Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category

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Invisible Cities: Part Eleven: Demolition City

June 14, 2012

Qareem of Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 in Mankhurd holds a photograph of the last time his house was demolished. His young daughter was injured during the latest demolition drive on the 30th of May, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 14th of June, 2012.

The week before the monsoons, saw demolition drives in Ambujwadi in Malad, in Sion Koliwada and in a far reaching corner of the city, in Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 near Mankhurd station, a small group of shanties of twenty homes that live hidden from the city under a flyover and adjacent to the Mankhurd rail line heading to Vashi.

The demolition in Ambujwadi was thwarted when thousands of people gathered at the street and chased the bulldozer away, but the state has promised it would come the next day, and an activist who spent the whole day in the rallies, who’d move around getting water for all the others, dies of a heart attack the same night.

All three slums have different histories, identities and states of desperation – Sion Koliwada is filled with the original inhabitants of Mumbai, who refer to the state as encroachers of their land, while Ambujwadi is referred to an encroachment by the state. Mahatma Phule Nagar, a slum of muslims and dalits, migrants and the poorest, most vulnerable of the city, are referred to encroachers by the Railway Department. And yet none of the second generation of ‘encroachers’ will move – they rebuild, and they talk about the last time their homes were demolished – Qareem at Mahatma Phule Nagar had taken out a laminated photograph of his family and the remnants of his home, the last time his house was demolished a year and a half back.

Tuliya Saket, who lives at the end of Mahatma Phule Nagar with her son and her husband had just built her home over three years ago. She is originally from Satna District in Madhya Pradesh and lost her lands to a flood. Her son Suresh would point out that the ‘Maha Sankha’ built by the state was responsible for the flooding of their fertile lands. Where will we go? Has stopped being the response of every so-called encroacher, yet the state, in
its blind adherance to town planning, to its latent anti-migrancy biases, has failed to see that they can break down the homes of people repeatedly, but the people will not move. In it’s almost futile adherance to its mandate and law, the demolitions keep happening, the people keep rebuilding, and at the same time, a tabloid newspaper would report that the Chief Minister hasn’t had time to inaugrate the latest Golf Course at Khargar.

In a Human Development Report done by the United Nations Development Programme for the BMC, it was stated that …. ‘the relevant dimension is that the area, they (slums) together occupy – just 6 per cent of all land in Mumbai explaining the horrific levels of congestion. Delhi has 18.9 per cent, Kolkatta 11.72 percent and Chennai 25.6 per cent in slums.’ Adding to this, the BMC recently revealed the Below Poverty Line Survey they had conducted in 2005-2006 which stated that there are around 4,93,855 families Below The Poverty line, with the maximum number in Andheri East, with 79,107 families, while Fort would have 797 families, or Parel would have 259, or Bandra would have 8271. Mankhurd, ghettoized with over 70% of it as slums, has around 65,051 families Below The Poverty Line.

Last year, slums built on the periphery of the dumping grounds of Deonar, Sant Nirankari Nagar and Rafiq Nagar 2, both in Mankhurd, were demolished and the state dug up ditches to make the land un-livable, but the people still rebuilt their homes in the little spaces afforded to them. In December of last year, Bheem Chhayya on Forest Land was demolished and once again, the people refused to let go. A young boy Jayesh drowned in one of the miasmic ditches dug by the municipal authorities and the residents had filed a case against the responsible authorities.

All of the slums – Ambujwadi, Rafiq Nagar 2, Mahatma Phule Nagar 2, Bheem Chhaya, have been denied the right to water, a right that India conferred as a Human Right in the General Assembly of the United Nations, yet to those slums that have come into existence after 1995, the residents have to pay exobirant prices from a private water mafia. At the same time, according to an RTI response by the BMC’s Hydraulic Department, between January 2009 and February 2010, 2,95,576 kilolitres of water were used by seventeen bottling plants in Mumbai – for instance, Dukes & Sons (Pepsi), used 78,721 kilolitres of water, while Jayantlal Mohanlal (Bisleri) used around 42,403 kilolitres of water.

The people of Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 were busy rebuilding their homes a few hours after the demolition, aware of the coming monsoons. And yet they are all aware, touts will demand money for protection, they will have to pay for water, work when they get work, earn little money they can by selling dates or falling into the absolutely fragile world of informal labour, and that the state will come again, break their homes down again, and that they will not move.

A common answer to encroachment has always been: ‘Why was the state sleeping when these people first started to settle here? When they built even one house, they should’ve been kicked out.’ Ironically, Uday Mohite of Bheem Chhayya, who had gone on a hunger strike for 19 days to get justice for his son, and for the right to a home, partially agrees to that idea – yet adds that its not so simple – it is their right to come to the city, and ‘where will we go?’ isn’t just a defence – it’s the truth. The questions arise about citizenship – and migrants and those deemed encroachers have repeatedly wondered if they’re citizens of the country, when they’re treated like outcasts and illegals in the city.

The republic of Mumbai and the republic of hunger meet when bulldozers crash through tarpaulin and inter-party canvas posters that make the walls of the poorest of the city. It meets when middle class aspirations bulldoze their way into those of the working class and the poor. It meets when the same people who have faced demolitions since 80,000 homes were demolished in 2005, had symbolically taken over the un-touched Adarsh building last year.

‘Demolish that’, they had said, ‘Leave our homes alone.’

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‘Even if they don’t let us settle here..’

May 4, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of May, 2012.

Conflict and displacement in Bastar leads to deprivation and forest loss in neighbouring Khammam.

Around 43 families from the villages of Millampalli, Simalpenta, Raygudem, Darba and Singaram in Dantewada District, lost their makeshift homes for the second time in three months in the Mothe Reserve Forest of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh on the 26th of March, 2012, when the Forest Department, mandated to protect the forests, would evict them using force.

A large number of families are Internally Displaced Persons who’ve escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict of Dantewada and have lived in Khammam as informal labour.

Most originated from Millampalli, that was burnt down by the Salwa Judum in 2006 and Maoists have killed at least three people – Sodi Dola, Komaram Muthaiya and Madkam Jogaiya in the past ten years. Another resident of Millampalli, Dusaru Sodi, used to be a member of the Maoist Sangam but would eventually become a Special Police Officer who witnesses from Tadmentla and Morpalli alleged was present during the burnings of the villages or Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram in March of 2011 by security forces. His name again re-appeared in testimonies by victims of rape, submitted to the National Commission of Women and the Supreme Court by Anthropologist Nandini Sundar.

