This time next week, I’ll be in the midst of the bacchanal that is Jouvay. Jouvay is truth in a way that nothing else can be.
So as I get my heart and mind ready for this week, I’m reflecting on my Jouvay truths. My love for Trinidad and Carnival and art.

Sacred Waters

To touch the river is to understand her divinity. You must walk the path of the river to pay your respect. You must experience the shocking coolness of the water in the early dawn, the sharp jab of stones, the yielding softness of mud. The sun barely peeps through the thick forest cover in those early dawn hours when the only noises are forest ones: raucous birds and a whispering river.

 

Excerpt from a short piece I wrote on the Hindu River festival Ganga Dhaaraa in the current issue of Caribbean Beat. 

Vedanta HQ in London mobbed by Protestors as Supreme Court gives final decision on Mine to Village Council

18 april 3

 

  • Supreme Court final judgement says ultimate decision on Niyamgiri mine lies with local ‘gram sabhas’ (village councils).

 

  • Defiant and loud demonstration at Vedanta headquarters.

 

 

Indian Supreme Court judges today handed the final decision on Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine to the Dongria Kond tribe and farmers living around the mountain. Two Gram Sabha’s (village councils) or local self-government within 10km of the proposed mine should announce their decision to the Ministry of Environment and Forests within three months1. The decision will have a major financial and reputational impact on Vedanta and may force them to close their Lanjigarh refinery, costing them billions.

 

In London, activists from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups descended on Vedanta’s nominal Mayfair headquarters later today celebrating what they see as a victory for local self-determination, but calling for thorough independent oversight of the decision making process which they say is wide open to abuse by Vedanta officials and state police. They held a loud noise demonstration, and held a banner stating ‘MoEF – No U-turn on Niyamgiri‘ while shouting slogans with a large megaphone. The protesters again called for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.

 

Protesters in London today staged a loud protest at Vedanta’s headquarters in reaction to the Supreme Court’s judgement to leave the final decision on Niyamgiri to the people affected, which they see as a victory for self-determination and tribal rights. They again added their voice to demands by parliamentarians and financiers that Vedanta is de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations such as those committed at Niyamgiri.(1)(2) In January Foil Vedanta handed documentation on a variety of abuses to the Financial Services Authority who are now investigating the company’s abuses and the case for de-listing2. In February David Cameron again used his India visit to pressure Indian PM Manmohan Singh to allow Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine.

 

Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das says:

 

For ten years Vedanta has harassed local people and committed major abuses and illegalities in its attempt to push this flagship project through. For ten years farmers, Dalits and Adivasis living around Niyamgiri have fought to save their traditional communities and their sacred mountain, from a mine which would give just four and half years worth of bauxite for the 6 million ton per year refinery as planned by Vedanta Aluminium.

The Supreme Court is right that decision on the mine should be with those affected by it – the ancient inhabitants of the mountain. But the Dongria and others have stated their disagreement over and over again through Gram Sabha’s and mass rallies. We know that Vedanta officials have been very active in lobbying the judges leading up to this decision, and are concerned that the villagers will be under heavy harassment from Orissa state and Vedanta officials. We call for many independent observers to oversee this crucial process.

We demand that Vedanta is now de-listed from the London Stock Exchange in recognition of it’s proven abuses of law and Human Rights.”

 

The judgement states that the decision making process at local councils will be overseen by a judge appointed by the Orissa High Court. Vedanta officials and police have been repeatedly accused of trying to force villagers not to oppose the project in the past. As Dongria Kond activist Lado Sikaka states:

 

“We will continue our fight even if Vedanta gets permission. Are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are. Niyamgiri belongs to us. We are fighting because We are part of it. Our women are harassed and we are called by the police and threatened not to go to rallies. Last month they have been working like Vedanta’s servants.3

 

The ultimate decision will now rest with the Ministry of Environment and Forests who will accept the local council’s decision within three months(3). The Ministry banned the mine in 2010 after the N.C. Saxena committee warned that mining in Niyamgiri will severely affect the ecology and the habitat of the primitive Dongria Kondh tribe that lived on the mountain slopes. In February the Ministry again stated that they would not allow the Niyamgiri mine as Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran told the Supreme Court “We are completely against the mining operations.4

 

Senior Counsel, Sanjay Parikh, who has fought the case for the Dongria Kond said today:

 

“The historic judgement delivered by the Supreme Court today recognises the community, cultural and religious rights of tribals. The Dongria Konds can now establish the abode of their Niyam Raja. The Supreme Court verdict is significant as it recognises the rights of tribals against mighty mutlinational corporations”.

