'Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain', a documentary produced by Survival International, is a record of the multi-billion pounds FTSE 100-listed British mining giant Vedanta Resources Plc with its ambitions to destroy the breathtaking beauty, culture, forests and tribal life of the Niyamgiri Hills located in eastern India in order to mine millions of tons of bauxite from these hills to produce aluminium. The film centres around a tribe called Dongria Kondh who regard the Niyamgiri Hills as an intrinsic part of their ancient religious institution, and moreover of their ancestral and ever-continuing tribal life scattered around its mountains. These mountains are their homes, their food, their livelihood, their God, their schools and their identity. In the recent years, Vedanta seems to have achieved a fruitful relationship of money and political power in a country where corruption is not only a fabric of certain sections of politics, it is also a mockery of poor Indians who will never be allowed educational or economic advancement, because for the policymakers, sustaining ignorance brings more votes.
A rich foreign corporate from Britain can fearlessly evict people out of their homes and demolish them, build roads and refineries, produce tonnes of toxic waste that leads to dead crops and unsafe drinking water, and terrorise people who speak out against them. All of this is possible in India; the film does not go into details, but it goes without saying that all of this cannot be allowed were there not support from local political power and bribery.
We live in globalised times where we have a lot in common with people across different countries; common food, clothing brands, Hollywood films, English language music, books, cars, computers and much more. But our planet is irrefutably diverse with unfathomable geography, languages, skin-tones, food, stories and it is pulsating with people who will never participate in the melting pot of globalisation because their traditions and cultures are etched in their vivid-coloured clothes, forest tools and wooden stoves.
This is what the story of the Dongria Kondh tribe is, as this immaculately directed film follows their forests, the juice that men drink from palm trees to keep them in energy whilst walking up the mountains, the crops they produce in their family lands and the axes they build to cut wood. All of these people are illiterate, but these mountains, their weather, the forests and its science are their textbooks they have mastered for countless generations. With their yellow-brown skins painted by the sweltering sun and having dressed up in bright hand-made clothes, these people talk of their determination of never allowing Vedanta to destroy their mountains, which they anciently regard as their Gods who sustain their lives.
Tense mood in the film gains momentum as it shows Vedanta's bulldozers carving out a road up the Niyamgiri Hills, with plans to evict and displace these people so that mountain-tops can be exploded to mine bauxite for producing more aluminium and thus more profits. But what stands out the most throughout the film and towards the end is the determined nonviolent resistance of these tribal people, one of whom remarks: "Vedanta does not have any right to touch our Niyamgiri mountain. Even if you cut our throats, even if you behead us, we are not going to allow this."
This film was released in 2009 but it is very relevant to be watched today and beyond because after years of legal battles, on 18th April 2013 the tribal people of Niyamgiri Hills won a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court, which upheld the rights of these tribes on these hills. It has been watched by over 600,000 people worldwide, more than 10,000 letters have been sent to the Indian government in support of Dongria Kondh, and over $40m have been divested by Vedanta shareholders in the company. Critiques of Vedanta's unethical practices in Indian mining operations also include the Norwegian and British governments. The film ends with the following words: "We asked Vedanta Resources plc for their response to this film. We received no reply."