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A Documentary 

This is a documentary made with and for the indigenous people of Orissa, whose speech, song, dance, demonstration and gesture comes alive here in a way that is only possible because film-maker and camera have entered this indigenous world, and surrendered to the intention of serving them, becoming a medium for their expression.
What Adivasis and Dalits actually say is rarely heard in the media within or outside Orissa – a subtle form of censorship which is also tragic – especially on the subject of mining. In this film, as in their daily life, they speak with a clarity and vividness that pulls blinkers off our eyes, and brings us back to a reality grounded firmly in nature.
Running through the film is the commentary of one of the leaders of the Kashipur movement, Bhagavan Majhi, who narrates events before and after the Maikanch police killings of December 2000, and articulates a critique of mainstream ideas about “development” which should be heard by everybody concerned about Orissa’s future.
Basically the film interweaves a number of separate stories around resistance to mining and metal factory projects, and the big dams which supply them with hydro-power and water.
The Kashipur story involves 13 years of resistance to the “Utkal” project, where Alcan is the dominant partner (Aluminium Canada, a key supplier to Britain and its arms industry). Resistance centres in the Kond village of Kucheipadar, where Bhagavan and several other leaders live, alongside Salo Majhi, a blind singer and story-teller, whose songs start and end film, “from Genesis to Genocide”.
Events reached crisis in Maikanch six years ago, and culminates again today, when Kucheipadar is virtually under police siege as the authorities try to force-start construction work on Utkal’s refinery next to the village. Bapla Mali, the great bauxite-capped mountain which Utkal plans to mine a few miles away, is also featured, along with Kond sisters singing the Mountain’s myth in its sacred cave, and hill-slope digging for edible roots by a mother and son of the little-known Pengo tribe, who live all around Bapla Mali.
Kashipur resistance grew through contact with people whose lifestyle had already been severely degraded by Nalco (National Aluminium Co., based entirely in Orissa), and the film brings intimate interviews with villagers trecking up Nalco’s Panchpat Mali bauxite mine, and inhabitants of Nalco’s township nearby at Damanjodi. We also see the Indravati reservoir, which displaced thousands of people, and hear from villagers facing dispossession from the Lower Suktel dam project, who were beaten up by police during a demonstration a few months ago.
The Kashipur movement also drew inspiration from the Gandhamardan movement, which saved a mountain of this name in west Orissa. The film shows a whole township built by Balco (Bharat Al. Co.) and never used, taken over by the forest. There are interviews with two of the movement’s Dalit leaders, one of them from his deathbed.
Interspersed with aluminium, we meet iron too, in the shape of mines which have gouged out the sides of many large mountains in north Orissa, from Tata’s 1st project in the 1900s, to present plans for a huge expansion by Posco of Korea, Mittal steel, Rio Tinto and others. Associated with these mines are at least 80 sponge-iron factories in Orissa, whose pollution we witness, crossing all limits set by the law,
We also witness police brutality in action at Kalinganagar, where over a dozen companies are setting up new steel plants. What we witness is not the infamous police killings of over a dozen Adivasis on 2nd January 2006, which stopped Tata’s construction work, but an event in June 2005, when a different company, Maharashtra Seamless Steel, was trying to perform a “Bhumi Puja” (Hindu propitiation of the Earth) and Adivasi men and women were protesting against what they saw as a sacrilege. We see them disarmed by the police after a Magistrate’s order to disperse. We see the Magistrate himself striking an old man who is then beaten by a policeman with a lathi, and we see the Magistrate leaving the field with blood on his face from a stone-hit, and the women who were taken to jail and kept there so long that two of their children died back in their village of Chandi. (That steel company withdrew completely after this event)
Towards the end we return to Orissa’s other main bauxite/aluminium movement, against a London-based company called Vedanta, which has nearly completed a refinery at Lanjigarh. The plan involves mining the northwest ridge of Niyamgiri, and the film shows unprecedented sequences of the Dongria Kond tribe who live in the Niyamgiris, for whom mining their sacred mountain would be an outrage. Male and female shamans go into trance and speak about their mythic hero, Neba Raja. Niyam (Neba in the Kond language) means “Law” or “Truth” and this ridge preserves original forest over most of the summit, because Dongrias consider it taboo to cut it. They speak of the “magnetic force” which this mountain-top plant-life maintains, and their spiritual life is based on an understanding of the mountain’s fertility. We see the symbol of this, a “fractal image” of interlocking triangles painted on a temple, and we see Dongria girls in all their traditional finery dancing and singing a song about the mountain.
The film shows us forest on the summit, Dongria men during a protest march, and a recent public hearing where the collector of Kalahandi presents “happy oustees” to a team from the Supreme Court’s advisory body (who later wrote a report that was strongly critical of Vedanta’s project). This includes a batch of school-children singing a song about how joyfully they sacrifice their lives for their nation’s well-being. We also catch a glimpse of the site-map which places the refinery’s toxic “red mud pond” right beside the Bamsadhara river, just where it forms below Niyamgiri.
Finally we return to Salo Majhi in Kucheipadar, over-hearing him ask by-standers about a recent police attack where several villagers were beaten or arrested. Someone places forest incense before him and he sings a song of profound beauty and grief about how everything of value is being swept away by money and greed.
As another villager sings earlier in a famous movement song,
“Don’t you see the danger?
What we are facing today
You will face tomorrow
You are not immune…”
This film shows the grassroots reality among Orissa’s villagers today, in a way that no other documentary about these movements comes anywhere near. Obviously the reason is that people trust and open up to these film-makers, Amarendra and Samarendra Das, and know that this video camera is not an alien intruder come to capture their secrets. Their warm smiles towards the camera show they know it’s wielded by a friend, as a tool they can use to do something new: speak directly to people in the outside world about the joys and woes they face.
In this way the film is remininscent of Alan Ereira’s film “Message from the Elder Brothers” made with his help by the Kogi in Columbia, communicating their understanding about the necessity to live in balance with nature. Like the Kogi, Orissa’s Adivasis have much to teach us, and though it exposes the tremendous injustice and hardship they face from the mining/metals industry, this is also a film of tremendous hope and possibility. This is a people’s movement facing huge odds, and it’s not going to disappear. We in the “civilized world” may be complacent or cynical about what’s happening to the environment. Here are people prepared to take a stand.
Felix Padel

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