India's Dongria Kondh tribe have overwhelmingly rejected plans by British mining giant Vedanta Resources for an open-pit bauxite mine on their sacred lands, in an unprecedented triumph for indigenous rights on the subcontinent. Twelve Dongria villages unanimously voted against Vedanta's mine during consultations ordered by India's Supreme Court in April. The court based its ruling on the Dongria people's religious, cultural and social rights. The mine would destroy the forests and disrupt the rivers in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa state, which are central to the livelihood and identity of the 8,000-strong tribe. Advocates charged the mine would spell the end of the Dongria as a self-sufficient people.
A 48-hour bandh, or civil strike, called by the United Naga Council (UNC) has shut down the ethnic Naga areas of India's northeastern Manipur state, with roads blocked and most businesses closed. The UNC called the bandh to press demands for a "separate administrative set-up" for Manipur's Nagas. Amid the strike, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) announced it would launch its own 48-hour bandh in the ethnic Kuki areas of Manipur to press demands for creation of a new "Kukiland" state, to be carved out of Manipur. (PTI, Aug. 12) Meanwhile, the All Assam Adivasi Students Association (AAASA) is blocking the road linking Assam and Nagaland states to demand autonomy for the tribal peoples or adivasis whose lands straddle the border. The decision to launch the blockade came after an advasi man was killed in an armed confrontation with Nagas in June. (NNN, June 6)
An indefinite general strike in India's West Bengal state has brought production of the world-famous Darjeeling tea to a halt, threatening to send global prices soaring. The strike was called Aug. 3 by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) to demand independent statehood for the region's Nepali-speaking Gorkha people in the Darjeeling hill district, to be called Gorkhaland. The strike has reportedly cost the industry £1.5m already, and state authorities have flooded Darjeeling region with paramilitary troops. "Our demand for Gorkhaland is an old one, and generations of our people have fought for it," said GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri. "Now we want it because we see no future for us in West Bengal."
The recent devastating floods in the northern India state of Uttarakhand are being called a "Himalayan tsunami"—and an ominous portent for the future of the millions of people living downstream from the world's highest mountain range. The June floods may have killed as many as 6,000 people, although the majority of these are still officially considered "missing." The deluge wiped out the Hindu pilgrimage town of Kedarnath, causing damage to the 1,200-year-old temple to Shiva there. A smaller temple, built after an ancient one on the site was destroyed in a 1991 earthquake, was entirely swept away by the rain-swollen waters of the Bhagirathi River. "The Kedarnath floods may be only a small precursor to never-seen-before mega-floods," Maharaj K. Pandit, director of Delhi University's Center for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environments, told India Today.
Persistent claims that Afghanistan's Taliban are backed by ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, will certainly be enflamed by the Aug. 3 attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad. Nine were killed and some 25 wounded in the coordinated suicide blast and armed assault. No Indian officials were killed, though the blast badly damaged a mosque and dozens of homes and small shops nearby. (Reuters, Aug. 3) A story in India Today on the same day as the attacks claimed that Delhi had warned its ambassador in Kabul, Amar Sinha, of a Pakistan-based plot to assassinate him in a suicide attack, and recommended he beef up security measures. Sepcial commandos from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), already guarding the embassy in Kabul, were to be deployed to the consulates in Kandahar, Heart, Mazar and Jalalabad. Apparently, just too late...
A counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. First, in ostensibly democratic India, the country's newest and largest nuclear power plant has just gone on line—despite years of angry protests by local peasants in Tamil Nadu state. The first unit at the Russian-built Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) and India's 21st reactor, went critical July 14, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) announced. Earlier this year India's Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to the opening of the plat, saying the project was for the "people's welfare." Both the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and the Tamil nationalist Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) have pledged a new round of protests to demand it be immediately shut down.
Srinagar and other towns in India-administrated Jammu and Kashmir are under curfew following unrest over the killing of four protesters by the Border Security Forces (BSF) on July 18. The killings took place in the Gool area of Ramban district. According to locals in Ramban, protests erupted after BSF personnel roughed up a religious leader's brother following an argument over offering late-night Ramadan prayers. The BSF dismisses this version, saying a mob attacked their camp and tried to storm their storehouse of arms and ammunition. Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has called for a three-day general strike in response to the incident, while several other prominent separatists have been arrested. A clash between demonstrators and security forces at the town of Doda, in Chenab valley, left 20 injured, including five police officers. The Amarnath Yatra, an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a sacred cave associated with the god Shiva in the mountains of Kashmir, has been ordered suspended. (Hindustan Times, CSM, July 19)