Corporate Expansion vs. Community Resistance: Crackdown on Adivasi Protest in Maharashtra

On November 20, the protest site in Surjagarh, Maharashtra, was encircled by paramilitary forces, resulting in its devastation. Eight grassroots activists were seized in their villages and transported by helicopters to Gadichiroli, a city within the same state.
The Surjagarh anti-mining struggle  deterred Lloyd Metals from 2007 to 2014, making the corporate-state alliance recognize the impracticality of initiating mining operations amidst staunch opposition.
The Surjagarh anti-mining struggle deterred Lloyd Metals from 2007 to 2014, making the corporate-state alliance recognize the impracticality of initiating mining operations amidst staunch opposition.

New Delhi - Adivasi protestors and leaders are facing significant suppression in Surjagarh village and the hills of Maharashtra. The communities are being pressured to yield to rapid corporatization as Lloyd Metal's mining venture undergoes expansion, with Surjagarh being the primary location of opposition. On November 20, paramilitary forces surrounded the protest site, leading to its destruction. Eight grassroots activists were apprehended in their villages and airlifted to Gadichiroli, deviating from the usual practice of arrests and transportation by jeeps. Those who protested against these arrests by sitting in dharna were subjected to harsh lathi charges.

The Mooknayak spoke to Advocate Lalsu Nagoti, an important leader in the Surjagarh Anti-Mining struggle. The activist from the Madia-Gond Adivasi community talked about the current situation in the village while providing a historical context to the protests. He revealed, "The construction of a four-lane road in Surjagarh was supposed to be undertaken, justified as a development initiative. However, the Adivasis have been actively advocating for the establishment of Anganwadi centers and hospitals instead of the road. From March 11th, 2023, until yesterday, consistent protests have been taking place."

The activist added, "However, yesterday morning [November 20, 2023], between 6:30-7:00 AM, many leaders were apprehended. Commandos and forces dismantled makeshift shelters and confiscated belongings, resorting to lathi charges. Female protestors were forcibly made to run and were subjected to beatings by male police officers, eventually being taken to the Etapalli police station. Currently, 20-21 activists, including 3-4 women, are in police custody. A local lawyer is working towards securing bail for them, although the date remains uncertain."

The local leaders have always faced clampdowns, and protesting has become tougher. Nagoti said, "Since 2021, many Adivasi leaders have been put into jail using the controversial 'Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.' I myself was put under Pegasus surveillance, making such movements more difficult."

Another reason for protests, according to Nagoti, is that local communities were not taken into consideration while making decisions. Nagoti said, "According to the law, due permission from the Gram Sabhas and the villagers is needed. But Lloyds took permission through deceptive means. A 'Jan Sunvai' was organized in the district office because according to the company, reaching out to locals was difficult as it was a 'naxal-infested area.' Many Adivasi people were not able to attend the meeting just because of a lack of accessibility. Also, not every Gram Sabha was taken into account."

Opening up about the company and the mining, the advocate said, "The land lease for mining was provided in 2007. But work properly started in the last two years as resistance was very strong. We have been writing to the District Magistrate, the Governor, the Chief Minister because of which mining is being halted at times. Lloyd's, the company that was given permission, took the help of Triveni Earthmovers through a strategic partnership."

Peaceful Democratic Protests were Taking Place for 250 Days

According to Lalsu Nagoti, the protests have always been peaceful. The preamble was translated into Madia by him and was read to the protestors every morning. After that, a review meeting used to be organized to trace the developments. It was only after these processes that sloganeering would take place.

Various groups of people have been participating, staying for 5-6 days on the site before being replaced by the next group. The protests have been democratic, focusing on the implementation of laws in the area.

The situation, despite its complexity, finds parallels in past successes. The people's resistance against Bauxite ore mining in Niyamgiri hills resulted in the expulsion of Vedanta. Similarly, the Surjagarh anti-mining struggle effectively deterred Lloyd Metals from 2007 to 2014, making the corporate-state alliance recognize the impracticality of initiating mining operations amidst such staunch opposition. In response, a robust security apparatus, in the form of paramilitary camps, was established around Surjagarh Hills to quell the movement and initiate mining activities.

Extensive paramilitary camps have also been strategically positioned around Amdai Ghati Hills in Narayanpur and Bailadilla Iron ore blocks on the Bijapur-Sukma Border in Chhattisgarh. These camps face simultaneous resistance from the local population and are perceived as instruments of corporate land acquisition and resource exploitation. Their effectiveness lies in suppressing democratic struggles, fostering a climate of fear among activists and the local community.

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