Media exposure rocked mining boat in Niyamgiri: Filmmaker

By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, IANS
Friday, November 26, 2010

PANAJI - International media exposure acts like oxygen and helps to optimise the effect of people’s agitations against rampaging multinational corporations, according to a leading Indian documentary filmmaker.

Suma Josson’s short film “Niyamgiri, You Are Still Alive” virtually plays out the plot of James Cameron’s much appreciated animation film “Avataar” here on earth.

Set in the Niyamgiri Hills in the Kalahandi district of Orissa, the film is about the struggle of the Dongaria tribe whose existence is threatened by the coming of mining giant Vedanta Resources, which plans to set up a bauxite mine by carving up the ecologically sensitive area.

“While local struggles are important, I feel that it is important to get international groups to raise these issues with the international media. Organisations like Actionaid and Survival International played a big role in bringing Niyamgiri to the limelight,” Suma told IANS.

“The MNCs come, blast the eco-sensitive areas, displace indigenous groups who have been living there for eons, and leave behind black deserts. I felt that I had to document this process, what was there before and what happens after. Fortunately, as of now, the project appears to be stalled,” she also said.

Vedanta Resources has been criticised by human rights and activist groups for the firm’s proposed operations in Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa, which threatened the lives and identity of the Dongria tribe. The Niyamgiri Hills are also claimed to be an important wildlife habitat in Eastern Ghats, according to a Wildlife Institute of India study.

In a recent decision, union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh rejected the Vedanta Resources proposal to mine the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa for bauxite, amidst cheer from green groups.

The US-educated Suma, who has already made both feature and documentaries, said she had been working on Niyamgiri since 2007 and made a couple of campaign films on this issue.

“I made ‘Niyamgiri, You Are Still Alive’. It is a film which I made after the decision from the MOEF,” she said.

Asked about her expectations from screening the film at the 41st International Film festival of India (IFFI) this year, she said: “Any issue such as this, needs to be seen by as many people as possible so that they are aware of a story with a positive outcome. The points raised by the MOEF could set a precedent and used both in the court of law and in other platforms.”

Suma now hopes that the government does not renege on its bold decision.

“Well, I am hoping that the government keeps its word and Vedanta (Resources) is asked to leave Niyamgiri so that the adivasis and eco-systems around can co-exist in harmonious ways as has been happening since time immemorial,” she said.

Commenting on whether documentaries such as Niyamgiri convey a positive signal to similar social groups seized in the grip of the gargantuan mining behemoth, Suma said: “From day one, the adivasis have been firm in their decision to protect Niyamgiri and give up their lives for it.”

“Such struggles have been going on all across both in India and other places, but it is also important to note that the government recognised this -the illegal manner in which Vedanta operated and put a stop to it.”

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