Madvi Samaiya and Madvi Muthaiya from the village of Raygudem were also killed by the Maoists.

In Simalpenta, the Sarpanch’s brother Kurra Anda was killed by the Maoists in 2006.

In Singaram, an alleged encounter that took place on the 9th of January of 2009, where 19 adivasis were killed by security forces as alleged Maoists.

In Khammam, most of the IDPs/migrants have worked as informal labour during the mircchi cutting season, earning around Rs.100 per day and live off their savings in the summer season when there is no work, and little access to water to a majority of the settlements. The Muria from Chhattisgarh, or the Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra along with Koyas from Chhattisgarh, have been in a struggle to appropriate the Reserve Forest land of Khammam for podu cultivation, often leading the Forest Department to evict them, aware that the entire forest cover is turning into a ‘honeycomb,’ as described by the DFO Shafiullah, who pointed out to satellite imagery of a pockmarked forest in Khammam, in 2010 itself.

The influx of migrants and Displaced persons has even led to conflicts with local adivasi Koya tribes over land and resources, sometimes leading to deadly clashes, such as an incident in Mamallivaye in Aswapuram Mandal where the local Koya burned down the homes of the Gotti Koya, or in Kamantome settlement in 2009 where one man would be killed as a Maoist by the police after an erroneous tip-off from the neighbouring village of migrants who had settled before the civil war.

Recently the Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Forest and Environment, published a controversial report that almost exonerates mining and land acquisition yet claimed that over 367 square kilometres of forest has been lost since 2009, pushing Khammam district to one of the worst affected districts where 182 square kilometres of forest cover have been lost.

In a recorded conversation between an activist and Home Minister P.Chidambaram during the first months of Operation Green Hunt in late 2009, when repeated combing operations in Dantewada/Bijapur led to further influx’s of IDPs into Andhra Pradesh, the activist Himanshu Kumar had urged P.Chidambaram to look into the plight of the IDPs and the migrants yet his claims were refuted by the Home Minister as an exaggeration.

Yet there have been many recent reports of IDPs from the previously independently estimated 203 settlements who have returned back to their villages owing to a decline in the frequency of combing operations and violent actions in their villages in Chhattisgarh and further difficulty to settle in Andhra Pradesh. After the villages of Nendra, Lingagiri and Basaguda block were rehabilitated with the help of NGOs and activists using Supreme Court orders, many others have simply moved back to their villages on their own accord, including those of Kistaram, Uskowaya, Kanaiguda, Mullempanda, Gompad and Gaganpalli, to mention a few. Both Gompad, and Gaganpalli have faced a large number of killings – nine people were killed in Gompad on the 1st of October, 2009 by security forces, and in the village of Gaganpalli, from where one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum originates, ten people were killed in 2006 during the burning of the village by the Salwa Judum.

While the Forest Survey of India Report 2011 has put the blame on leftwing extremists for massive deforestation in Khammam, the villages of Millampalli repeatedly exhorted and listed all the violent actions by the Maoists in their villages in Chhattisgarh. In fact, one of the most educated villagers of the settlement, Komaram Rajesh, is the brother of a Special Police Officer and has repeatedly claimed that the Salwa Judum didn’t oppress his people, often denying that his village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum, when the rest of his neighbours said it was indeed the Salwa Judum.

Beyond conflict with the Forest Department, other tribes, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists, another conflict takes place within settlements themselves where a growing tendency to cut down a large number of the forests for podu cultivation, has brought individuals in conflict with their own villagers who feel there should be more moderate felling of trees. Certain settlments cultivate rice without cutting larger trees while others have destroyed acres of forests.

‘If we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’ A man from Kamantome once exhorted during a summer season when there was little access to food, or water for the settlement.

Ironically, in Millampalli, one of the men killed by the Maoists, Kumaram Muthaiya, was killed in 2002 because he refused to share his 70 acres of land with other villagers.

A Shrinking Space

Land alienation for the all the adivasi tribes of Khammam isn’t a new phenomena, and was adequately studied by late civil servant J. M. Girglani, who had commented in his report that, ‘The most atrocious violation of the LTR (Land Transfer Regulation) and regulation 1 of 70 is that all the lands in Bhadrachalam Municipal town and the peripheral urbanized and urbanizable area is occupied by non-tribals with commercial buildings, hotels, residential buildings, colleges including an engineering college. The market value of this land on an average is Rs.4,000/- per square yard. This was confirmed to me not only by local enquiry but also by responsible District officers. This would work out to about 5,000 crores worth of land, which should have been the property of the tribals. It is now the property of the non-tribals and is commercially used by them.’

Just two kilometres away from land that was meant to belong to the adivasis, is the latest Koya settlement that was destroyed by the Forest Department.

‘They (the Forest Department) destroyed our homes in January, and in February, and they came in March and even took away all the wood we used to make our homes. Now, we will rebuild our homes and if they come again and destroy them, we will rebuild them again.’ Said Komaram Rajesh of the village of Millampalli.

Villagers alleged that Forest Guards held them down and beat them on the soles of their feet, asking them why they had settled in the forest, and who had pointed them out to this patch of the forest. One man embarassing recollected in humour as his neighbours laughed, that one of the Gaurds threathened him saying, ‘ghaand mein mirrchi ghussa doonga.’

Officials would arrive a day later to convince all the Koyas, to leave the Reserve Forest but the residents protested. When the tractor arrived to carry away all the timber that was being used to make their homes, the adivasis willingly piled the timber onto the seat of the tractor, threathening to burn it down but refrained.

‘Even if they don’t let us settle here, we will manage somehow.’ Continued Komaram Rajesh.

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Death In A Quiet Corner

March 21, 2012

This op-ed appears in abriged form in Daily News & Analysis on the 19th of March, 2012.

‘Torture has long been employed by well-meaning, even reasonable people armed with the sincere belief that they are preserving civilization as they know it. Aristotle favoured the use of torture in extracting evidence, speaking of its absolute credibility, and St.Augustine also defended the practice. Torture was routine in ancient Greece and Rome, and although the methods have changed in the intervening centuries, the goals of the torturer – to gain information, to punish, to force an individual to change his beliefs or loyalties, to intimidate a community – have not changed at all.’ – from Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, by John Conroy.

