The documentary Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain.
The occasional rustling in the tree above us revealed itself to be a giant squirrel. We’d been climbing for what felt like an eternity but was, in reality, only an hour. The 50lb backpacks stuffed with filming gear weren’t making the hike any easier.
Our journey had already taken us from a village of India’s remote Dongria Kondh tribe, up through gardens of palm trees, jackfruit and millet and into the dense forests above. Now we were nearing the plateau at the top of the mountain. Occasional glimpses through the trees revealed forested ridges rising through the wispy clouds, and stretching down into the plains below.
We were following Lodu Sikaka, a Dongria Kondh tribesman and leader of Lakhpadar, the village we had been staying in the past nights. He led the way through the trees, kicking away the red rocks that lay scattered across the path so we wouldn’t trip.
Despite the beauty of the forests, and the butterflies which now filled the air, it was these rocks we had come to see. Their colour was down to bauxite, the raw material for aluminium. It’s these riches which have attracted Vedanta Resources, a London-based mining company, to the Dongria Kondh’s Niyamgiri hills. They’ve been given the go-ahead to build a vast open-cast mine on the top of Niyamgiri, the mountain the Dongria Kondh people worship as a God. Lodu had plenty to say about that.
We found a spot on the edge of a ridge with extraordinary views over the foothills. The camera was quickly set up, and we started recording.
“They want to take these rocks from the mountain,” he said. “But this is our life. If we lose the mountains, we’ll end up in great trouble. We’ll lose our soul. Niyamgiri is our soul.”
“That is why we are ready to lay down our lives to save Niyamgiri.”
Lodu was reserved, but it’s clear he knew every inch of the mountain he had grown up on. Planning to blast millions of tons of bauxite out of it was bad enough. But Vedanta hasn’t even consulted the Dongria Kondh. At one point it claimed they don’t even live there.
Genuine anger – and fear – bubbles away just underneath the surface. But the Dongria aren’t the kind of people to accept their fate meekly.
“We’ll not allow Vedanta to take away our mountains. We’ll just not allow it,” Lodu said.
Vedanta Resources was dealt a double blow on 30 March as the OECD agreed that all the complaints made by Survival International about the company’s planned bauxite mine in Orissa merit further consideration, and Indian police investigate fraud allegations against the company’s billionaire chairman Anil Agarwal.