“Voice of a Tribal Leader: In the Aftermath of Mining” by Chetan Patil

Our coming generation will never forgive us”, said the tribal leader. The regret on his face was clear. As he continued, he said “our ancestors left us with this beautiful land but we could not conserve it. I will not blame the mining company; it was our mistake that we could not resist the offers they made as we were only concerned about the easy money at that time. But we are paying for it now as our youth are now more and more indulged in drinking, and facing various health issues at a very young age due to this mining job. Tribal people are known for their strong community values and bonding with each other but this is no longer the case. Sometimes I feared that we will lose our culture and nothing can be more painful than this for a leader.”

Image of a coal mine in Talcher, Odisha and is used for representational purposes only. Credits: Anannya Deb The image is shared under following CC license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/


As I tried to reason with them, saying that their land is their right and no one can usurp it. The old lady roughly around in her 70s sitting next to me, turned to me and said, “Where does one get those rights. If you have those please give us some son.” I froze at the request.

The place lies in Kawardha district of Chhattisgarh and the company now has announced that it will increase the production to meet the demand. As the demand for mining increases, so does the area under mining spreads, resulting in more and more evacuation of the local population. We are progressing at a faster rate and the economy is booming but we are oblivious about the human cost involved in it. To fulfill our needs some people are paying high cost for it as their identity is on stake. It appears that the word development in itself has now become contradictory and we need to change that. You will hardly see news on tribal issues featuring on the front page of national dailies or any debate on their issues on news channels. This also signifies the strong nexus between media, government and mining companies. Why this is happening? This is the question we have to ask ourselves. I remember one incident when an official from the company took me for a community visit under their CSR activity. He told the locals that start looking for other sources of income rather than depending on forest because anyways you are going to lose the forest cover in near future that was really infuriating.

As a result of this, tribal communities also feel alienated. I could notice the indignation simmering in them, what they need now is a spark to fight for their rights and show the world that they also exist and deserve the future they envisage for them and their coming generations. Towards the end of our conversation the tribal leader appeared somewhat optimistic as if his eyes were creating a positive picture of future for his community.

About the Author:

Chetan Patil is an India fellow, placed with Drishtee in Korba, Chattisgarh as part of his fellowship. He is working on financial inclusion of women self help groups and inspiring them to start small scale enterprises.

The blog was originally published on India Fellow (www.indiafellow.org/).