Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) local MLA Dharmaraj Atram has been the only political leader to visit the protesters so far, states a report compiled for a recent conference in the capital, Delhi. This report states that Atram visited Todgatta on June 11. At the time, he said that while nothing could now be done about the Surjagarh mine that was already operational, he was with the people and he would not let the new six mines start. Atram, who was in the opposition at the time, has switched sides since and along with NCP leader and DyCM Ajit Pawar is now part of the government, betraying his commitment to the Adivasis.
Excerpts from the report:
Since March 11, 2023, villages from across the Surjagad and Damkondwahi pattis/ilakas began indefinitely protesting under the banners of “Damkondawahi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti” and “Surjagarh Patti Paramparik Gotul Samiti”. The protest is led by the Madia-Gond Adivasi community. Representatives from over 70 villages have been taking turns to occupy a stretch of land in Todgatta. Several temporary huts or dheras have been built to house the representatives from the different villages. Authorities, state the protesters, are set to criminalise this protest
Mangesh Narote, one of the leaders of the protest, explained that the very existence of the protest village reiterates the reason for the protest. This sort of sustenance would simply not be possible in the city. It would be hot, the tarp would fly away, and there would be no way to feed or sustain the protest. The collective protest needs are only met because of being in the forest. How can anyone survive without jal-jangal-zameen?
“In a tree, the roots are sturdy and big and play the role of taking in water. The branches and leaves, although very small, are crucial in that they absorb sunlight and provide nutrition to the tree. Without the leaves, the roots cannot exist,” he says.
Every morning, the representatives gather at the village’s community centre or gotul. Everything takes place in a collective manner in the gotul. The gotul is a type of community centre, which has been serving as a protest site. In Koitur culture, the gotul traditionally serves as the village’s hub of socio-cultural, and political activity. It is the site of collective decision-making of the village and its focal point of democracy.
The gotul is a constant yet fluid space that simultaneously functions as a university, a court, an entertainment centre, an information hub, and a community centre. One does not sit still in a gotul – adults and elders engage in basket-weaving, rope-making, and even ploughing while the children and youth learn from watching. There is no admission required, and no graduation date, for this practical and generationally-transferred education. The gotul also acts as a court, addressing community issues in a democratic way.
Importantly, the gotul acts as the space wherein people share stories and wisdom, news about national and international issues, and currently, carry out their democratic protest, along with discussions and decisions on it.
The day begins with paying homage to social reformers, revolutionaries and the historical champions of Adivasis – Veer Baburao Shedmake, Birsa Munda, Rani Durgavati, Savitribai Phule, Jyotiba Phule, Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. The photographs are carefully placed at the centre stage. This is followed by reading aloud the preamble of the Constitution which has been translated into Madia, the language of the Madia Gond tribe. This protest has also been an exercise in political education, where people are learning about how politics works in this country and are developing their own views.
Some leaders have expressed the view that only if people from the community are within various government bodies can the community views be presented and a healthy people’s politics be developed.
Protesters in Todgatta say the existence (or emergence of) the mine has also led to an increase in violence against women, and therefore, a Nari Mukti Samiti is currently being formed, the process of which is being led by Sushila Narote. People stress that allegation of violence does not just mean physical violence from the police, but also encompasses the mental hardships of becoming a widow, dealing with alcohol addiction and violence within the home, ensuring a safe space for their children, and many other such experiences that cannot be articulated.
The state government has turned a complete blind eye towards the agitation, including the Gadchiroli Guardian Minister Fadnavis, who is also Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister. Fadnavis, along with other Ministers, has in fact attended other events in the district like the new government’s flagship ‘Shasan Aplya Daari’ (government at your doorstep) and yet has not paid a single visit to the protesters.
Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) local MLA Dharmaraj Atram had been the only political leader to visit the protesters so far. Atram visited Todgatta on June 11, 2023. At the time, he said that while nothing could now be done about the Surjagarh mine that was already operational, he was with the people and he would not let the new six mines start. Atram, who was in the opposition at the time, has switched sides since and along with NCP leader and Dy CM Ajit Pawar is now part of the government.
