Sunday, 14 February 2010

'Avatar': Sans The Blue Aliens?

For those who found the blue 'creatures' that flew in James Cameron's magnum opus 'Avatar' creepy, here is a simpler version. Sans the technological inputs that cost Cameron $500 million. This is a real version. Hence cheaper. Only, the reality is too stark to digest.

This simpler, 11-minute long film, is called 'Mine - Story Of A Sacred Mountain'. The analogies between the two films cannot be ignored. To begin with, both films revolve around one central topic: What would one tribe do to save their forest, their mountain, their god?

Avatar: The strange planet in question is called Pandora.
Mine: The area in question is section of Orissa, an eastern state in India.

Avatar: The inhabitants of Pandora are humanoids, called Na'vi
Mine: The inhabitants of this area on Orissa are one of the most remote tribes, called Dongria Kondh

Avatar: Eywa is the deity and guiding force of the Na'vi, which they believe, keeps the ecosystem of Pandora in perfect equilibrium
Mine: Niyam Raja is the deity and guiding force of the Dongria Kondh, which provides them with all their needs

Avatar: The floating Hallelujah mountains are sacred to the Na'vi
Mine: The Niymagiri hills are worshipped by the Dongria Kondh

Avatar: The Hallelujah mountains is the resource bed for Unobtainium, which sell for $20 million a kilo
Mine: The Niyamgiri hills is the resource bed for 70 million tonnes of Bauxite

Avatar: Resources Development Administration is the company that has bestowed upon itself the onus of mining Unobtainium
Mine: Vedanta Resources has taken upon itself the onus of blasting the Niyamgiri hills to mine the Bauxite

Avatar: The Na'vi don't need roads to the Hallelujah mountains - they have the Mountain Banshees with which they have a symbiotic relationship that transports them to the mountain.
Mine: The Dongria Kondh do not need roads built into the Niyamgiri hills, by Vedanta Resources. The hills are their home with which they have a symbiotic relationship that goes back to their ancestors.

Avatar: Jake Sully is welcomed innocently among the Na'vi
Mine: The Dongria Kondh initially welcomed the move of Vedanta Resources, as it was lured by its promises of giving them a 'better way of life'.

The indigenous people are innocent. They look upon the urban folk as their brethren - after all, aren't we all the same? Don't we all come from and go back into the same Mother Earth? Unlike the urban folk, who stare back at a stranger wondering what 'use' could that person be to him, all that the indigenous people know is outright acceptance. Yet, history has shown time and again that it is this innocence and blind faith on the urban foreign brethren that has led to the annihilation of the indigenous people. 

Avatar: Colonel Miles Quaritch says that the Na'vi would be eliminated with minimum casualties - "We'll clear them out with gas first."
Mine: Vedanta has bulldozed houses of the Dongria Kondh when they refused to move from their lands

Even the bulldozers in the two films are alike - huge yellow beasts that crash three branches and everything else that comes in its way.

Avatar: The Na'vi fight off their corporate land grabbers' large machines with 'primitive' tools of bows and arrows
Mine: The Dongria Kondh use the 'primitive' tool of axe - they chop the trees and block the road leading up to the Niyamgiri hills

Vedanta Resources, on its website, mentions that it currently operates in India, Zambia and Australia - the countries where indigenous people have been systematically eliminated for the 'development' of the few. What then, is the definition of development? Development at what cost? Development to be decided by whom? Would you let your development and thus, your life, to be decided in a corporate boardroom? Ponder: What would you do if you were to fight for your survival? Whom would then be your friend and foe?

Do we need our lives to be decided in a corporate boardroom?

Just like the way the Na'vi needed Dr Grace Augustine and eventually, Jake Sully (it is Hollywood after all - "And a hero comes along..."), to save themselves from annihilation, the Dongria Kondh need you and me and our loud voices of dissent against the atrocities committed upon them. 

The last scene in 'Mine' shows an adolescent boy, gnashing his teeth and striking down his axe in anger as he declares, "No, we won't give up our mountain." 

If Vedanta Resources continues to be the much-hated beast in Orissa, just like Tata Steel and Essar Steel are in Chhattisgarh; and if the urban folk choose to be blind to this annihilation of its indigenous brethren, then it wouldn't be surprising that few years later, this same kid with gnashing teeth will grow up with a bigger axe and sickle in hand. And he would be declared a 'Naxalite', a 'Maoist', a 'rebel', a 'threat to the nation's security'. 

