of a conspiracy between the Govt. and mining company Vedanta. We are being constantly intimidated and pressurized to succumb to the private company’s machinations, and the Police has been made an instrument to suppress us.
We have been spearheading a movement to safeguard our life, livelihood and environment under the banner of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti for more than 12 years. We have opposed the mining of our sacred mountain, Niyam Dongar and the construction of the refinery by forcefully grabbing land. The sacred mountain Niyam Dongar is our tribe’s God and worshipped by millions of people. Our opposition and petitions to the apex environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, led to several investigative commissions as well as a historic referendum in the year 2013 as per the Supreme Court of India’s directives, where 12 villages in the Niyamgiri hills held Gram Sabhas that unanimously rejected the mining proposal. The Gram Sabha’s decision was further validated by the Supreme Court in its final verdict on the matter, mining has been banned in the Niyamgiri hills.
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the company and State Govt. have colluded to intimidate the same people who had earlier unanimously rejected the mining proposal. As a result many of our people are being branded as Left Wing Extremists and members of the CPI-Maoist, which is a blatant falsehood. Vested interests supporting the company in the ruling party have influenced the local police to frame us and our organization, Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, as a CPI-Maoist front. This has led to random detention, torture and incarceration of our people. Being members of a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group, the Dongria Kondh, the people of Niyamgiri are guaranteed the highest form of protection by the Govt., but instead we are seeing even minors are not being spared from this heinous conspiracy.
Dasuru Kadraka (Village – Gorata, PS – Muniguda District – Rayagada) has been languishing in jail for more than a year now charged with several false cases. He was the sole breadwinner of his family comprising of three small children, wife and an old mother. He was picked up from the Muniguda town market in March 2016 and later presented to the media as a hardened Maoist guerilla, which is a complete lie. He has been made to undergo extreme third degree physical torture as well as being subjected to electric shocks in custody.
Saiba Pushika, a 17-year-old boy, also from Gorata village was similarly picked up from the market in February 2017, tortured and is now imprisoned in the Berhampur juvenile jail.
On the 1st of May, the police raided village Gorata at midnight and abducted 20-year-old Kuni Sikkaka, who happens to be the daughter in law of Dodi Pushika, the village headman as well as a highly respected leader of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti. Later when Kuni’s family went to secure the release of Kuni Sikkaka, all of them were blackmailed by the SP and DIG to sign statements that they are surrendered Maoists. They were also forced to make false statements in front of the media. When they protested and told the truth to the media, the police manhandled and muffled them.
We have already seen how a young student Manda Kadraka, from village Dangamati, again a Dongria Kondh PVTG settlement, was shot dead in February 2016 by CRPF soldiers and was presented to the media as hardcore Maoist from Chattisgarh. Only when pictures of his dead body published in the media reached his teachers it was revealed that they had killed the boy in a fake encounter and then tried to cover up by presenting him as a Maoist cadre from Chattisgarh. Drika Kadraka of Dhamanpanga village (PS – Muniguda) committed suicide in 2015 after he was tortured and threatened by the Police.
This never-ending assault by the Odisha Govt and State police at the behest of the mining company Vedanta has destroyed the lives of many Adivasi Dalit people in Niyamgiri, where we no longer live fearlessly as we have for centuries in our homeland. Our life and livelihood has been disrupted by this concerted campaign to drive us away from our sacred ancestral land so that the mining company can take over. Today, we cannot go to the markets to sell our produce as the Police randomly picks our people and then slaps all sorts of cases against them, tortures them to make fake submissions, and then they languish in jail.
While we were travelling to Bhubaneswar on the 4th of July to submit this petition to the NCST, our Adivasi friends from nearby villages who were accompanying us were intimidated by the Muniguda Police Station and they had to turn back. Earlier the Muniguda police intimidated those who tried to help us in writing and lodging FIRs against the Police for abduction of Kuni Sikkaka, and other cases. The Police has also threatened us for going to Berhampur city to submit a memorandum to the Chief Minister via the RDC. Is Niyamgiri an occupied territory where democracy and Indian constitution have ceased to exist? Are the Adivasi people of Niyamgiri prisoners of Odisha police who cannot even step out of the area? Why is the Muniguda police not allowing the people to have access to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and the other legal recourses available to us? Is it a crime to raise matters of injustice?
Instead of providing health facilities that can stop dozens of our tribe members dying from epidemics every year or education in Mother Tongue, the sole purpose of the Govt. in our area is to terrorize us.
Therefore, we have demanded an inquiry by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to investigate the matter, punish the culprits responsible for terrorizing us, direct the Govt. to free our people languishing in jail as well as take measures to protect us from such political violence.
We have also urged the NCST to look into the reasons why several resolutions and demands made during the 2013 Gram Sabhas have not been accepted. We demand that the entire Niyamgiri hills be rightfully declared as Dongria Kondh habitat area as per the Forest Rights Act 2006. We would also like the Govt to recognize the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti as per the Forest Rights Act as the official organization that is protecting Niyamgiri forest. Unless such action is taken, we fear the already marginalized population of around 8,000 Dongria Kondh people living in Niyamgiri, will get wiped out totally as a tribe.
We would also like to emphasise that this conspiracy by the Govt and Vedanta has also endangered the lives of our leaders like Dodi Pushika (Village – Gorata), and Lado Sikakka (Village – Lakhpadar), who were also petitioners in the case against Vedanta. We have demanded that the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes should advise the concerned authorities to safeguard the life of our leaders.
Today on 5th June when the whole world is observing World Environment Day, we the people engaged in protecting the environment are facing intimidation, torture, abduction, and wrongful incarceration by our Govt. itself. Even then Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti will continue to campaign for the protection of the Niyamgiri hills that are home to hundreds of endangered flora and fauna species, as well as the source of rivers Vansadhara and Nagabali that sustain life for hundreds of square kilometers in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The Govt. needs to function like a democracy, we are fighting peacefully and using legal measures for our Constitutional rights. The Govt. has to stop this witch hunting of Adivasi Dalit leaders who are opposed to the nexus between the Govt and Vedanta.
English Translation of Press note and picture courtesy – Surya Dash.