“We hoped that he would raise our issues during the Monsoon session of the Maharashtra Assembly, now that he is a minister. However, we have heard that he has also reiterated the same old narrative that is used to vilify Adivasis here – that we are being pressured by the Naxalites,” Rakesh Alam, president of the Adivasi Yuva Chhatra Sangathan said.
Significantly, the protest and demands at Todgatta were voiced internationally on October 8, 2023 by advocate Lalsu Nogoti, at the 54th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), Geneva, Switzerland. Adv. Nogoti spoke through a video statement in a General Debate Council Meeting under Agenda Item 9, which covers Durban Declaration and Program of Action. It is yet to be seen what comes out of this and how long it takes before the Indian Government takes cognizance of the demands being put forward in Todgatta.
“Adivasis will only survive if their land survives. These mines will provide jobs for some for a while, but they will shut down in a hundred years or so. What will our future generations do then?” ~ Lalsu Nogoti
A video by Asian News International reporting on the economic development caused by mining in Todgatta claimed that 3,500 men in the area were given jobs in the security forces of Lloyds Metals for salaries ranging between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000. It further reported that around 1,600 men had purchased motorcycles from these earnings. However, this, alleges the report, is on based on fact but is only “propaganda to create a false narrative of development and wellbeing.”
“Earlier we used to be lords of the jungle, and now we are their servants! Let us bring in the type of development that we want, by asserting our rights under acts like the FRA and PESA.” This is a sentiment shared by many community members, who refuse the employment narrative peddled by the government, corporates, and even NGOs.
“Most families here have not yet joined the market economy, they live on subsistence agriculture and forest produce. They sell excess produce for a side income. We are not greedy, we don’t need to become lakhpatis.” ~ Mangesh Naroti
The rights given under the Forest Rights Act (2006) provide the community with important and self-sustaining income sources. Gadchiroli district has the highest number of Community Forest Rights claims in the country under the law. CFR claims recognise the right of the claimant to sell, among other things, Minor Forest Produce (MFP) and Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) like tendu leaves. In 2017, 160 gram sabhas in the district earned Rs 400 crore solely by selling tendu leaves used to make bidis. Empirically, as per the findings by Geetonjoy Sahu, a professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, 162 villages of Gadchiroli collectively earned a whopping 23.36 crore from the sale of kendu/tendu leaves alone in the year 2017-18. However, the proposed mines will make it impossible for people to collect MFP and NTFP, forcing people into poverty, daily wage labour, and unemployment.
“We have everything we need here, we only need to buy salt and clothes. This is a rural area, why do we need a four-lane road here? Of course we want roads, but they should be for our use, not to cut down hills.”~ Sainu Gotta
The mining activities have had detrimental effects on these very farmlands of the community, say protesters. There are 42 families in this village, out of which some 22 families have had their farmlands ruined by the tailings of the existing mine, causing families losses of between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 3 lakh per year. Some in Mallampadi said they had received compensation from Lloyds for damage done to their fields – typically around Rs 8,000. These amounts were insufficient to support their families, they noted, and many were forced to work in the mines for a regular income. Almost every family in the village now has one member working in the mines, although four-five families have refused to work there. Two residents working in the Lloyds canteen earn Rs 10,000 per month, which is lower than the daily wage in Maharashtra.
“Not everyone will get a job at the mine. As a people, we are self-sufficient through farming. This is how our generations survive.” ~ Sainu Gotta
There are some who cannot even demand adequate compensation for all the damage caused by these companies. Ajay Toppo, a 38-year-old Oraon man from Mallampadi, attended a public hearing in 2022 to complain about the effect of the ongoing mining on his livelihood. His fields were overrun by the silt and debris formed because of mining, in monsoon. He asked for compensation for the same but was allegedly told that he was not a tribal, did not have land rights and was thus, not eligible for any sort of compensation. Ajay died by suicide that very night.
The Lloyd’s mine has also had a tremendous impact on not just agriculture and livelihood, but also the health of Surjagarh’s residents. The region is polluted by red iron oxide discharge, chemical effluents, and large amounts of debris. The fresh water in the region has turned red and is unusable and agricultural fields are overrun by silt.
