Monday, April 07, 2008

a very thoughtful mail from joanna levitt of the group.

the development that is happening in india, needless to say, is mindless at best.


From: Joanna Levitt <>
Date: Mon, Apr 7, 2008 at 5:42 AM
Subject: Struggle and serenity in Orissa

Hello friends,

Greetings from Bangalore! I arrived here yesterday, after a week in Orissa. This past week has left me with daunting questions as well as emerging insights, sorrow but also new hope, and a general feeling of brimming over with this place. (Dan Magraw--I am starting to understand why you are a lifelong India-phile. ;) I may be on the way to becoming one as well. ;)

New photos are online, with captions that explain more of all I saw this past week.
The albums are "Dhinkia and March against POSCO" and "Kashipur and Rayagada."

I'm writing an article about my week there, which I'll send out soon. For now, here's some background to the photos:

The eastern Indian state of Orissa is often dismissed as an impoverished backwater of the country, notable only for its recently-discovered mineral wealth of coal, iron ore and bauxite. The Orissa I encountered, however, was a place of extraordinary cultural and biological diversity, of visionary philosopher-activists, and—far from a backwater—home to movements and currents that seem to form an important epicenter of the global struggle to envision and fight for alternative models of development and human life on earth.
Last Monday I flew to Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa, where I met up with Madhu--a colleague of Dana's, and her crew of fellow human rights advocates and activists (I should say "sister advocates and activists" as once again I was with a crew of all women!)

From Bhubaneshwar, we traveled by van to the village of Dhinkia to spend the night. Dhinkia is one of the many farming communities fighting to stop the massive open-pit iron ore mine and steel processing plant proposed by the Korean company POSCO. The project is a particularly striking case of the kind of aggressive industrial, private-sector-led development in India that is taking place largely on prime agricultural lands. Farmers and farmlands are displaced and destroyed to make way for industrial parks and chemical plants, which are established as "Special Economic Zones," the controversial new system here by which foreign companies can operate in virtually tax-free zones, and outside of many labor and environmental laws. It's quite stark.

My friend Madhu commented at one point with exasperation, "When will people wake up?", as we looked out over the vast rice fields surrounding Dhinkia village. The entire expanse of lushly green rice fields, dotted with palm trees and graceful white egrets, is slated for destruction, to make way for the Posco steel processing plant. "At what point will everyone open their eyes and realize that this 'development' is destroying the basis of all of our survival?"

This past week in Orissa was indeed an awakening for me, in many ways.

We joined with the people of Dhinkia and thousands of villagers from the region for an incredible march against POSCO and in defense of their lands and livelihoods. One of the more powerful days of my life. Check out the photos.

From there, I traveled to the town of Rayagada, in the mountainous interior of Orissa. High in the mountains above Rayagada, I visited the adivasi community of Kuchiepadar, which has been leading a nationally-renowned struggle against an open-pit bauxite mine on their ancestral lands. Interestingly, Kucheipadar--like Sarayaku--has been the only community left standing as all around them fell. A very moving interview with a young community leader and elder woman leader there. I have included some excerpts of the interview with the photos.

Kuchiepadar and their struggle will be featured in the People's Guide as a case study, and the folks I met in Rayagada who have been supporting the struggle are very interested to use the guide to do trainings with surrounding communities who are now facing the life-threatening impacts of displacement, and who are struggling to find ways to hold the mining company accountable to its promises of compensation and rehabilitation.

Finally, during my evening in Rayagada after visiting Kuchiepadar, I had the immense privilege of having tea and a long conversation with Professor B.P. Rath, a Ghandian scholar, and former professor of English literature at the local university, who has amassed a personal library in his humble home in this small interior town of Orissa, that felt like something out of another time. I left our talk with many new thoughts. Particularly about non-violence. And about the need to bring back to life and full-force this incredible movement and tradition brought into being by Gandhi, and his greatest disciple, Martin Luther King. On this weekend, which marks the 40th anniversary of MLK's assassination, I wonder, could we built a movement for non-violent development? Non-violent to the environment, to the people who live at the source, to those who work along its assembly lines and construction sites? Like achieving independence, or gaining civil rights, it will require a transformation and strength of spirit, a joyful willingness to make sacrifices for something far beyond ourselves, a different way of living, a sea-change in our societies the likes of which I do not think we have seen since Gandhi and MLK. Since speaking with Professor Rath, I have been pondering what it might look like for such a movement to be midwifed into being...

But as I sit here this afternoon in a loud internet cafe in Bangalore, with wealthy teenage kids yelling in designer clothes as they play shockingly violent video games, suddenly it seems hopelessly naive to even think such a transformation could be possible. Well, who knows. I suppose history and humanity constantly surprise us and offer up paradoxes, so I will not presume to think it impossible.

Hope you each are well
With love and hope,
International Accountability Project (IAP)

221 Pine Street, 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104 USA
Tel: + 1 (415) 659-0555

(2 capitivating pictures from joanne's post. above, villagers protesting the proposed posco plant and below fertile paddy fields which will be mined ruthlessly. development, like war, has indeed no heart)


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