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Protecting indigenous land from mining : a study of activist representations of indigenous people, in the context of anti-mining movements, with a focus on an Indian case

  • Borde, Radhika
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2017
Wageningen University and Researchcenter Publications
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<p>Support for indigenous peoples has been increasing over the last few decades. This can be seen internationally, as well as in several domestic contexts. The support for indigenous people has been linked to the increasingly prominent impetus to conserve the Earth’s biodiversity and environment. Indigenous people are being recognized for their role in protecting the places in which they live in and that they value in cultural or spiritual terms. This recognition has partly fuelled the support for indigenous lifestyles and the related management of resources. These traditional lifestyles are also presented by activists from within these communities, as a critique of mainstream development. This is echoed by the many activists and activist organizations involved in supporting indigenous people’s causes across the world.</p> <p>A cause that indigenous people have often rallied around is the resistance towards mining on indigenous land. This is a cause that has attracted a significant amount of support, particularly when the land in question had spiritual or cultural value for an indigenous community. Accordingly, there have been several success stories of resistance towards mining on land that indigenous people believed was sacred, in several different continents. This thesis focuses on such narratives in the Indian context. It examines how, why and to what effect, local and international activists got involved in supporting a movement to protect the Niyamgiri Mountain in east-central India from bauxite extraction by Vedanta Resources, a multi-national mining company. The Niyamgiri Mountain was believed to be sacred by the Dongaria Kondh community which lived there and which is generally understood (though not officially recognized) as an indigenous community. The movement, which this thesis refers to as the Niyamgiri Movement, was finally successful – since the mining project was banned by the Indian government. In addition to a focus on this movement, the thesis also compares this movement with the anti-mining movement on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.</p> <p>Indigenous peoples constitute minority groups in many of the countries in the Global South. It is also common for governments in the Global South to promote mining as an economic development strategy. This has led to frequent conflicts between indigenous peoples and mining companies. In some of the countries in the Global South, such as the Philippines, indigenous peoples are given official recognition. Whereas in others, such as India, there are affirmative action programs targeting groups claiming indigenous identity, as well as special legislations aimed at protecting their land, although no official recognition of the indigenous identity of these groups exists. Despite this, in contexts such as India there is often a general cultural understanding that groups which claim an indigenous identity are in some way ‘primordial’ – to use a word that translates best from the Indian context, in which the terms Adi Vasi (Original/Primordial Dwellers) or Adim Janajati (Primordial Tribes) are commonly used for such groups.</p> <p>Given that there is at least some degree of cultural acceptance (if not an official recognition) of the indigenous identity of some of the groups that are entering into conflicts with mining companies, an important question relates to the reasons why local activists may get involved in supporting indigenous struggles against mining and how they may understand indigeneity in this context. Another important question is related to the laws that are applicable in local contexts and which may be used to support the struggles of groups that claim indigenous identity. The Forest Rights Act in India is such a law and the thesis explores how it was used in the context of the Niyamgiri Movement. Finally, it is important to consider how people who are not indigenous and who may not have an activist orientation, can be made to take a sympathetic view of indigenous struggles against mining. In the context of the Niyamgiri Movement in India, this thesis explores how creative representations by activists translated the nature religiosity of the Dongaria Kondhs into familiar terms that mainstream popular discourse in India could identify with.</p> <p>In the thesis, the comparison of the Niyamgiri Movement in India with the anti-mining movement on the island of Palawan in the Philippines examines the way in which social movements in two different nation-state contexts engage with globalized discourses pertaining to the linkages between indigenous issues and conservation discourses. For a deeper examination of the way indigenous people are represented by globalized popular discourses, the thesis examines how images from Hollywood were used to generate sympathy for the Dongaria Kondhs’ cause in the Niyamgiri Movement. An examination of the international activism which supported the Niyamgiri Movement and which has been effective in bringing about the success of the movement i.e. the banning of the mining project on Niyamgiri, is another important focal point of the thesis.</p> <p>A commitment towards exploring the activist politics that is relevant to the lives of indigenous peoples has inspired this thesis, which seeks to understand effective activist strategies and identify problematic ones in relation to the protection of land with cultural or spiritual value for indigenous peoples. Keeping this in view, it explores the insights provided by different theories, in order to use these to contribute towards orienting activist practice towards greater effectiveness as well as higher self-reflexivity. </p>

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