According to a study published in 2016 in the International Journal of Current Multidisciplinary Studies, the mining of iron ore causes irreversible damage to underground water systems and surface water, severely affecting the health of those using the water. “The average lethal dose of iron is 200-250 mg per kg of body weight, but even ingesting doses as low as 40 mg per kg of body weight has caused death,” the study said. People have been known to suffer from various diseases such as catharsis, dehydration and gastro-intestinal irritation. Iron ore can interfere with normal body fluid regulation even long after a mine has been closed.
The village of Mallampadi is located at the base of the Surjagarh hills, near the Lloyds mine. Residents explained that there was a time when the river near Mallampadi remained cool throughout the summer and that people from neighbouring villages used to visit it to bathe. “We used this water for everything, but now even pigs won’t drink this water,” said Jagatpal Toppo, a resident of Mallampadi. Since the mining began, villagers have had to depend on bore wells dug by the mining company. The nearby fields are also filled with reddish-brown sludge from the mines. “Until two years ago, there used to be paddy up to our waists,” one resident said. “But now there’s only mining silt up to our waists.” Several times in 2022, the sludge became so thick that cows that wandered into the fields became stuck and had to be rescued. Even the dogs are coated reddish brown and poultry and cattle in Mallampadi had been falling sick and dying.
Mining has brought illness to Mallampadi – swollen eyes, fevers and body aches. “People are always falling sick these days,” Jagatpal said. “It’s only after we all visited the mine’s medical camp and got our eyes treated that we are doing better. Otherwise, we all would have continued with swollen eyes for days.” Earlier, all food and medicines for illnesses like stomach aches, fever, headaches, and snake and scorpion bites came from the forest and there was also plenty of fresh water. “Our material and health needs were completely met by the forest and we rarely purchased anything. Our sacred deities were also in the mountain and we used to spend a lot of time there. Now the company, and its police, do not let us enter our own lands.”
This report (booklet) has been written to document such events taking place in Surjagad and Damkondwahi, Etapalli tehsil, Gadchiroli District since 2005. As per the 2016 booklet, “Mining: Employment and Development or Displacement and Destruction?” by Visthapit Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, a huge amount of iron has been discovered in Etapalli’s regions of Surjagarh, Bande, Damkondwahi, Besewada, Vadavi, Korchi (Aagari-Maseli), Jhendepara, Gadchiroli (Gogaon, Adapalli), and Armori (Deulgaon). Etapalli and other neighbouring tehsils also have large deposits of coal, granite, copper, zinc, quartz, dolomite, and mica, which are eyed by large state and private corporations. In 2005, 25 mining projects were proposed in the Gadchiroli district. Out of these, Lloyds Metals and Energy Private Limited (LMEL) was given clearance to begin 348.09 hectares of iron mining in Surjagarh in 2007 for 50 years.
At the start of 2023, this licence was increased from 3 to 10 Million MTPA (metric tonnes per annum) and LMEL was granted environmental clearance to build a crushing and processing plant in Aidri, Malampadi and Bande. Additionally, in June 2023, six new mines spanning 4,684 hectares were proposed and leased through a composite mining lease to five companies: Omsairam Steels and Alloys Private Limited, JSW Steels Limited, Sunflag Iron and Steel Company Limited, Universal Industrial Equipment and Technical Services Private Limited, and Natural Resources Energy Private Limited. All six mines encroach upon the land already granted to people from surrounding Adivasi villages as part of their community forest rights land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. According to a local study, at least 40,900 people will be displaced if these mines come into existence.
Repeating the claims made almost seven years ago by Visthapit Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, and drawing from the 2023 statement by Community Network against Protected Areas (CNAPA), the report states:
- Immediately scrap the approved crushing and processing plant and mining lease expansion granted to Lloyds Metals and Energy Private Also, cancel the six new mines that have been proposed and auctioned in Surjagad at once and do not propose any other such projects in this region! All proposed projects must first go through a fair and democratic public consultation and the decision of the traditional Gram Sabha must be treated as final.
- Stop deceiving local people with false and violent dreams of employment and Shut down all mines, tourism and infrastructure projects which do not provide livelihood and development to the original inhabitants and communities living there.
