Tribal women hug trees to resist coal mining in central India

New Delhi, May 11 (EFE).- Fearing that their lands and livelihoods were under threat from coal mining, a group of indigenous women held a demonstration Wednesday to protest the government’s plans to mine tribal forests for coal in central India.

Global protests to protect tribal rights in India were also held in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Brazil.

The indigenous people in the Hasdeo forest in the central state of Chhattisgarh have been resisting coal mining projects, alleging that it destroys their lands and futures.

Across central India, lands and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people are under threat by coal mining in the forest region, spread over 170,000 hectares and home to over 350 species of animals.

Indigenous rights group Survival International said India was gearing up to increase coal mining to one billion tonnes per year, and 80 percent of new planned mines are on lands belonging to tribal people called Adivasis.

The protests came days after the government in Chhattisgarh approved coal mining activities and non-forestry use of land for the Parsa Opencast Coal Mining project in one of the largest continuous forest ranges in the state.

The government green-lighted the use of more than 850 hectares of forest land for the Parsa mining project on Apr.6, which could potentially displace around 700 Adivasi people.

It assigned the Parsa coal block to a state-run energy firm in neighboring Rajasthan, but mining giant Adani Enterprises will develop and operate the mines.

Activists say some 200,000 trees will be axed for the mining project.

The tribals have been fighting the government’s moves in order to prevent deforestation and loss of their habitat and livelihood.

“Thousands of Gond and Oraon adivasis, and Dalits, will see their lands and livelihoods destroyed by the mine,” said Survival International.

People, particularly women, have been camping in Hasdeo forests for “tree hugging protests” since the approval of the mining project.

This is a recreation of the famous Chipko Andolan of the 1970s, a non-violent, social and ecological movement by rural villagers, particularly women, in India to protect trees and forests slated for government-backed logging.

The movement originated in northern Uttarakhand state in 1973 and spread throughout the Indian Himalayas. The Hindi word chipko means “to hug” or “to cling to.”

The nonprofit said an existing coal mine, also operated by Adani, had an expansion project given a go-ahead by the government.

“In approving these mines, the Indian government has defied a vociferous and determined adivasi protest movement, which has seen rallies, marches, and vigils to protect trees from being felled,” said Survival International.

“Adivasi resistance movements across central India are striving to keep their forests standing and the coal in the ground. They are fighting for their rights. Their leaders are under threat from police crackdowns despite their dissent being both peaceful and law-abiding.”

The NGO said the indigenous people have threatened an indefinite protest if their lands were taken away, forever snatching from them “their identity and existence.” EFE


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