Then, would there be a moment to ponder why did he choose that path of defending his basic right, through violence?


  1. The Dongria Kondh initially welcomed the move of Vedanta Resources, as it was lured by its promises of giving them a 'better way of life'....

    This is untrue and I don't know what is the source of this information. Does the Survival film say that? If it does then they are wrong because the tribal people's movement against Vedanta originated since the Govt started acquiring land. People were beaten up, arrested on false charges and a reign of terror was unleashed upon the people.

    The tribals never welcomed Vedanta...

    "Vedanta has bulldozed houses of the Dongria Kondh when they refused to move from their lands"

    It is not the Dongria Kondh, but another Kondh tribe living in the foothills of Niyamgiri in Lanjigarh whose villages were bulldozed in 2004-05.

  2. Hi, thanks for stopping by to read my blogpost. The information that the people welcomed the move is present within the film, and that's how I have mentioned it. And yes, it was another tribe whose houses were bulldozed - but should that make any difference? Isn't it plainly enough that somebody's house is being bulldozed? I surely wouldn't want people to come and ask me my religion, caste, creed, political ideology, etc. at a time if something like this happens to my house! Please keep writing in and provide your valuable inputs.

  3. Of course it doesnt really matter what caste or creed one belongs to... the clarification was just to ensure that pro-vedantaites dont dismiss the whole thing as misinformation... and the film is wrong that people welcomed it... there is ample evidence including documentary films that show what people went through when the factory came... here is a link...

  4. Simply excellent. I am circulating the link to hundreds on my list.
    In solidarity with the Dongri Kondh.
    Out with Vedanta. No one should buy their shares.

    Dr. Leo Rebello
    World Peace Envoy

  5. Priyanka thanks for the video and write-up. I have just returned from Orissa. Read about this in their local newspaper. Glad to see the internet doing its bit.

    I am planning something and this link is a good start. Going to share it with friends. Will keep you updated from my end. Thanks again.

  6. Thanks for the very innovative presentation of a serious human rights and environmental rights issue. I am forwarding it to those on my mailing list and to the media. There are quite a few such problems in Kerala also and I am not surprised that maoists and naxalites are gaining popularity. I have started openly supporting them subject to the condition that they choose their targets correctly. It is the criminals in offices of authority who need to be eliminated.

  7. Dear Priyanka,

    Both your blog post and the short film were poignant. Your simile between the Na'vi tribe and the Dongria Kondh is apt, and makes the point forcefully. I am feeling deeply moved to make some efforts to help these people.

    I have emailed you some queries to enable me to take action. I hope for a prompt respond.

    Warm Regards
    98215 88114

  8. Priyanka, i watched avatar just a couple od days ago and seeing that video it all came back to me. Very hard hitting.
    I was never so enthralled with environment issues, I'll foloow this more closely now.
    Regards, Alifiya

  9. Thank you for posting this film.

  10. Hii Banbasi, I did check the link you gave in. And yes, I must make our case strong with facts - we cannot afford to lose what seems to be like a losing battle, by giving out information which could be wrong.

    Dr Rebello, I am glad you deem this blog post fit to be circulated around. And yes, it would indeed be great if Vedanta doesn't find anyone interested in their stocks!

    Anish, write in all that you saw and experienced - the voices must get out!

    Ravindran, violence has never been the solution. Alas, sometimes, some strange things have to be justified for strange circumstances.

    Krish, I will get in touch with you.

    Alifiya, I am glad you could see the 3D and real 'Avatar'. But this isn't just about environment - this is about life - the life of people, the life of environment, the life of our planet. It has many many more layers to it. Let's discuss it sometime.But I am glad about your first step.

    Sathya, thanks for stopping by to read this post.

  11. Hi Priyanka...I so agree to the comparison you have drawn.
    I am in Orissa and am actually planning to work on a film focussing on the similarity between the two Navi's and Tribal ppl from south Orissa.


  12. I should write you.

    Well excellent visuals, I wish I could make like this one.

    Well....I think the problem lies with rehabilitation. Their life style is how improved, the visuals says itself. Because I'm from a farmer family in Orissa. Now we can not expect life without education, depend on traditional cultivation and fruits from jungle for daily needs. The visuals where they’re harvesting rice, is so traditional/old that you just show the visuals any farmer from near by district, they will certainly surprise or laugh at it. We need to educate them. We cannot expect life in 21st century.

    A proper rehabilitation with zero corruption will certainly help them to change their decision.
    Other wise let's be noticed or get publicity with great visuals.