 

Vedanta is currently at a shareholder confidence low, as Societe General downgraded their shares to BB- or ‘sell’ status several weeks ago and suggested that they are unlikely to get permission to mine Niyamgiri5while Standard and Poor have also downgraded Vedanta’s shares to BB6. Societe General’s recent report states:

 

‘Niyamgiri bauxite reserves were central to Vedanta’s aggressive expansion plans in aluminum…Vedanta’s management was overly confident and committed too much capital without getting all the relevant clearances7.’

 

Vedanta are also in more trouble as a major acid gas leak earlier this month led to mass protests at Vedanta’s copper plant in Tamil Nadu, India, which have forced the plant to close until the National Green Tribunal has made a recommendation on whether it should be allowed to re-open at all. Their report is expected on 29th April8.

 

The Niyamgiri project has been racked with controversy from the start, as a spate of recent coverage points out: The Lanjigarh refinery built to process the bauxite from the hills was illegally constructed, the court case presided over by a judge with shares in the company, and the refinery should never have been given permission without including the associated mega mine in impact assessments9. A cover story in major Indian glossy Open Magazine in December details evidence of corruption and collusion between Vedanta and the Odisha state government, local officials, judges and the police to force the project through10.

 

 

(1) British registered mining company Vedanta have been named the ‘world’s most hated company’ by the Independent newspaper for their long list of environmental and human rights crimes for which they are being opposed all over the world11. Most famously Vedanta’s plan to mine a mountain sacred to the Dongria Kondh tribe in Odisha, India, has led to mass protests and the Church of England among others pulling out investments.

 

 

(2)Most recently MP John McDonnell raised a debate in the House of Commons calling for the Financial Conduct Authority to use its powers to investigate and de-list companies guilty of major human rights violations such as Vedanta. Other parliamentarians, financiers and the former CBI Director Richard Lambert have also highlighted how Vedanta’s listing is used for legal immunity to hide their corporate crimes.

 

Vedanta was described in Parliament by Labour MP Lisa Nandy as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights’ . Ms Nandy in her speech quoted Richard Lambert the former Director General of the CBI: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…’.12.

 

Similarly City of London researchers from ‘Trusted Sources’ have noted Vedanta’s

reasons for registering in London:

‘A London listing allows access to an enormous pool of capital. If you are in the FTSE Index, tracker funds have got to own you and others will follow. Both Vedanta Resources and Essar Energy are members of the FTSE 100. London’s reputation as a market with high standards of transparency and corporate governance is another draw for Indian companies. Both Vedanta and Essar have faced criticism on corporate governance grounds in India, and a foreign listing is seen as one way to signal to investors that the company does maintain high standards.’

 

In a parliamentary debate on 28th Nov 2012, MP John McDonnell made the case for Vedanta and other ethically contentious mining companies to be strongly regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, including possibly de-listed ‘because of their begaviour in the developing world.’13

 

 

  1. According to today’s NDTV report:

The court has ordered the Odisha government to share details of the mining proposal with the gram sabha. The gram sabha has to make up its mind in three months and share its decision with the Environment Ministry.

The ministry had refused clearance for the Vedanta group’s massive bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri Hills in August 2010. It withdrew clearance after the N.C. Saxena committee warned that mining in Niyamgiri will severely affect the ecology and the habitat of the primitive Dongria Kondh tribe that lived on the mountain slopes. The state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation, which has a joint venture with Sterlite, a Vedanta group company, had challenged the environment ministry’s withdrawal of clearance in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had in 2008 given permission to Sterlite India for the diversion of 660 hectares of forest land in the Niyamgiri Hills for mining bauxite. 
The Centre also withdrew earlier permission given to Vedanta to expand its 1 million tonne alumina refinery to 6 million tonnes at the Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi, also in Odisha.
Vedanta shut down its Lanjigarh alumina refinery on December 5 last year, citing shortage of bauxite. According to their agreement, Odisha Mining Corporation was supposed to supply up to 150 million tonne of bauxite for the Lanjigarh Refinery from bauxite mined in the Niyamgiri Hills, but was unable to do that because of the ban. 
Vedanta has claimed that in the last five years of curtailed operation, the company has lost about Rs. 2,500 crore on an investment of Rs. 5,000 crore at the Lanjigarh plant.14

 

 

 

 

9‘Games Vedanta Plays’. Economic and Political Weekly. December 22, 2012.http://www.epw.in/editorials/games-vedanta-plays.html