On the 11th of August of 2010, Mandangi Subarao of Kondabaredi village of Rayagada district of Odisha, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself in the offices of the Anti-Naxalite cells of the police station.

He killed himself in the police station that specializes in tracking down and killing Maoists, in fear of the Maoists, according to the police.

His case was eventually sent to the National Human Rights Commission by the National Campaign For The Prevention Of Torture, who asked the state to submit action taken report by 2 February 2012. The police continue to be on duty. A similar situation had developed in Dantewada when the NHRC took cognizance of the death of Pudiyama Mada after newspaper reports detailed his torture by the Central Reserve Police Force, and his eventual ‘suicide’ in the Sukma police station.

Meanwhile, the medical report on adivasi teacher Soni Sori’s condition that reached the Supreme Court stated that stones were found lodged in her vagina and her rectum while she was in police custody.

The Supreme Court gave the Chhattisgarh government 55 days to respond, and sent her back to the Chhattisgarh jails, and has revealed once again, that the rule of law and the constitution is divorcing itself from the aspirations of citizen of the state, whose fundamental Right To Life has to be protected by the Courts, not something the Court grants her, or the police is allowed to take away the instant they consider her a Maoist sympathizer.

Her hearing was supposed to be held on the 25th of January, 2012, but its turn never came up. Instead, the Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg, who she accused of torturing her, won the President’s Medal for Gallantry on Republic Day, the day the constitution of India came into being. He was awarded for his conduct during an encounter with the Maoists in Mahasumand District in 2010.

To the state machinery: it remains a story of he said, she said, as the allegations of torture in police custody leave no witnesses besides the tortured themselves, but in this case, the accused has a medical report from Kolkatta to say that her body was violated beyond anyone’s imagination, unlike the Mandangi Subarao case, where a man who kills himself in the police station in fear of the Maoists has done so in a district, out of sight and mind, and buried in the quagmire of the hopelessness of raising one’s voice over endemic abuse.

The National Human Rights Commission has gone on record to say that 1574 custodial deaths took place between April 2010 and March 2011. And between 2001 and 2011, there were around 15,231 custodial deaths, according to The Asian Center For Human Rights who had done a similar study on custodial violence in 2008, where they had claimed around 9,000 people were killed in police custody since 2000, at an unchanging average of four per day.

The Police State Against The Woman’s Body

16 year old Meena Khalko was killed in an alleged encounter and accused as a Maoist. Allegations would surface that she was raped and murdered and not killed in crossfire, and the Chhattisgarh Home Minister parroted his police officials who said that she was ‘habitual about sex’ and had links with truck drivers.

Ishrat Jahan who the Special Investigation Team confirms was killed in a fake encounter recently was questioned by our own Home Minister G.K. Pillai who finds that her checking into a hotel room with another man is suspicious.

In none of the 99 cases of rape allegations against Special Police Officers or security personnel in South Bastar did the police file even a single First Information Report even after the Supreme Court ordered them to do so. The National Human Rights Commission Enquiry Team, (comprising of 15 police officials out of 16) only investigated five cases out of 99, where in one instance, they visited the wrong village and construed that the allegations were baseless as they couldn’t find the victims.

In the other village of Potenaar, there were discrepancies in the testimonies of women who were raped three years earlier and there was no FIR filed in the police station. Thus they construed again, that the allegations were baseless, as women traumatized brutally by assault have to apparently remember the intricate details of everything that was done to them and lodge a complaint against the same police that rapes them.

The women of Vakapalli of Andhra Pradesh who were allegedly gangraped by the special anti-Naxalite forces the Greyhounds, are still fighting for justice in a case that was widely highlighted in Andhra Pradesh but the accused policemen continue to be in duty, and the state continues to construe their allegations as nothing but Maoist propaganda.

Even though the women’s statements were recorded both before the police as well as the Magistrate: all of them stated that they bathed after the assault, they did not resist the assault as they were afraid of violence, thus, there was no sign of injuries (besides one woman who had a boot on her face), and thus no physical evidence of rape, and the case would run aground by a system that ignores the Supreme Courts own directives on rape, which mention that inquiries should be done on accusation alone and the burden of proving innocence falls on the accused.

A 12 year old girl who was allegedly raped by the member of the elite anti-Maoist C60 group of Maharashtra, in the village of Paverval on the 4th of March, 2009, the alleged rapist himself, claims with strong conviction, that it’s all Maoist propaganda mischief.

In Narayanpatna block of Orissa, in the village of Taladekapadu, on the 19th of April, 2011, a 14 year old girl was allegedly gang-raped by four security personnel, yet without making her medical report public, the Crime Branch claims the entire allegation is false. The girl’s family belong to the Kondh tribe who have been criminalized in a district that has seen mass arrests, police firings into crowds, mass abductions and tortures, and the burning of villages, and to them, the idea of approaching the judicial system itself is oppressive.

And the cases like hers are those that never receive the kind of attention that the Soni Sodi case has, where a woman stood up for her rights, who approached the media that would listen to her, who repeatedly spoke about the torture faced by her family by both the state and the Maoists, and would yet be condemned by the system, while those who defend human rights watch helplessly.

The State As A Bystander

A woman attacked with acid by a man in the middle of the market while a crowd watches without doing anything can be described akin to Soni Sodi being brutally tortured as the judiciary, the press, the senior police officials, larger civil society and the general public sit quietly.

A group of committed activists, a dissident media and international human rights organizations have been repeatedly bringing her case to the public eye, yet as a matter of fact, have failed to prevent her torture.

Bystanders, and the silent consent of the general public plays its role in perpetrating human rights violations. If a woman is being tortured, first it’s veracity is questioned, then when it is confirmed, she is dehumanised with the tag ‘Naxalite supporter’ so people can continue to be bystanders, and turn the pages over the suffering of a fellow human being. When it comes to rape, a victim is dressed indecently, not that men need to keep their dicks in their pants. When it comes to rape accusations against the police, the very lackadaisical and haphazard manner of the investigation, the complete lack of interest shown in even lodging FIRs, doesn’t entertain any seriousness of the crime and only manifests the complete bias of the police who are convinced that all accusations against their own, is malicious propaganda meant to ‘demoralize’ their ranks.

