A community betrayed is a community undone. It is a neverending story of the human condition played out in Trinidad and Tobago’s own often brutal history, at endless moments when communities have made attempts to stand against injustice. In the absence of armed struggle, right to recall, effective or enforced environmental laws, and other forms of justice for communities, we laugh through our anger and frustration — and beat a bobolee instead.
Like so many other cultural forms in Trinidad and Tobago, the Good Friday bobolee — usually made of simple household materials — is a piece of performance art that goes much deeper than its ragged clothes. A bobolee is a public shaming of those who think that title, position, or social status are any protection from the wrath of the people.
Read the original article in the Current Issue of Caribbean Beat here:
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 Niyamgiri5, while 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
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
3Excerpt from footage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3FZX5DrccU&feature=player_embedded
5Vedanta Resources falls on bearish Societe General note. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/marketreport/9953367/Vedanta-Resources-falls-on-bearish-Societe-Generale-note.html
8Decision on Sterlite after Green Tribunal’s Verdict. http://www.livemint.com/Industry/R57NhVrHLTFeKVFQfuquXI/Decision-on-Sterlite-after-green-tribunals-verdict-TN-gove.html
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
I go many places
I go business places
And I see, see, see
All the bad, bad, bad things
Dem dey do, do, do
And dey call nepotism
And inside all business
I say I waka waka waka
I see, see, see
—Coffin for Head of State, Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Here we are, standing on the outside. Watching them dig out our insides. Outside of La Brea no one knows what is happening. No one knows the terror of big trucks on your roads at all hours. No one knows the trauma of living with sea breeze all your life and then having to install air-conditioning units because some man with book sense decided that it was a good idea to cut down 800 acres of land around you. Outside of Sobo, Square Deal, Union, Vance River, Vessigny no-one understands what the fight is about. No one grasps the social impact of an aluminium smelter. Not least of all the man whose decision it is to build it there. It takes one to know one, and he who is the most disconnected can identify the outsiders from a distance. He can smell them like the stench of melting aluminium.
Outside of Vessigny beach. Outside of this country’s development. Outside of a connection to the land. In this blind Vision 2020 we are all outsiders. We are all begging to be let in. For our voices to be heard. For our opinions to matter. We exist on the periphery. And the father of the nation builds a big tall wall around what is for him and those who support him. Leaving the rest of us on the outside. Only he knows who is worthy of belonging. Like a club bouncer he gets to say who gets inside and who stays outside. Who isn’t beautiful enough, who is too black. Stay outside and hope that one day the bouncer might decide to give you a bligh. That one day you might be good enough to get into the club where the nation’s resources are shared. Where scotch flows like the blood of little black boys on the outside. Where deals are made and broken like the backs of workers.
Outsider. I am an outsider. We are all outsiders. I wonder who is on the inside. Who has the right to be there. Is it the woman who is near hysterical when the Prime Minister speeds past her? Is it the woman who has voted for PNM all her life, who has supported Patrick Manning throughout his career, who declares with all the pain of the excluded—Patrick Manning hates black people? It is an easy conclusion to come to. Since the black people who look like him that put him on the inside are now the outsiders in their own land. The black people whose support he depends on might get jobs cutting grass on the outside of the Alutrint smelter. Four thousand have many years ahead of them to wait outside the health centre for their medical monitoring. And if they are found to have cancer from Papa Patos’ smelter’s toxic emissions will their health surcharge be able to cover their medical expenses?
Unfortunately they won’t be able to go outside of Trinidad to get medical care like the father of the nation. And the father of the nation in his dark glasses to protect his 2020 Vision from the glaring truth of protests by people who have voted for him knows who is the outsider. He knows the face and name of every child. Of every tantie, or every grandfather and youth man. Even as workers from other parts of the country are bussed in to give support to their smelter. Even as the Government goes into debt with the Government of China to build a smelter. Even as community leaders and village council members remain on the outside of their air-conditioned tents.
And the police can clear the roads for Papa Patos to pass but the protesters get blamed by a newspaper for causing the death of a child. He must know who is the outsider because he has created the distinction. He has given the parameters for insideness and outsideness. And if you don’t like it you could put it in your pipe and smoke it. The smoke of the smelter will infiltrate the insides of those the father of the nation calls outsiders.
Every other morning for the past couple weeks, I’ve received calls from friends in La Brea about what is happening down there. You would never be able to tell by watching the nightly news broadcasts, but hundreds of residents in that part of the country have been engaged in daily protests against Alutrint, the government owned aluminum smelter plant that they have recently begun construction of.
This morning things came to a head. My sistren called me to say that a police officer had just fired a shot, in the midst of women and children in Union Village. He had to be quickly escorted out of the community, as this angered many of the residents who have been engaging in various non-violent protests since 800 acres of land were first cleared from around their village five years ago.
Tomorrow morning Prime Minister Patrick Manning is carded to turn the sod for the Alutrint power station. Word is that attempts will be made to stamp out any sign of protest, from destroying their camp to arresting anyone seen to be making the Prime Minister look bad. La Brea is a PNM stronghold, which is why the initial resistance to the smelter was able to be overshadowed by what seemed to be overwhelming support from the community. But the promises of jobs have turned out to be, well, not exactly true and now even the people pro-smelter people are taking to the streets.
The following statement is from those members of the communities who are standing firm against the building of the Alutrint smelter.