10Mihir Srivastava. ‘How Big Business Gets Its Way: Companies like Vedanta are brazenly taking over governance in some parts of India’. Open Magazine. 22nd Dec 2012. http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/how-big-business-gets-its-way

Vedanta AGM Protest. London August 28, 2012

Please join us for the eighth annual protest at British mining company Vedanta’s AGM on 28 August, 2.00PM at THE LINCOLN CENTRE, 18 Lincoln’s Inn
Fields, London WC2A 3ED

Vedanta plc is a London listed FTSE 100 company dubbed ‘the world’s most hated mining company’ which has brought death and destruction to
thousands. It is owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal and his family through companies in various tax havens. It has been consistently fought by
people’s movements but it is being helped by the British government to evolve into a multi-headed monster and spread across India and round the
world, diversifying into iron in Goa, Karnataka and Liberia, Zinc in Rajasthan, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland, copper in Zambia and most
recently oil in the ecologically fragile Mannar region in Sri Lanka.

* Vedanta is the second most tax evading mining company in the FTSE 100. Billionaire company chief Anil Agarwal is one of the richest men in
Britain with a £20 million home in Mayfair. His family own 62% of the company through various tax havens.

* At their Korba aluminium plant in Chhattisgarh, India up to 100 people are suspected to have been bulldozed into the rubble after a factory
chimney collapsed on them. Vedanta claim only 42 died but between 60 and 100 are still missing.

* At the Jharsuguda aluminium complex in Odisha, an estimated 10,000 people displaced by the plant are forced to live in polluted conditions
under constant surveillance rather than be rehabilitated.

* In Zambia Vedanta’s Konkola copper mines polluted the Kafue river so heavily that it turned green. 100 x acceptable levels for copper and 7,700
x acceptable levels of manganese were found in water depended on by 50,000 people.

* In Odisha, indigenous movements have opposed Vedanta’s bauxite mine on the Niyamgiri hills for seven years and so far prevented it. The whole of
the Dongia Kondh tribe would be affected detrimentally if the mine went ahead.

* Despite protests, environmental disasters and human rights atrocities everywhere the company operates, the British Government have continually
protected and supported Vedanta.

Foil Vedanta, Shakti revolution and other Wednesday morning thoughts.

 

Wake up, Murderer

“At 8am this morning Anil Agarwal was woken up at his £20 million Mayfair apartment by seven demonstrators with pots and pans and whistles. They shouted ‘blood on your hands’, ‘murderer’ and ‘Vedanta ka anta ho!’ meaning Vedanta should cease to exist, and held placards. One placard cited the communities in Zambia, Australia and India who are affected by pollution and ill health from Vedanta’s mines and industry. Another named two tribal activists – Sukru Majhi and Arsi Majhi – allegedly killed by Vedanta at their Niyamgiri mine project.”

Last summer in Babylon-don I had an amazing opportunity to take part in this protest in central London.  The occasion was the Annual General Meeting of Vedanta Resources PLC.

After my own adventures with the local anti-smelter movement, it was another chance for me to get involved in the global struggle against the aluminium monster, which is well documented in Out of this Earth written by Samarendra Das and Felix Padel.

All the Villains

I spent the day before with Sarbjit, part of the Foil Vedanta crew making posters.  It was also a chance for us to share stories of struggles and I was reminded once again of how important women are to protest movements around the world.

Sarbjit for all intents and purposes was a typically quiet Indian woman. She made me amazing chapatis in her kitchen while we talked about revolution and traditional expectations and love and other things that women like us talk about.

The next day, Sarbjit’s voice rang out clear and unrelenting ‘Arrest Anil Agarwal, criminal, criminal.’ She called out for hours, her voice vibrating along the street. I imagined her refrain making the people in the AGM upstairs increasingly agitated.

For murders and environmental crimes

The other person who stood out in this protest for me was Miriam a young English woman I met in Iceland in 2007 when Saving Iceland held their Summer Protest camp.  I consider that trip one of the significant events in my life for a number of reasons but mainly because I got to experience firsthand and with people from very diverse backgrounds that multi-nationals like to play the same dirty tricks wherever they are in the world.  And so the stories described to me from Orissa or Brazil or South Africa rang true to what I had experienced right here in Trinidad.

Without a doubt there are some amazing men involved in these global struggles for the environment, for people, for communities.

But women bring a truth to activism that is undeniable and pretty much uncelebrated.  If women aren’t involved as more than the back-up, then the movement will fail. This is why our labour movement is so weak and lacking credibility. Because it is not rooted to anything. To real people or real issues. All I can see is a bunch of men fighting over who can piss further.