  13. Hii Baya, thanks so much for your words. And I am glad that you are embarking on a film about Cameron's 'Avatar' v/s the real one. But one suggestion: do not just restrict it to Orissa. There are several such 'Avatars' across the country - Chhattisgarh (where I was recently and have written extensively about on this blog), Jharkhand, Bihar, the North East. You would have several co-relating material - one Cameron's Pandora v/s several such real Pandoras. I hope you get what I mean. Mail me if you want to take this project further. Would be nice to work out something together.

    Simanta, I guess the problem does not begin with corruption. The problem to me are two-fold: laziness and greed. Would love to explain my understanding based on these two at length through another post perhaps. Till then, keep writing in!

  14. What bothers me is that just the Corporate Vedanta is being slammed. Do they not have the requisite Govt permits for the mining? Are they working within the law as it exists? Is there crass negligence?

    Let Activists remember: more the ridicule ... greater is the resistance. The Corporates are long on law and money.

    The local tribals are entitled to their lives and homeland ... let us not hanker to join them tho. They too need some upgradation ... which can only come thru 'development' in all its colors ... whether we like such development or not. The Govt will never have the funds to dole out to all of them unless it comes from taxes paid by profit making corporates. I think we all know the story of taxes.

    The country and state of Odissa need to think what they want ... return to the jungles or development ... break eggs to make an omlette.

    Why do the elite only think in extremes? Do we not need to exploit the minerals to get funds for social development or are we to beg of the World Bank? Its always the money!!

  15. Dear Mr Vora
    What you wrote needs some clarifications... Allow me to briefly highlight some of these points... We can discuss more later.

    Do they not have the requisite Govt permits for the mining? Are they working within the law as it exists? Is there crass negligence?
    - No they have broken every law of the land. The most blatant violation being of the Indian Constitution which prohibits the transfer of trinal land to non tribals. The Supreme Court's own investigation committee says mining should be banned in Niyamgiri and vedanta's factory is illegal

    more the ridicule ... greater is the resistance.
    - This is not ridicule this is mere bringing forth the facts.

    The Govt will never have the funds to dole out to all of them unless it comes from taxes paid by profit making corporates.
    - Can someone explain what happened to the crores pumped into tribal development over the last few decades? Basic health services cannot be provided but metro trains, flyovers, multi lane highways, dams, railway lines, ports, bridges, etc can be built?

    The country and state of Odissa need to think what they want ... return to the jungles or development ...
    - Yes we have to decide but between ecological nightmares that industrialised parts of Orissa have become and healthy environment. Please visit Talcher, Jharsuguda, Kalinga Nagar, Joda, Barbil, Sukinda areas to find out further. This problem is not a simplified development vs cave man theory. Out of Orissa's 35% sparse forest cover only 1% is really dense forest. Most of it is gone already. There are more than a hundred iron factories already in Orissa for more than a decade and poverty has only increased ever since these companies have. Yes some people have got richer in Bhuabneswar, Delhi and Mumbai. And maybe even London and New york.

    Do we not need to exploit the minerals to get funds for social development or are we to beg of the World Bank?
    - Its the World Bank who is insisting we sell our minerals to repay its loans and get rich and guess who gets the minerals? World Bank promoted multinationals.

  16. There are more videos on the issue-

    Priyanka I hope I am not taking too much space here on your blog but great to see so many people getting to know about the issue.

  17. Dear Praful, I am glad that Banbasi has replied to your queries and confusions - I think alike. The issue here is, would you be ready to be thrown out from your house if some development work needs to be done? You will ask for a high compensation. That's what these tribals want too. But they are being denied it. I suggest you read the book 'Caterpillar and the Mahua Flower' - it is easily available on the Internet, and the book gives you several examples of how the corporates are stretching their MoUs with the governments. Please read the book.

    Secondly, when you talk of development, the point is - who are we to decide for someone else's development? If you have seen the film that I have put up, you would notice that the tribals are self-sufficient and happier that us city folks. They don't need us as much as our greed needs them.

    This is a long discussion and I would love to meet you someday and talk it out. Various layers to it. Yes, we tend to look at development only from our perspective; so much so that we think everything else is ridicule.

