Palli sabha at Serkapadi
On 18th July 2013 the first of 12 village council (Palli Sabha) meetings was held at Serkapadi village on the Niyamgiri Hills, and the 36 registered voters from the village who attended voted unanimously to oppose the Vedanta mine, a resounding NO which sets the tone for the following meetings.
Supporting the attendees were hundreds of Dongria and Kutia Kond from other villages on and around the mountain some of whom had camped overnight to ensure they would not be stopped by the four platoons of CRPF police forces stationed on the mountain, on their way. With bystanders looking on from the edges of the meeting, the 36 participants gave defiant speeches against the mine and after much argument with the district judge.
Dongria women at Serkapadi palli sabha reported in Odiya media
Gobind Sikaka’s speech answered categorically the Supreme Court’s central question on whether the proposed mine would affect the rights of the tribal population to worship their mountain God, which has been portrayed by the Odisha State government and the media as residing in one spot at the peak of the mountain. He said:
“The Niyamgiri is our revered God; 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 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; they have collected fake signatures. But in no case would we quit the hills…we are prepared to fight till the last drop of blood is shed,” he said.
A Dongria woman, Rupa Jakesika, stood up and interrupted the administrators when they began to use legal language regarding the process and the settling of individual and community claims. Refusing to be confused into any compromise she stopped them mid track saying:
“we don’t want any of these complex arguments. We have already discussed and decided between ourselves that we won’t give Niyamgiri.”
On the eve of the meeting she told members of the press:“Nobody messes with our god. Tomorrow we will show them the door.”
At the Palli Sabha the villagers gave this statement to a local journalist:
“We the villagers of Serkapadi declare unanimously that the entire Niyamgiri Mountain Range is ours. We the Dongria tribals and forest dwellers are rightful community owners of these mountains, the water, the soil, the trees and the stones etc of this mountains. It is our God. As you can not chop down a person’s nose, hand, or any other body part, you can not say that this mountain is not sacred or that river is not ours… We commonly own all these. We can not live outside these mountains. We have been living here since ages. It will be sharp attack on our religious belief and practices if you try to separate the entities. We can not tolerate any harm to our god, and if required we will shed our lives together like fish taken out of water, if any part of our mountains are given out.” Source: Amitabh Patra.
Serkapadi’s Palli Sabha sets a fantastic tone for 11 remaining meetings. Despite all the efforts of the legal system, the State Government, CRPF forces and the district judge to manipulate and obstruct democracy, the council was held transparently and the villagers opposition was registered by the press, and (hopefully) the administration.
Not taking any chances Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti are still organising parallel Palli Sabha’s in many of the 120 or more villages not consulted by the official proceedings. These will be held once the 12 official palli sabha’s are complete and resolutions submitted to the state government.
Foil Vedanta send heartfelt congratulations to all the Dongria and Kutia Kond, and all those who worked so hard to make this Palli Sabha fair and transparent against all odds.
Below are several articles covering the meeting in detail: http://www.foilvedanta.org/