Bystanders, when there are many of them, will always pass on the responsibility of doing something when there are others in the crowd. Responsibility is diffused. Responsibility is further diffused, when the crowd looks around and notices no one is doing anything. Chief Ministers are quiet. Home Ministers are saying a rape victim was habitual about sex. The Highest Court of the land, sends a woman back to her torturers, to ensure procedure. But when a police official suspected of torture is awarded by the president of the nation, what kind of message does it give to the police?

The police however have been convinced that the Maoists have been using the laws of the land, the courts and Writ Petitio, to hamper their counterinsurgency efforts. And counterinsurgency is completely incompatible with human rights – what are human rights violations to one, are standard operating procedures to those in uniform.

State of Anomie

Psychologist Ervin Staub quotes in The Origins and Prevention of Genocide, Mass Killing, and Other Collective Violence, that ‘Dominant groups usually develop “‘hierarchy legitimizing myths” or legitimizing ideologies that justify subordinating other groups. They often see themselves as superior and deserving of their status due to their race, religion, intelligence, hard work, worldview, or other characteristics. Groups also embrace ideologies of development and visions of economic progress, identifying the victim group as standing in the way.’

And Jon Conroy quotes him extensively in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, where Staub studied mass human rights violations in Argentina during the military Junta, where “….over time, ‘the many kinds of victims made it difficult [for the perpetrators] to differentiate between more or less worthy human beings. It became acceptable to torture and murder teenage girls, nuns and pregnant women. Learning by doing stifled the torturer’s feelings of empathy and concern.’ Furthermore, the Argentine torturers could see that their actions were supported by the larger society. Their superior officers signed release forms for kidnappings, relieving the lower orders from responsibility for the acts they carried out. The judiciary commonly accepted the military’s versions of events. The press – threatened by prison terms for demeaning or subverting the military – largely accepted censorship and did not report on disappearances. Doctors were present in interrogation rooms…….The middle class, Staub says, was pleased by the junta’s economic policy and was unmoved by the repression that accompanied it.”

A considerable difference in India would be: the mainstream media censors itself not out of fear but for reasons it knows best.  The middle class, especially, is happier to be engaging with the indigenous adivasis as exhibitions in state-sponsered fairs. Doctors in Chhattisgarh had botched two medical reports on Soni Sodi.

In India, ‘development’, ‘economic progress’, have become the legitimate myths, justifications, war cries; the apathy, for the killing of the illegitimate children of the Republic.

That every day, four people are invisibly tortured to death in police custody reflects upon the society we are becoming, and the apathy that emanates from it, is the gasoline that falls into the tinderbox that is a lawless society holding a gun to its head, a neurotic world of violence where people kill each other for a packet of biscuits, or uncontrolable rage, or where the Border Security Force strips a man and beats him brutally and videographs it, as every institution of authority has broken down, where the new deities of profit, growth, development have destroyed the needs of human touch and conscience: where compassion, empathy, and mercy were quietly executed in some forest declared as a Disturbed Area or a ‘liberated zone.’

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Jai Bhim Comrade: Where The Republic Still Lives

February 2, 2012

A teenage boy records a scene from documentary film Jai Bhim Comrade that was shown on the 25th of January, 2012, at Ramabai Nagar, where on the 11th of July, 1997, 11 people were killed in police firing.

The family of Namdeo Surwade who died of his injuries a few years after the firing.

This article appears in Daily News Analysis on the 2nd of February, 2012

Early on the morning of 11th July, 1997 at the Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, a woman saw a garland of slippers on the statue of iconic leader B.R. Ambedkar. Within a few hours angry Dalits had gathered on the highway to protest against the desecration.

By 7:30 am, a police van would stop 450 meters away from the protesters, disembark and immediately start firing. They’d fire over 50 rounds within twenty minutes into small lanes and by-ways and into people’s homes – into the homes of people who were not even protesting.

They killed ten people.

Young Mangesh Shivsharan was shot in his head, right in front of Namdeo Surwade who was shot on his shoulder.

‘The boy’s brains were all over my father’ said Manoj about his father Namdeo Surwade, a handcart puller who could never work a day after the injury and died a few years later, becoming the eleventh victim.

But there was another casualty of the killings at Ramabai Nagar.

Vilas Ghogre, Dalit poet and singer, committed suicide horrified by what he saw at Ramabai and the realization ‘that this country is not worth fighting for anymore’ as witnessed by his friend, singer Sambhaji Bhagat in Anand Patwardhan’s new film Jai Bhim Comrade, screened at Ramabai Nagar on the eve of the nation’s 63rd year as a Republic.

For three and a half hours, over fifteen hundred people saw the film on a makeshift screen, many standing through its entire duration. The film details not just the life of Vilas Ghogre and the police firing but its aftermath – the movement for justice that led to the police officer who ordered the firing to spend less than a week in ‘hospital’ (not jail), before being let off on bail by the High Court. It tells other stories – the martyrdom of a young Dalit Panther Bhagwat Jadhav, killed by the Shiv Sena at a protest rally in 1974; the incisive and fiery oratory of Panther leader Bhai Sangare that possibly led to his martyrdom in 1999; the Khairlanji massacre and continuing atrocities in the countryside. It examines the assault on the Constitution and the slow appropriation of radical Dalit leaders into mainstream Congress or hardcore rightwing politics while also critically examining the role of the left in dealing with caste.

Highlighting precarious livelihoods, it paints intimate family portraits of ordinary Dalits across Mumbai and Maharashtra and all this intersects seamlessly with the central role of music in not just the film but in the Dalit politics of resistance.  Protest songs sung in every chawl, basti and galli  lead us to the newest generation of cultural activists/musicians such as the Kabir Kala Manch, whose songs are viewed as such a threat by the State, that they’re branded as Naxalites and forced to go underground.

The religious mother of the enigmatic singer Sheetal Sathe of the Kabir Kala Manch, would say, ‘At every performance my children always assured me that they’d never take up arms, that they’d change the world only through song and drum.’

Yet cultural and social revolution is a threat in the same country where freedom of speech and expression is a privilege.

At Ramabai, young teenagers with moist eyes watched the screen quietly, listening to a spirited widow describe how her husband’s hands were slashed by upper caste men, and how he bled to death while the police refused to take their statement. The proud woman had saved Rs.5 and Rs.10 a day over the years to buy herself land and educate her children. When the filmmaker asks her how she kept up her spirit, she replies: ‘I can’t afford to lose. What’ll happen to my children if I lose?’