    Banbasi, thanks so much for those links. Will look them up right away. And no, you are not occupying any space in my blog - I own nothing. Nothing owns me. Everything in this world (Internet and space on my blog too!), like the nature, is free and for everyone :-)

  18. Dear Mr Priyanka

    Thank you for your comments on my comments. 'Violence is not the solution' etc is what I call glib talk. At the same time I never meant violence for violence sake. But the capability to react violently when the situation demands. And you do not go further thatn to look at our own political masters who swear by Gandhiji everyday and keep on burdening the tax payer by increasing their own security. Yes, you just try to cross a road that has been cordoned off by Sonia's security staff and you can be thankful if you reach the other end alive! Elsewhere you have written that the problems are due to laziness and greed. Yes, laziness and greed of a few making life hell for the masses. And when the people who have been tasked, empowered and equipped to deal with such anti-social elements themselves become lazy and greedy then we have what is called state terrorism and what follows would be spurt in groups like maoists and naxalites. So strictly speaking the naxalites and maoists are not the causes but consequences of state terrorism. It is unfortunte that the original perpetuators of crime- the lazi and greedy ones who are abetted by the lazy and greedy authorities- are never branded as the criminals they really are. In this context the singular failure, nay proactive abetment of crimes by the judiciary needs to be highlighted. I need not go further than the case of our CJI claiming that his office is out of purview of the first pro-democracy legislatioon of the land- the RTI Act. Any child who has pass5tandard and has read the Act can say with confidence that the CJI is WRONG. And in real life the RTI watch dog- the central information commission- and two benches of a high court have said exactly so and he still continues to be the CJI without any shame or remorse. Worse, he is going to judge his own case unless the Law Minister obliges him earlier by unwarrantedly amending the RTI Act to please him!

  19. Aprops Mr Vohra's comments and the replies of Banbasi and Priyanka. Well said Mr Banbasi. Firstly we need to redifine development. And tehn ask whose development and who pays the price? As Banbai has rightly pointed out crores have drowned in the name of health and education and what do we have to show? It has been reported that Rs 70 lakh crores of Indian money is stashed away in numbered accounts in swiss banks. And the Indian Govt pretends it never exists!The americans could force their way with swiss authorities and get the details of their tax evaders- swiss secrecy laws be damned. Even the Germans could pay peanuts to buy such details from bank employees who were prepared to trade such information. And the Indian money involved is more than america and germany put together! And our people in government just keep bragging that we are going to be the next superpower and all will be fine after that! Yes, I have to reiterate my conviction that only naxalites and maoists can sort out these anti national elements in offices of authority who are selling this country to amass wealth for themselves and stashing them away in tax havens abroad.

  20. Ravindran, I agree with every word that you have written.

  21. Things are a lot more complicated... It's a whole lot of grey out there.

    It is only in the movies that indigenous people armed with bows and arrows defeat people with guns and bullets.

    People do not win because their cause is noble or right or that they are good.... all of which are subjective. Victory always comes to the better trained, prepared and equipped person.

    The indigenous people of this world have been on the back foot for centuries and I do not think this is going to change anytime soon.

    But yes I wanted to say you write well..

  22. The relationship is excellent and pin-points the root cause of long lasting agony.

    Immediately, Eye-for-an-eye seems to be the best and fastest way out to stop any further damage. Need to use a bigger force to force out Vedanta. I've heard about their unethical practices before too. Seems like these guys are unstoppable, because of contacts.

    Is there any way to stop them immediately !

  23. Oteech, the solution that comes to my mind is writing more and more about the wicked games played by Vedanta. At the same time, protests outside the Vedanta offices would also be great. Similar is the case with the 'ahh so philanthropic' Tata which is unleashing mayhem in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh.

  24. Dear Priyanka, thank you very much for this wonderful work! i am speechless and couldn't stop my tears by the end of the film. i was mesmerized by the courage and the strength that the tribe showed. I am sure such immense solidarity and collectivized effort can never allow anyone to take away their home, their land.i will consider myself to be really lucky if i can do anything for the habitants of Niyamgiri hills!

    Lets' keep the good work going!

    In solidarity,

  25. Hii Sutapa, thanks for those words of encouragement. It is thanks to people like you are moved by such gross inequities and injustice that we can get together and ensure that our own people do not have to lose their homes.
    If you really want to do something, go to Orissa, meet the people, come back and write about them, and spread your word about all that you saw. In fact, you need not go so far to Orissa - whichever state you may be in, there are such issues in all of India's hinterlands. So take a bag and and a book and an open mind - and go out to meet your less-privileged brethren, from whom we already-satiated urbanites want to steal.
    All the best!

  26. soumyajit:
    hi i am glad to know that central denied to give the clearance to is wise decision to save tribal rights and endangered ecosystem and their culture