They are an indigenous people struggling to defend their land against mining interests who threaten their homes, culture and sacred deity.
Sounds familiar? No, they are not blue-skinned aliens and this is not the plot for the blockbuster film Avatar. Instead, it is the real life story of the Dongria Kondhs, a tribe of about 8,000 people in Orissa. Many of them are protesting the plans of mining giant Vedanta Resources and its subsidiary Sterlite Industries to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills, which they worship as their deity.
In an advertisement in Monday’s edition of the film industry magazine Variety, tribal rights organisation Survival International appealed to Avatar director James Cameron on behalf of the Dongria Kondhs. “ Avatar is fantasy…and real,” reads the advertisement. “We’ve watched your film — now watch ours,” it says, with a link to Survival’s 10-minute film ‘Mine: story of a sacred mountain,’ narrated by British actress Joanna Lumley.
Survival’s director Stephen Corry says: “Just as the Na’vi [of Avatar] describe the forest of Pandora as ‘their everything,’ for the Dongria Kondh, life and land have always been deeply connected. The fundamental story of Avatar — if you take away the multi-coloured lemurs, the long-trunked horses and warring androids — is being played out today in the hills of Niyamgiri.”
Last Friday, the Church of England sold its £3.8 million stake in Vedanta, saying it was unsatisfied with “the level of respect for human rights and local communities” shown by the mining company.
In a statement issued after the Church of England’s decision, Vedanta said that it “remains fully committed to pursuing its investments in a responsible manner, respecting the environment and human rights.”