CENTRAL INDIA’S UGLY FIGHT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

Amitava Kumar in The New Yorker:

Kumar-CentralIndiasUglyFightforEnvironmentalJustice-690If you threw a dart at the heart of India but your aim was off, a little low and to the right, you would hit the village of Matenar, in the administrative division of Bastar, in the state of Chhattisgarh. Though the region’s lush forests once found mention in ancient Sanskrit epics, Bastar now evokes for many Indians the threat or fear of the Naxalites, Maoist guerrilla groups that have waged a fifty-year insurgency against the national government. But Bastar also represents the ugly side of India’s Janus-faced democracy. The place where your errant dart fell is fabled for its mineral wealth, especially iron, coal, tin, and bauxite, and yet its inhabitants, most of whom belong to India’s indigenous population, the adivasis, are among the poorest in the country. Visitors to Chhattisgarh see dense jungle, small huts, and immense mines, but few schools, health centers, or hospitals. New construction seems devoted mostly to four-lane highways—the better to transport government troops into the state and minerals out of it.

In the past decade alone, more than two thousand people, most of them ordinary civilians, have died in the conflict between government forces and the Maoists. The aim of the police, who in many cases might more properly be called state-sponsored vigilantes, is to establish, with maximum force, federal sovereignty over Bastar—and to make the land safe for mining companies. In 2011, no less an authority than the Supreme Court of India compared Chhattisgarh to the Congo described in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” With a startling forthrightness, the Justices observed that “predatory forms of capitalism, supported and promoted by the State in direct contravention of constitutional norms and values, often take deep roots around the extractive industries.”

More here.

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