When a group of boys were asked what was their favourite part of the three and a half hour film, they replied, in unison: ‘The songs of the Kabir Kala Manch.’

No wonder the state views them as a threat.  Resistance and symbols of resistance need to be wiped out like Pochiram Kamble who was killed for uttering the words ‘Jai Bhim’. Yet the film that documents the recent decades of caste oppression and it’s growing denial, has found that symbols of joy, hope, perseverance and resistance, always survive, irrespective of thousands of years of oppression.

Another Dalit leader Ashok Saraswat’s speech in the film drew laughter from the crowd at Ramabai: ‘Unfortunately we gave up 330 million gods but made Ambedkar into a god. We wear Babasaheb Ambedkar’s photo around our neck. On waking up, we say “Jai Bhim”. Before sleeping, it’s “Jai Bhim” and when having a little drink, it’s Jai Bhim!”

“Listen people! God is not in temples or idols. God is found through service to the poor.  Gadge Baba would ask – ‘Is Ganapati a god ?’

‘Yes, Baba!’

‘Who made Ganapati?’

‘A potter did.’

‘So tell me who is Ganapati’s father?’

‘The crowd wouldn’t answer.’

‘Ashamed to say it?’

“Then softly they’d say: ‘Ganapati’s father is the potter.’”

The crowd of Ramabai, especially the young, laughed out loud but none of them found the scenes of puerile racism from the middle and upper middle classes very funny.

The filmmaker interviews a young student from Jai Hind college who says, ‘Dalit issue frankly is definitely ameliorated over the past half a decade or so.’ A sentiment that is not only echoed in the mainstream media that is beginning to cite Dalit neo-liberalism as a way forward, yet those comments are put in sharp contrast to the National Crime Records Bureau that mentions ‘Every day three Dalits are raped and two killed’ and the conviction rate under the Prevention of Atrocity Act is a mere 1%.

In Beed district of Maharashtra, a young woman was raped by upper caste men, and her entire family was beaten for confronting the attackers. An old man from the same family begins to speak:  ‘We are responsible for this.  We never got organized or converted to another religion. We failed to do that. Had we done it we could have mentally discarded caste and made others understand we are humans. We Mangs bear the brunt of injustice.’

‘But those who converted to Buddhism also face atrocities.’ says the filmmaker.

‘Yes in some places it happens even to Buddhists. But they have the strength to retaliate.  We lack that strength. That’s the point.’

At that point, the crowd at Ramabai Nagar, was moved to cheers and applause.

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Invisible Cities: Part Nine: What Really Killed Baby Mohite?

January 29, 2012

This article appears in Daily News Analysis on the 29th of January, 2012

The residents of Bhim Chhayya at Vikhroli have been on an indefinite dharna since the 19th of November, 2011. While they have been demanding land rights and a right to a home as per the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna, they have also been demanding justice for the death of 14 month old Jayesh Mohite who drowned in one of the miasmic ditches dug by civic authorities to prevent further ‘encroachment.’

The Vikhoroli police, at the behest of angry residents included the names of the Mumbai suburban collector Nirmalkumar Deshmukh and deputy collector Shivajirao Davbhat into the First Information Report, charging them under Section 299, 304 along with Section 304A, which states – whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide.

The officials filed for anticipatory bail in the courts and the Deputy Commissioner of Police had cleared the officials of the charges and had instead submitted a three-page report detailing how the boy’s family are encroachers and anti-social elements.

Yet before they were ‘encroachers’, in May 2011, the government had relented to a 9-day hunger strike by social activist Medha Patkar that had demanded, besides investigating fraud in the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, to also declare 19 settlements as slums under Section 5 of the Maharashtra Slum Area Act.

Bhim Chhaya was one of them.

The right of a settlement to be called a slum would’ve given them rights and protected them from further demolition drives – the settlement was demolished repeatedly, ‘from 2001, almost every year’ according to the Suburban Deputy Collector Davbhat himself. The government however, relegated on its promise and the settlement was exposed to demolitions once again, when on the 16th of November, 2011, the bulldozers had arrived and ran through the settlement, burning down parts of their homes, and dug up ditches to make the land unlivable.

A little less than a month later, on the 12th of December, Jayesh Mohite drowned in a ditch that wouldn’t have existed if the government kept its word.

Shivajirao Davbhat mentions that the government resolution regarding the declaration of Bhim Chhaya as a slum, whose matter is now in the High Court, concerns the homes of older slums, not newer ones. He would emphasize the point that the residents are all encroachers who don’t have any papers  to show that they have come to Bombay before 1995. A fact that the residents never denied.

Yet of the hundreds of homes demolished, almost all the residents were part of the agitation for a right to a home, and had even been on the two-day rally of thousands from Khar to the Mantralaya on the 28th-29th of June, when old men and women marched in the pouring rain, at times barefoot, hoping to meet the Chief Minister who was being pressurized by the builder lobby to oppose Medha Patkar.

Meanwhile, the land in question, belongs to the Forest Deparment, and the High Court had ordered the protection of all mangrove land in Maharastra in the Writ Petition 3246 of 2004, where it mentions, ‘Regardless of ownership of the land, all construction taking place within 50 metres on all sides of all mangroves shall be forthwith stopped.’

At Bhim Chhaya, a building built by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena right next to the mangrove, is still standing, overlooking the demolished slum.

Structural Violence Built For The Homeless

Jayesh was born on the 22nd of September 2010, his mother was pregnant with him, the last time their homes were demolished in the days between the 9th of March and the 12th of March, 2010.

He was the only son of Uday Mohite, an autorickshaw driver by profession and the un-official leader of the agitating residents, who’ve been fighting for a right to a home since 2005. He hasn’t worked a  day since the notice first arrived asking the residents to vacate the land. After the death of his son, he had gone on a hunger strike which lasted for 19 days, and he had even raised his voice and spoke about the long agitation for the right to a home, at the India Against Corruption rally on the 28th of December, 2011 but their protest goes on quietly in Vikhoroli, it being 66 days since their homes were demolished as of the 24th of January.

‘They’re cancelling our ration cards now,’ Says Uday Mohite, as a group of residents sit around him with their voter IDs, their cancelled cards, the birth certificates of their children.

‘Jhopadpati toot gaya na, toh ration cancel ho gaya,’ said Kantabai Bhimrao Khandkare, one of the women whose cards were cancelled, ‘They want the electricity bill. But do you see any electricity in the thousand homes here?’

