The underground Maoist Communist Party Manipur (MCPM) issued a statement appealing to the paramilitary Naga Regiments to resist government plans to deploy them to the Maoist guerilla stronghold areas of India, especially the Dandakaranya Revolutionary Zone in Chhattisgarh state. The MCPM's Comrade Nonglen Meitei urged in the statement issued to the media that the Nagas, an indigenous group on northeast Nagaland state, not to go to Chhattisgarh as "slaves" to fight other excluded tribal peoples in the region. The statement called on the Naga troops to lay down arms in the spirit of "revolutionary internationalism." (Nagaland Post, Oct. 23)
India's Dongria Kondh tribe have overwhelmingly rejected plans by British mining giant Vedanta Resources for an open-pit bauxite mine on their sacred lands, in an unprecedented triumph for indigenous rights on the subcontinent. Twelve Dongria villages unanimously voted against Vedanta's mine during consultations ordered by India's Supreme Court in April. The court based its ruling on the Dongria people's religious, cultural and social rights. The mine would destroy the forests and disrupt the rivers in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa state, which are central to the livelihood and identity of the 8,000-strong tribe. Advocates charged the mine would spell the end of the Dongria as a self-sufficient people.
A 48-hour bandh, or civil strike, called by the United Naga Council (UNC) has shut down the ethnic Naga areas of India's northeastern Manipur state, with roads blocked and most businesses closed. The UNC called the bandh to press demands for a "separate administrative set-up" for Manipur's Nagas. Amid the strike, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) announced it would launch its own 48-hour bandh in the ethnic Kuki areas of Manipur to press demands for creation of a new "Kukiland" state, to be carved out of Manipur. (PTI, Aug. 12) Meanwhile, the All Assam Adivasi Students Association (AAASA) is blocking the road linking Assam and Nagaland states to demand autonomy for the tribal peoples or adivasis whose lands straddle the border. The decision to launch the blockade came after an advasi man was killed in an armed confrontation with Nagas in June. (NNN, June 6)
An indefinite general strike in India's West Bengal state has brought production of the world-famous Darjeeling tea to a halt, threatening to send global prices soaring. The strike was called Aug. 3 by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) to demand independent statehood for the region's Nepali-speaking Gorkha people in the Darjeeling hill district, to be called Gorkhaland. The strike has reportedly cost the industry £1.5m already, and state authorities have flooded Darjeeling region with paramilitary troops. "Our demand for Gorkhaland is an old one, and generations of our people have fought for it," said GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri. "Now we want it because we see no future for us in West Bengal."
Naxalite rebels ambushed a convoy in a densely forested area of India's Chhattisgarh state as the Congress party members were returning from a rally May 25, leaving 28 dead and nearly as many injured. Four state party leaders and five police officers were among those killed. Other victims were party supporters. Police identified one of those dead as Mahendra Karma, also known as the "Bastar Tiger," a Congress leader in Chhattisgarh who founded a local militia, the Salwa Judum, to combat the Maoist guerillas. Authorities were forced to rein in the militia after it was accused of atrocities against adivasis—indigenous people on the bottom rungs of India's rigid social ladder. (AP, PTI, Times of India, May 26)
In a landmark ruling April 18, India's Supreme Court today rejected an appeal to allow Vedanta Resources to mine the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa state. The court decreed that those most affected by the proposed mine should have a decisive say in whether it goes ahead, recognizing the rights of the Dongria Kondh indigenous people. The decision found that the traditional land rights of the local residents must be "protected and preserved." The project is now suspended until a traditional community assembly, or gram sabha, of the impacted villages can be held to assess the project.
Following a series of raids on the strongholds of Naxalite rebels and the slaying of top commanders, authorities say the guerillas' leaders have taken refuge in India's northeastern hinterlands, seeking to regroup and resupply—through control of opium production in their traditional strongholds. Home Ministry Joint Secretary MA Ganapathy said that Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh are producing opium in their jungle territories. "Intelligence reports say that the Maoists have joined hands with drug cartels to cultivate opium, which is subsequently delivered to the mafia, who convert raw opium into heroin and smuggle the drug outside the country," he said. The proceeds are reportedly used to purchase weapons in the northeast that come across the border from Burma.
Much of India was shut down Sept. 20 in a Bharat Bandh—an all-India general strike—called by opposition parties to protest new neoliberal economic measures by the center-left United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The bandh was most widely observed in Calcutta and Bangalore, which were virtually paralyzed. The Confederation of Indian Industry estimated losses of over $2 billion to the national economy. At issue was the UPA government's decision to hike fuel prices and allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector—which the opposition charges will allow foreign-owend box-store chains to squeeze out local businesses. WalMart, reacting swiftly to the government announcement, has already announced plans to open outlets in India in the coming months.