Women look over the PEKB mine that now replaces their ancestral forests and sacred places. (Hasdeo Forest, Chhattisgarh)Women look over the PEKB mine that now replaces their ancestral forests and sacred places. (Hasdeo Forest, Chhattisgarh)
© Vijay Ramamurthy

A massive coal rush in India will destroy the lands and livelihoods of tens of thousands of tribal people unless it’s stopped. They’re mounting a courageous and perilous resistance, and urgently need our support.

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had made it his personal mission to massively expand coal mining in the country – particularly on tribal land. His government is well on its way to doubling the amount of coal being mined, in less than 10 years. To achieve this, vast areas of tribal forests are being sold off without their consent. Corporations including Adani, Jindal and Vedanta are snapping up coalfields which are being auctioned as part of Modi’s coal rush. 

If it goes ahead, the plan will destroy the forests that Adivasis – India’s tribal peoples – have lived in and managed since time immemorial. They will be forced into destitution as their livelihoods are destroyed, and dispossessed of their sacred, ancestral land. And the impact on efforts to combat the climate crisis will be devastating.

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Location of the Hasdeo Forest in ChattisgarhLocation of the Hasdeo Forest in Chattisgarh© Survival
Ground Zero in this onslaught are three states in central India – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Here, coalfields underneath tribal forests are being sold off, and Adivasis confront the might of government and mining corporations head-on.

They’ve mounted peaceful protests, legal challenges and blockades. For their resistance they have been arrested, beaten and even murdered. They urgently need our support and solidarity 

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The coal ministry has announced plans to increase coal mining to one billion tonnes per year. This is in spite of UN Secretary-General António Guterres saying in 2021: “I am calling on all governments, private companies and local authorities to cancel all global coal projects in the pipeline and end the deadly addiction to coal.”

Coal mining's full horror

An Adivasi man surveys the destruction of his ancestral land at the edge of what will become the Parsa mine in the Hasdeo Forest. “The workers come at night to do their work. If they are not thieves then what are they?"An Adivasi man surveys the destruction of his ancestral land at the edge of what will become the Parsa mine in the Hasdeo Forest. “The workers come at night to do their work. If they are not thieves then what are they?"© Vijay Ramamurthy
Beneath the verdant Hasdeo Forest in Chhattisgarh, for example, there are five billion tonnes of coal – coal that the local communities are determined to keep in the ground. The Gond, Oraon, and other tribes living in Hasdeo know what coal mining means: existing coal mines have wrecked the lands and lives of neighboring communities; displaced local elephant populations leading to dangerous encounters; and polluted the water and air, causing profound health and environmental problems. Planned mining in Hasdeo threatens the lands of 18,000 people. 

Take action to support the Adivasis of Hasdeo forest

Those who lose their homes, lands or forests to the mines receive little compensation. Their self-sufficient, land-based livelihoods are destroyed, and they often end up as exploited laborers in the very mines that have wrecked their lands.

If the mines are opened, our people will work there only for a little while. Once the mines close down, we will be unemployed again. The difference is that our land would also be gone... So, if you’re talking about self-reliance, why is the jungle being uprooted?
Jainandan Porte, the head of Ghatbarra village and member of the Gond tribe

Destroying sacred groves

For Adivasis, it’s not just their lands, homes and livelihoods that are destroyed: The sacred spaces that form the heart of their belief systems are also obliterated. Adivasi religions are based on the worship of nature, but they’re denigrated and ridiculed by much of the urban elite. The loss of these forests is an existential crisis for the Gond and other tribes.

Jainandan Porte explains: “The things that we need to conduct our rituals are only available in the forest. If the mines are opened, the forest will be destroyed and our culture will be lost. We will become a forgotten tribe.”

Two Adivasi men look out over an apocalyptic landscape – the vast coal mine that has replaced their ancestral forest. PEKB Mine, Hasdeo Forest, Chhattisgarh.Two Adivasi men look out over an apocalyptic landscape – the vast coal mine that has replaced their ancestral forest. PEKB Mine, Hasdeo Forest, Chhattisgarh.
© Vijay Ramamurthy

Adivasi resistance

Adivasi (indigenous) people of Hasdeo Forest protest against coal mining plans that would destroy their forest. Fateppur Village, ChhattisgarhAdivasi (indigenous) people of Hasdeo Forest protest against coal mining plans that would destroy their forest. Fateppur Village, Chhattisgarh© Vijay Ramamurthy
Standing between these forests and the diggers are the many peaceful Adivasi resistance movements that have sprung up to try to stop the destruction. 

The forces against them are immense. The corporations, government, police and sometimes even the courts act in concert to repress and persecute the Adivasis, especially those who dare to resist.

A wide array of tactics has been used against them: The extrajudicial murder of those considered resistance leaders; threatened and actual sexual violence; false criminal charges; the building of police camps deep in Adivasi lands; and the branding of leaders as “anti-national,” holding them for interminable periods under draconian anti-terror laws. Communities have been bullied, tricked, bribed and beaten to get them out of the way of the mining.

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Ally with Adivasi land defenders

It takes immense courage to stand up against such threats, but the community members feel they have no choice.

These brave communities are risking their lives to keep the forests standing and the coal in the ground. They need our solidarity and support. 

We consider the forest to be our God, the provider of all things. We worship the trees around us, and when we get married, our ceremonies are conducted under and around the trees. We pray to the trees every day so that there is rain to fill our rivers and nourish all plants and animals.
Tribal woman from Chhattisgarh’s Morga village

Tell Prime Minister Narendra Modi: Leave the coal in the ground, let Adivasis live →

Soni Sori, an Adivasi activist who's been imprisoned, raped and tortured for her fearless defence of her people's rights.Soni Sori, an Adivasi activist who's been imprisoned, raped and tortured for her fearless defence of her people's rights.
© Survival