Jayajit Dash | Serkapadi (Rayagada) July 18, 2013 , BS
Locals at Palli sabha feverishly pitched for safeguarding rights of the Kondhs
“No Dongaria Kondh of this village would back bauxite mining atop Niyamgiri hills”, was the refrain as the 38 out of 46 eligible voters,including all eligible females, who turned up for the assembly meet,conveyed their opinion by raising their hands.
This was after 20-odd participants of the palli sabha feverishly pitched for safeguarding rights of the Kondhs on being given an opportunity to air their views.
Slogans of ‘Niyam Raja (worshipped by the Dongaria Kondhs) Zindabaad’ rented the air towards the close of the palli sabha that stretched for about an hour and a half and proceeded amid presence of police forces and barricades. The proceedings were overseen by the Rayagada district judge Sarat Chandra Mishra in accordance with the Supreme Court direction.
All verbal statements were duly recorded and written with an interpreter assisting in translation from the Kui dialect of the Kondhs to Odia language. The proceedings were initiated by Indra Sikaka, president of forest rights committee of Serkapadi at the behest of the district judge.
“We are not going to surrender the Niyamgiri hills to anyone- company,government or individual. The whole Niyamgiri range offer us shade, quench our thirst and is the source of our livelihood. That is why we are fighting for our rights”, Sikaka spoke, reflecting the collective view of his village folks.
Officials or representatives from joint venture partners of the bauxite mining project- state run Odisha Mining Corporation and Vedanta Aluminium were conspicuous by their absence at the gram sabha. But NGOs (non-government organizations) like Amnesty International and members of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS) stood outside the barricaded space.
A vehicle of the Congress youth wing president of Rayagada was also spotted at the village. It was perhaps for the first time that the Dongaria Kondhs, mostly relegated to history, got a sort of free rein to ventilate their grievances in public and assert their rights.
The highlight of the palli sabha was the views articulated by Gobind Sikaka, a young Kondh. “The Niyamgiri is our revered God and we have been worshipping it for thousands of years.
We are worshipping the trees and every spot of the hill range. If anybody takes away the Niyamgiri hills from us, it will undermine our religion and faith and the Dongaria Kondh tribe will perish.
The forest officials are trying to hoodwink us and have also collected our fake signatures. But in no case, we are going to quit the hills as we are prepared to fight till the last drop of blood is shed”, he said.
Dongu Sikaka, another speaker said, “The Niyamgiri hills will be converted into a desert if bauxite mining is allowed. Even if 10,000 tribals have to give up their lives, they are not going to quit the hills.”