Dear friends

Published: Tuesday 15 September 2009

-- Please accept my greetings

I am a Dongria Kondh and take pride in my identity. I live in the Niyamgiri hills. The hills are also the abode of our gods. It never occurred to us or our ancestors that our home or way of living would one day come under threat. And such a time is upon us. We do not know what will happen to us when Vedanta's machines dig up the hills we live in.

My parents lived here, their parents and their parents. Who arrived first I do not know. I know my ancestors lived in these forests and their spirits may still be here protecting us from rain, storm, animals and disease. Jani, the intelligent priest in my village, tells me so.

I have spent all the 47 years of my life roaming these forests and hills, collecting fruits, jungle produce, and also growing millets and vegetables in the dongars, our agriculture fields. I go to the town at the bottom of the hill to sell my produce.

I have married and my children live here. How can I tell you if their children too will play in these hills and forests? I do not even know if my children will become adults in my village. Vedanta is here, don't you know? Haven't you heard the trucks that pass the small town at the base of the hills? They carry machines. Machines which will swallow our Niyamgiri.

They say the rocks of our Niyamgiri contain a very precious mineral, aluminum. It has been there ever since the hills have been here, they tell me. My ancestors never bothered about it. When there is so much above the ground and which our God Niyam Raja has provided for us, why should we eat the earth below our feet?

Down to Earth Aluminum. It is more important than our lives, our hills, our forests. They say a war will be fought. A very big war. It will require a lot of arms. Aluminum is the metal which will be used to build those arms used to kill millions. Why do they need to kill millions? Can they not all sit down and talk, like we do, and solve their problems?

Aluminum is a very powerful metal. We have sensed that. People come to our village and ask us to leave. They want to dig up everything. You see that horizon yonder? From that horizon to that horizon over there they will destroy everything with their machines. Have you been to Lanjigarh? The place where these machines of Vedanta have already begun work? My tribesmen have been pushed out of the forest and their lands forcibly taken. They said they would build houses for them, educate their children, give them work and all facilities. They are liars. They have not given anything. They have cut down all the trees. They have set up a factory that seems to only emit huge amounts of white smoke. There is so much dust everywhere people are falling sick. The streams can no longer quench our thirst. Many have dried up.

They look at our women strangely. Some women from the towns have come and stay in a long hut. The men folk go there every night. There is laughter and also big fights over money. We are afraid they will take our women away. They keep away because they see axes dangling on our shoulder and the knives in our hands.

Aluminum is indeed a very powerful metal. It has not been made into any weapon and yet it has started killing us.

Pray for us dear friends. Help us get rid of Vedanta, its machines and hired soldiers. We are a very proud tribe. We cannot live without our hills, streams and forests. We cannot stay elsewhere.

Aluminum or no aluminum.

Krushna Wadaka lives in Katraguma village in Orissa's Rayagada district. The translator of this letter does not want to be named

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