More women need to understand their role in making a difference.  Beyond environmental struggles, activism among women needs to happen in terms of social interventions and taking back our communities from anything and everything that threatens to destroy them.

If we cannot change the notion of women as nurturers, life-givers, the primary source of life and living. Then we have to change the notion that women are somehow incapable of defending that which is closest and dearest to them.

All of which is to say, I’m missing my friends and sisters and brothers in London today.   And wondering how to cause a Shakti revolution up in this place.

 

Things I learned today while learning to ride a bike

Yeah so this about twenty years late, but better late than never, no? Well I figure if I really want to commit to this hippy life I should at least know how to ride a bike. This is a lot easier than it sounds, but to my surprise I didn’t suck as badly at it as I thought I would and I did manage to pedal a few times.  But it occurred to me as I wobbled along, picturing all the while that I was riding to Spitalfields Market (maybe this is why I was distracted and couldn’t steer straight) that life is a lot like learning to ride a bike. For the following reasons, in no particular order.

1. it hurts sometimes.

2. you need to find balance!

3. you will fall!

4. it really helps to have a boomsie (thank you, starch mango tree)

5. did I mention balance?

6. be patient with yourself, you will get it evenutally (I had a few Don Music moments)

7.  random men will think it’s okay to give you their (unsolicited) advice.

8. when you can’t make it up the hill, it’s always good to have a friend to push you, and steer you away from the potholes.

9. there are potholes and you seem to be attracted to them.

10. laughing helps.

11. everybody looks this stupid at least once in their lives.

12. brakes! don’t forget the brakes.

Anyway, my hands hurt from hours of over-zealous brake application so that’s about as much wisdom as I can impart for now.  all of which is to say that I’m glad that I got over my lameness and actually took the chance to try something new!

Saturdays, Thankfulness and a Story for Rhea

Saturday night found me, despite my considerable lack of grace and coordination, I found myself sweaty and dancing at the Hindu Prachar Kendra post Ramdilla festivites. There is a way that dancing with children makes you feel alive and I was thankful for that moment of freedom.

On the way out, I confessed to Ravi Ji in the way that you can only confess to people to whom your mother may have complained in the not so distant past about your waywardness that I feel like I’m just not doing enough.  The children of this generation for whom so much was sacrificed, so much danger dodged, so many battles fought, we’re just not doing enough.

So in wise uncle mode, Ravi ji tells this story as told to him by his aja.   There was a man from a village who was very well known.  One day the man is riding through the village on his donkey and then for some reason the donkey takes off at a pace down the road.  The village pundit sees the well known, well loved, well respected man pelting down the road holding on for dear life and shouts after him something like ‘Jagdeo Maharaj whey yuh goin!’ and mr jagdeo responds ‘doh aks me, aks de donkey!’

I started writing this before I knew that Rhea Mungal had done the inconceivable and decided that she was ready to leave us.

But the moral of Ravi Ji’s aja’s story is, sometimes all we can do is hold on, even when life gets a little crazy and unpredictable.

Every story has a point.  Every tragedy has a lesson.  Every community has a Rhea Mungal.  But each of these you have to find and nurture and understand and pass on.

Mrs. Ashby used to say back in the days on the frontline in Chatham, a stupid man is bad enough, but a stupid woman mus dead.  Well right now I real vex because Rhea Mungal was by no means a stupid woman.  Yet we have to contend with a lot of stupid blasted men in this country everyday.  That is why Rhea fought. That is why Rhea did what she did.

I am thankful for Rhea holding on to this jackass called activism.  She held on and fought hard not just in her own community but for all kinds of movements, here and beyond. I am thankful because she found ways to laugh and keep fighting and keep hoping and holding on despite and in spite of.  I am thankful because she was one of those relentlessly amazing Trinidad women who hold on despite the sexism, despite the belittling, despite her commitments to family, despite her own personal struggles.  I am thankful  for all the women like Rhea who will never get to sit on a state board. Who will never get a national award. Who will never have a street in their name.  Who do the work the men will never do and then some.  Who are afraid of nothing but their own dissatisfaction.

I was writing this originally for Rhonda.  And then I checked my email and saw a message that Rhea Mungal had just died.

Now I am writing this for me.  And for everyone else who is worried about holding on for the wild jackass ride.

Hold on a little longer. Please.  If not for yourself, for Rhea.  For the women who hold on to nothing but ideas.

Hold on for all the Rheas who hold this country together.  Without them we would have nothing but jackasses running about.