‘They say we’re all living on the footpath.’

Around eighteen cards were cancelled after the demolitions in 2010. This time five of them have been cancelled.

When it comes to water, India voted to identify the right to clean water and sanitation as a human right in the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 28th of July, 2010, but in the state of Maharashtra, settlements that have come into existence after 1995, can’t get any water from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The residents are left at the mercy of the water mafia, and have to pay for water, while living an an inexistent home, with the constant risk of demolitions, while trying to make ends meet.

Most of the residents are Matang Dalits without any land holdings, from as far as Jaalna, Solapur, Osmanabad, Buldhana, Beed, Nasik and Latur, who’ve been working in Mumbai as domestic help or as daily wage labourers, who may or may not get work when they go to the nakas.

Sangita Awamisa is a widow and single mother who came to Mumbai forty years ago from Jaalna during the migrations of the 1970s. She earned her living selling lasan and now works as a domestic worker in one of the nearby buildings to support herself and her three children.

Chaeya Taide, spent Rs.7,000 thousand to rebuild her home when it was demolished the last time. She lives with her sister’s family in Bhim Chhaya. Both of them are from Buldhana district and both of them work as labour.

K.Soma Naik is the sole resident who is originally from Andhra Pradesh who has lived in Mumbai for over 30 years. A few years ago, Soma Naik was diagnosed with tuberclosis and eventually developed a tumour in his brain. His family had to sell their house at Kamrannagar to pay for his medical expenses and he moved into one of the empty plots of Bhim Chhaya with his wife, where they filled the marshy ground to build a foundation, and they live off their savings, paying around Rs.4000 every month on medicines alone.

‘A lot of people in the basti work as domestic help in those buildings where there are MHADA people live too,’ a resident points across the small field filled with tarpaulin tents and ditches, where low-cost buildings overlook their own.

Kantilal Shinde, 74 years old, had come from Osmanabad, ‘We put bamboos into the ground and made our homes. Many used to live on the pavement before this.’

A few days after the demolitions, people had gone back to the pavement.

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Murder At Pachuwara

January 23, 2012

The murder of activist-nun Sister Valsa John has a lot to say about India’s mining policy

Karu Tudu of Kolajuda village stands over his destroyed paddy field, covered in coal dust. Over 500 trucks carrying 2300 kilograms of coal each, travel pass his fields each day and are forced to dump some of the coal on the roadside by local villagers, who sell it on the black market.

This article appears in two parts in the Sunday Guardian on the 15th of January here and the 22nd of January 2012, here.

Everyday over 500 trucks travel the 35km stretch from Pachwara to Pakur in Jharkhand, carrying over 2300 kilograms of coal each. And everyday, hundreds of local adivasis and landless farmers stop the trucks, and unload a little coal onto the road for themselves to sell in the black market.

In the process, the paddy fields on the periphery of the roads are entirely covered in coal dust.

The police sometimes accompany the trucks carrying the coal and attempt to stop the locals from taking coal, and have often chased them away, beaten them, or arrested them. Yet the practice continues.

‘We make around 150 rupees a day, if a whole family sits to collect coal to sell it.’ Said one of the ‘scavengers’ on the roadside.

‘Why do you do it?’

Two brothers Badan and Darbo Soren who live in the village of Kulkipada have no choice. The coal dust has destroyed their produce, and it renders their crop unsellable.

‘We eat the black rice ourselves. No one will buy it.’ Said Badan, ‘Earlier we used to make some Rs.15,000 or Rs.20,000 per year.’

‘And there is no more mahua seeds, no more mango in the trees.’ Continued his brother.

The rains have failed in the last three years in a district where the rivers run with streaks of black coal. Families make a living out of the coal that travels their road every day, turning the entire stretch of the 35 kilometers into a black field, where children as young as six can be seen working to help their families.

The coal mining company Panem Coal Mines Limited, had also tried to acquire lands to build a railway line from Pachuwara to Pakur, but they faced stiff resistance from farmers like Badan Soren and his brother, who’d lose their farm land to the track.

Instead the dumper trucks travel everyday across a dusty road where both people have lost their lives to hit-and-run accidents, and in anger, the locals burn down the trucks, and an informal industry is born.

How The Free Market Murdered A Nun

Of the thousands of villagers who stop the dumper-trucks and collect coal on the 35 km stretch from Pachwara to Pakur, many are children under the age of ten.

The story of Pachuwara can be told by telling the story of the murder of Sister Valsa, a nun and an activist who fought for the rights of Santhal Adivasis, who would be a part of a compromise that would spell her own demise, when she was brutally axed to death in her adopted home in the village of Pachwara in Pakur district on the 15th of November, 2011.

Within hours of her killing, the mainstream media was quick to report that she was murdered by the Maoists. The Maoists denied it, even as an initial note, claimed to be written by them, condemned the nun and the activist to be working for the coal mining company Panem, and not in the interests of the people.

A few days later the police would arrest seven individuals who were associated to Sister Valsa. Almost all of them were local villagers/contractors who’d get work from Panem. One of the accused, Pycil Hembrom was the son of the president of the Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan that fought against the company and had a long history of working with Sister Valsa. And after the end of the agitation against the company and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the 30th of November 2006, he worked with them as an independent contractor.

Sister Valsa was living as a guest in the house of Pycil Hembrom and had only moved out eight days before her murder. A confrontation had taken place over the money that came from the mining company and Sister Valsa moved into the home of Sonaram Hembrom, who confirmed that Sister Valsa had confronted Pycil and others for embezzling money.

‘The MOU made a lot of promises, but the work only happened on their accord.’ Sonaram Hembrom said, who was present when over forty people had surrounded his house in the dead of night to look for Sister Valsa who was hiding in her room, and would eventually find her and axe her twice near her head and her neck.

‘They saw all that money and they got greedy.’ Said Sonaram’s neighbours, about Pycil and the other accused from Aalubera village adjacent to Pachwara.

‘Sometimes, the money we were supposed to get for one tree used to be Rs.50,000, but Sister would find out that we only got Rs.5,000. When we confronted them about this, they said it was a computer error.’ Continued Sonaram Hembrom. All the documents and registers that detailed all the financial dealings of the Project-Affected-Persons and the PANEM Coal Mining Company that Sister Valsa had kept, were appropriated by the police as evidence and are currently unavailable.

