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Poor India speaks

book>> Caterpillar and the Mahua Flower, Tremors in India's Mining Fields edited by Rakesh Kalshian Panos South Asia New Delhi 2007

By Maureen Nandini Mitra
Published: Friday 30 November 2007


That some of our nation's poorest and most marginalized people, the adivasis, inhabit some of our richest land in terms of mineral deposits is well-known. Already pushed to the fringes of society's consciousness by centuries of social, economic and political neglect, India's tribal communities are now faced with yet another battle for survival: this time, against market-driven forces intent on extracting what lies beneath their ancestral lands.

As part of its headlong rush towards development, India has opened up its precious mineral deposits to private companies and has invited 100 per cent foreign investment in the mining sector. Over the last decade, a slew of Indian and foreign mining companies has won rights to mine for iron, coal, diamond, gold, bauxite and other minerals in Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka--all in largely tribal areas.

This collection of 13 essays by journalists, writers, activists and social anthropologists attempts to chronicle how the mining industry is ripping apart the socio-cultural and economic fabric of adivasi communities in these mineral-rich states. They expose how the State allows mining companies to operate despite glaring violations of the laws of the land and how the media, more often than not, looks the other way. On a more positive note, the collection also includes accounts of popular adivasi resistance movements and their modest success stories.

The essays are generally well researched, but a large chunk of them, including parts of the forward by Rakesh Kalshian, read rather like in-depth news magazine stories with limited shelf life. Stories one may file away for reference. There is also a lot of overlap in the essays--not surprising since the pieces focus on three states--Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand--where most mineral mining activities are taking place. This glitch could have been set right with a little tighter editing.

The most thought-provoking piece has to be Iron in the Soul by Roger Moody, an internationally known researcher and mining regulations activist. It raises a very important issue. According to Moody, "(t)he pressing question is therefore not 'do we mine or not mine?'... Rather, we have to ask ourselves: what, how when, where and by whom is it acceptable to do so?"

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