JUNE 9, 2009
FROM ORGANISED CITIZENS OF SOBO, UNION, VANCE RIVER, VESSIGNY, AND SQUARE DEAL VILLAGES
We understand Mr. Manning is planning to come La Brea tomorrow to turn the sod for Alutrint’s power plant.
Protests involving the villages of Sobo, Vance River, Vessigny, and Union are growing. The citizens involved are against the building of the Alutrint Smelter. We now have the information that Alutrint has been hiding since February 2008 on the health risks of the smelter and the facts on such things as the loss of our beach that has been hidden from us since 2005.
Please note protests that started about two weeks ago were for jobs and fair relocation practices. However, our protest is by villagers being left to live near this smelter and we do not want it! The residents scheduled for relocation and the residents being left behind are standing together.
Those who want jobs in Alutrint have a separate platform. However, we sympathise with them as we have all been fooled that there would be safe jobs for our people. Instead we have hundreds of Chinese roaming about our backyards.
The representatives on many village councils and in the Parliament are representing Alutrint not us. They are trying to shove the smelter down our throat to silence us. This is why we are in the streets, we are representing ourselves.
Today the police discharged a firearm in the air in the midst of children in Union Village. Our protest is non-violent. We will not back down.
The State wants the people of Trinidad to believe that only a handful of residents of La Brea do not want the smelter. This is not true. For example, last week when C-news came to do a feature on La Brea they were only taken to La Brea Village where some persons told them they want the smelter. We waited for them but they never came to our villages. Please note the La Brea area consists of many villages. It is the some 4000 plus residents of Sobo, Vance River, Union, and Vessigny villages that have to be tested every two years for cancer. The residents of La Brea Village do not have to be tested. They cannot speak for us! We speak for ourselves. We do not accept this hurtful smelter.
The State is trying to create the impression that all is well and that the smelter is moving ahead at pace and is unstoppable. They want the people of Trinidad to believe we cannot stop it. This is not true. There is no plant on the ground yet. No plant will go on that ground.
We are calling on right minded citizens of Trinidad to support our call for justice and fairness. This is not just about the environment. We will continue our non-violent protests tomorrow and as long as it takes to safeguard our health and community.
Ah say we forge from the fire
And together we aspire
Just to take this damn ting higher
In this quest we never fail
Never falter never tire
Never sacrifice yuh freedom
Fire fire in yuh wire
No no nobody cah hold we
We Free, 3 Canal
They came for us. To teach us a lesson. That in this land of mimic men we never deviate from the regularly scheduled programme of lies, damn lies and skin teet. They came because they assumed we didn’t know the law. That we wouldn’t know that the UNC government repealed the law banning the playing of drums in public in 2002.
They came because they understand that when people start to agitate culturally, when the drummers and the dancers and the singers and the painters start to get blasted vex, then they have a problem. They came because they are afraid that their mask is falling. Cracking under the pressure of their endless fake smiling. Cracking like their Beetham wall of shame that now has earned them international media attention. They came because they don’t realise that the more you deny people a voice is the more they will find reasons to shout.
They came because they believe the hype that Trinis are docile. Trinis don’t like confrontation. They came for Michael because in this country young black men should be on street corners holding their testicles. They can’t compute a young man passionate about the environment. Because idleness is putting up a poster to ask questions about their Summit wastage and this is a far worse disservice to the society than advertising a short pants party.
They came for Auntie Verna because she looks like she should be a government supporter. Because women her age must stay home and mind their grandchildren. Stay home and pray and cook and watch television.
And then beat their breasts and wonder why the country is the way it is. They came for Wendell and Roger because artists must sing and dance only when instructed to. Because artists are not required to have a social conscience or a connection to the people. They came for Norris because farmers must mind their business and not consider that food security is a national concern. They came for Shivonne because good Indian girls must stay home and keep quiet. Must not have opinions.
There were children there. Children playing drums. Children being children. Children that could be mine. They came for them too. To send a message to the next generation that social activism is not acceptable. That having an emotional investment in your country is not an option. That resistance is futile, although everything about this place screams defiance. Everything about this place shouts loud that somebody was willing to sacrifice and put their life on the line so that we could prosper.
They came because they thought we would be so awed by their guns and their tear gas canisters that we would retreat. They came for you too. To remind you who is boss. To show you that your voice means nothing. Your life even less. They came to warn you not to get any ideas. To kill your fighting spirit just as you need it more than ever. They came to aim at your dreams. To trample your children under their government boots. They came because they know you are dissatisfied and disgruntled and disappointed with the way they are running the country.
I look them in the eye when they come for me. They are more afraid of us than we of them. They know they are wrong. They came for us because they follow orders. I shout at them because I don’t know what else to do. They are my neighbours and brothers and liming pardners. They are the people I stand in line for doubles with. That I support the West Indies cricket team with. That I weep for dead children with. Shivonne makes one of them cry. His eyes fill with water. His eyes shine with shame and pain from behind the plastic shield.
They dress back because they know that this battle is not a righteous one. They dress back because, regardless of automatic weapons and tear gas, they have no protection against their own intense sadness and pain at the state of this place. There is no difference between us and them. There is no line that separates their pain from ours. They come for us but cannot complete their mission. And it is the people who teach them a lesson. That in this place sometimes the people win. And power is not about weapons and they haven’t made a gun yet to kill ideas.