The History of An MOU

D. Marandi, once a farmer, now a miner at Panem Coal Mines Ltd at the rehabilitated site of Naya Kathaldih.

On the 19th of April, 1985, very close to Pachuwara, at Banjhi, and close to the collective memory of the elders of Pachuwara, the police had shot and bayoneted over 15 people including an ex MP Anthony Murmu as they were demanding their rights. Every year they gather in the thousands on the day of the incident to pay homage to their martyrs.

Years later, their rights were again usurped by the Panem Coal Mines Limited, who were given land by the administration, who used an infamous colonial era law, the Land Acquisition Act to acquire all the lands of Pachuwara and the nearby villages for coal mining. This has remained a story repeated across central India’s mining belt that gives birth to numerous protest movements and a direct confrontation with the state’s mining policy that has acquired lands by flouting laws, and violating tribal rights.

Almost all the mineral deposits in Central India are on Fifth Schedule land, which is protected by the constitution and has given local tribes authority over local resources. Yet the arbitrariness of the Land Acquisition Act allows the government to simply hand over lands to private companies, and the locals have always resisted, leading to brutal confrontations with the police and the administration.

But of the 104 MOUs in Jharkhand, Pachuwara is one of two where work has started, as there was a settlement between the villagers and the company, a settlement that many still feel has to be completely understood.

‘Our land cannot be sold, you people with a brave history can and must drive out this company!’ said Binej Hembrom, the parganaith (village headman) to the people of Pachuwara in a meeting long before the agreement, but would eventually be one of the signatories to the MOU along with the company director Bishwanath Dutta.

Today Binej Hembrom is a senile old man, half-deaf, seemingly unaware that his son is in jail for murdering a woman who they once fought the company with, and some say, had won.

‘People in Ranchi, in the social movement’s think we sold out.’ Said Father Tom Karvallo, who along with Sister Valsa John was close to the movement at the time of the signing of the MOU.

‘But there was a lot of repression.’

‘Our people were being divided by the company. There were police cases on Valsa and others like Joseph who’d eventually be killed in an accident. And when we lost in the High Court, we had gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the illegality of the land acquisition as this was a Fifth Schedule area. But the Courts are a gamble, it can really depend on the judge, or the climate of the time. And we were afraid, that if we lost, we’d set a dangerous precedent as there were so many other adivasi movements fighting for their land. And they would’ve all suffered if the Supreme Court had ordered in favour of the company.’

‘So we signed the MOU. And it was a good relief package, that we only got after such a strong struggle.’

The agreement was reached in Delhi on the 30th of November, 2006, after ‘persuasion’ by a section of outsider activists, and one, including Shajimon Joseph, then Resident Editor of The Hindustan Times, who’d eventually be a signatory of the MOU as a witness, who confirms there was police repression in the form of cases on Sister Valsa and other adivasi leaders, but also mentions there was no dissatisfaction during the signing of the MOU.

The Memorandum of Understanding itself was unprecedented. Apart from offering schools, healthcare, employment, rehabilitation sites, there would be a yearly stipend for each acre the company appropriates, and that the work for the construction of rehabilitated sites would be given as per the MOU, to local contractors and Project-Affected-Persons.

The money that came from Panem company for such work, would go to Sister Valsa, who directed the young contractors like Pysil to work in the area.

Five years after the Memorandum of Understanding, the promised hospital is still under construction.

The village of Kathaldih was uprooted, and the company has resettled them in a newer colony called Naya Kathaldih, where farming as all but stopped and most of the young men work as miners in the coal mine, waiting for the company to finish mining their lands, and then return it to them, so they can commence farming again.

Living In Fear

A truck that was allegedly burnt down by the Maoists. Yet there have been many other times, when local villagers burnt down trucks in anger after numerous hit-and run incidents.

Rajan Marandi and Pradhan Murmu were two other contractors arrested for the murder of Sister Valsa who lived in the adjacent village of Aalubera that is soon to lose their land to the company.

Rajan has five cars for himself, while Pradhan has around seven cars and all their cars remain parked in the village in front of their houses. The village is a village in fear, as the police has been searching for others who may have been present when Sister Valsa was attacked. Two boys who refused to give their names say the police has been searching for them, and they are innocent.

They quickly disappear when they’re asked about the relief package.

There are no village elders, and there is no one who is willing to talk about the impending displacement and rehabilitation.

One young woman whose family lost her land years ago to the petrol pump that fills over 500 trucks claims their family doesn’t get the monthly stipend, but refuses to go on record, in fear of antagonizing the powers-to-be.

‘They’re all filling their own pockets,’ she said.

‘Isn’t there anyone who takes up these issues?’

‘There’s no one.’

‘Who speaks up against the company?’

‘No one.’

‘Over here,’ said another young boy Chappu Deheri in Pachwara who was asked the same question, ‘Only Sister Valsa and her samiti used to.’

Aalubera is also the home of Advin Murmu, a 20 year old boy who was arrested for the alleged rape of a young girl who lived in the house of Sonaram Hembrom along with Sister Valsa.

According to her father, Advin Murmu and three other boys had kidnapped the girl on the evening of the 7th of November, and while the three boys had disappeared, Advin kept the girl all night in an empty home at Aalubera.

The girl was only let out in the morning and she had gone to her aunt’s house. The family along with Sister Valsa would take the case to the police on the 9th of November, six days before her murder.

The Superintendent of Police, Mayur Patel claims that there was no rape, and that the girl and the boy knew each other, and the girl’s family is merely protesting the fact that the boy is a Christian and the girl’s family is Sarna.

The family however claims, that Pycil Hembrom and the contractors wanted them to drop the rape case, threatening that they’d lose all their lands and their home if they persist to fight them. The family especially indicted the local sub-inspector of police, Daroga, as someone who wanted to give the family Rs.50,000 to forget the so-called imaginary case.

The Inspector has since been suspended for dereliction of duty after the murder of Sister Valsa.

Advin Murmu has since been arrested and according to the Superintendent of Police, for both incidents. Advin Murmu’s brother, also a contractor, claims his brother is innocent while his bail application was rejected by the Courts.

Photography Post-Script

‘The blackened, unsellable rice of Badan Soren of the village of Kulkipada.

Badan Soren and his house, next to the 35km road where 500 trucks travel everyday carrying 2300 kilograms of coal.

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The Last Of The Asbestos Miners Of Roro

January 8, 2012

Ex-miner Dansingh Bodra with the corroded helmet of his deceased neighbour Vijaysingh Sondi at the village of Roro, Jharkhand.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 8th of January, 2012.

When miner Dansingh Bodra was asked about the people from his village who he worked with, in the asbestos mines of Roro, who have all died before their time, he slowly starts counting, first to himself, and then loudly: ‘gyaara…. Pooliya Sondi……….. baara………Rohto Gop……..taira….Bagan Sondi…….. chowda….. Vijay Singh Sondi…….. pandra……Gono Sondi….. sola….. Harish Sondi….. sattra, Sukmon Sondi…… atthra….. Rahto Samadh.’

Dansingh himself suffers from cancer, a huge protrusion grows out of his stomach.

It took him five minutes to remember the dead. A few seconds to denounce the company that laid them off one fine day when the mines shut down in 1983.

‘They gave us nothing, no healthcare, no pension, just these illnesses.’

‘I worked in the mines for 12 years, and from that day itself I used to cough, and slowly it started to get worse.’

A man with a lump growing out of his stomach remains a testament to the reality of internal colonization, of a company that currently earns aggregate revenues of over 800 crores, of industrial development and the idea that mining offers jobs.

Dansingh Bodra awaits death in a village where his three grandchildren sleep behind him suffering from fever.

The mines have long but closed down, but the dust and pollution that emanates from them, still spread across the fields.

Even today, as per law, especially as per section 22 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, all asbestos mines have to be closed but the Hyderabad Industry Limited of the CK Birla Group, did not close their mines at Roro village at Chaibasa, West Singhbhum, Jharkhand and the asbestos fibres that are blown into the wind, that seep into the fields and rivers, still exist 30 years after the mines shut down.

‘So many people died before they turned forty,’ Said Birsingh Sondi, who points to his neighbours house, ‘There lived Mangalsingh Sondi, who was 25 when he died and he never even worked in the mine, his father Sukmon worked there, and he died a few years ago too.’

Asbestos, whose use, manufacture and extraction is banned across the European Union, is still used widely across India and is part of a 4000 crore industry dominated by around 18 companies who justify the use of asbestos as a substitute for affordable roofing, who claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely manufactured and used without risks.

The companies claim that the kind of asbestos used in India isn’t carcinogenic, even as all forms of asbestos are classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, and the International Agency For Research On Cancer, who mention in a report that was published in 2010: ‘Epidemiological evidence has increasingly shown an association of all forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) with an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.’ It would go on the mention that an estimated 125 million people are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace.

Yet the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, one of the main lobby groups for the continued production and use of asbestos, has repeatedly claimed, ‘Some five hundred other products and industrial processes are recognized as carcinogens, but this does not mean that we must prohibit their use.’

While the Lobby has often reiterated that chrysotile asbestos is safe, and that proper safety standards and use of asbestos, justifies the industry, the chairman of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, Abhaya Shanker, is also the Managing Director of Hyderabad Industries Limited, who says they closed the Roro mine, and that the mountains of asbestos tailings from the mine are not carcinogenic.

‘Roro is a finished chapter, a closed mine 30 years back, what’s the point of Roro? I don’t understand.’ He exclaims in a telephonic interview.

‘That is all an old story and that was all, an old type of asbestos and that is all done.’

‘The mine is safely handed over, and closed, and handed over to the government of India, and there is no danger to the public. It’s all bullshit.’

‘According to the Supreme Court directives in the CERC case, you have to monitor the health of your workers? Do you also monitor the health of your workers from Roro?’ I asked.

‘You can look at our world class health monitoring system, for our workers, …., for several years we keep calling them, for check-ups, for studying them…’

‘Even the Roro workers?’

‘The Roro workers are all finished, we would have done them (the survey) for a couple of years……and it’s been 30 years now, nobody would be alive now.’

A History Of Trying To Close The Mountain

Roro Hills at Chaibasa were first mined for chromite in the early 1960’s by the Tatas, and those mines were sold to the CK Birla Group, as the Tatas moved onto mining chromite at Sukinda, in Odisha, which itself, according to international environmental group Blacksmith Institute, is one of the 10 most polluted places in the world, where approximately 70% of the surface water is contaminated by hexavalent chromium, with 24.7% of the population living around the mines to be suffering from pollution-induced diseases.

When I had visited the village of Suanla in Sukinda in 2010, an old man scoffed at the media’s ability to highlight the issue and improve the lives of the people of his village. He claimed that over 30 people have died in the past few months. Some called the deaths in Suanla an exaggeration, but in the house of Markand Hembram, four members of the household had died within a year.

Quoting the report by the Blacksmith Institute, the government itself had gone on to say: ‘It is unique, it is gigantic and it is beyond the means and purview of the [Orissa Pollution Control] Board to solve the problem.’

Back at Roro, there were vocal attempts to close the mountain and clean up. Way back in 2003, a public hearing was held where villagers from 14 villages around the mines has spoken up about working in the mines and the health issues in their villages. The hearing was organized by Jharkhand Organization For Human Rights, and was paneled by a group of prominent doctors and advocates.

The report of the hearing was taken to the District Collector and Chief Medical officer who were given representations for conducting medical camps, to monitor health of workers and non-workers, and to detail a scientific closure of mines and to hold Hyderabad Industries Limited accountable to pay for health and environmental damages.

Yet till date, there have never been any attempt by any official body – from the Pollution Control Board, the Directorate General of Mines Safety, the Mining Department, the company or the local administration to remediate and clean up the mine tailings or do a proper mine closure.

‘Everyone wants the mines cleaned up.’ Said Birsingh Sondi, whose own fields run aground with asbestos dust.

At Roro, only three miners who worked with the Birla Group are left alive. But not everyone worked directly under the company as independent contractors had also taken on the responsibility of disposing asbestos dust, who paid workers Rs.1.50 per day, for working from eight in the evening to eight in the morning to do the work without any protective clothing.

‘there was no izzat in mining, we should never have allowed them here.’ Continued Dansingh Bodra, who had even worked underground, mining asbestos without any protective clothing, and there were accidents: Turam Sondi, Jida Sondi and Dausar Sondi were killed in the mines in a few years before the lockout and the closing of the mines.

‘No one should ever have worked the way we did.’

Photography Post-Script