- Recognise the rights of Adivasi and Dalit people as the original inhabitants of our land and legally recognise our resource rights, cultural rights and habitation rights in their lands, forests and Stop violent displacements and resettlements, murders and torture immediately.
- Immediately uphold constitutional rights of self-governance and dignity, and implement the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, Forest Rights Act, and other human rights laws such as the Labour Laws.
- Indigenous peoples have laws and provisions in the Indian constitution (and international laws) that clearly state that we are the ones who will decide what happens to our lands and forests. Recognise the Gram Sabha as the highest decision-making authority and immediately scrap the Forest Conservation Act Amendment of 2023!
- Militarised repression of Adivasi, Dalit and Vimukta communities must stop and local communities must have the full right to protest against the corporatisation and illegal dispossession of their lands, knowledge systems and societies.
|Brief Timeline of Mining in Surjagarh:|
|2005: 25 mining projects were proposed in Gadchiroli district.|
2007: Lloyds Metals and Energy Private Limited (LMEL) was given clearance to begin iron mining in Surjagarh over an area of 348.09 hectares for 20 years. The entire lease area falls in the Bhamragarh Reserve Forest. There was no public consultation conducted.
2011: Mining at the site begins
2013 to 2016: Maoist groups killed the vice president and two officials of Lloyds Metals. In 2016, they torched more than 75 trucks that belonged to the company, thereby shutting down operations. Since then, mining has started and stopped intermittently with heavy police cover, under the threat of more attacks.
2018: Lloyds mining lease extended to 50 years under MMDR Act
2021: Lloyds enters strategic partnership with Thriveni Earthmovers. The construction of a four-lane highway was started but rapidly shut down due to strong community opposition.
October 27, 2022: The Gram Sabhas in Surajgarh fall under the fifth schedule of the Constitution of India. Under the PESA provisions, the Gram Sabhas must be consulted before approving and allocating mining and other big projects. However, this was not followed in the case of Surajagarh or in other areas of Gadchiroli. Public consultation for the Lloyd’s mine’s expansion and crushing plant took place at Gadchiroli city, which was inaccessible to those affected by the project. Just before the consultation, buses full of people who had allegedly been bribed by the company, arrived. Such people, who villagers say had turned up intoxicated, took over the venue. The police prevented movement leaders from entering the consultation area. Thus none of the gram sabhas in Surjagarh Patti – the area which would actually face the impact – were consulted.
February 2023: Directorate of Geology and Mining (DGM) of Maharashtra, invites bids for 19 new mines in the state.
March 10, 2023: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change grants LMEL the environmental clearance to excavate up to 10 Million MTPA (metric tonnes per annum) of iron ore from an earlier 3 Million MTPA. Additionally, the company is allowed to build a crushing and processing plant in Aidri, Malampadi and Bande villages.
March 11, 2023: Indefinite protest led by Madia-Gond Adivasi Community begins at Todgatta.
June 2023: Six new mines spanning 4,684 hectares are proposed and leased through a composite mining lease to five companies: Omsairam Steels and Alloys Private Limited, JSW Steels Limited, Sunflag Iron and Steel Company Limited, Universal Industrial Equipment and Technical Services Private Limited, and Natural Resources Energy Private Limited. These proposed mines encroach upon the land already granted to people from surrounding Adivasi villages as part of their community forest rights land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
Denials of Community Forest Rights Allocation:
It is important to note that although the land for the new mines falls within traditional boundaries of forest use and occupation, the government has not recognised these traditional boundaries in the community forest rights (CFR) that have been granted to the nearby 13 and more Adivasi villages. The government granted suo moto CFR in 2015 to villages on both sides of the mountain, but it only granted half of the traditionally occupied land and did not include any land from the mountain in the CFR. Some villages were not granted CFR at all. No consultation of the gram sabhas (as is statorily required) was done while the CFR was allocated.
This is a selective use of the Forest Rights Act by those in power. These CFR titles were granted in such a way on purpose in order to leave the entire mountain range vulnerable to mining and limiting surrounding communities’ legal claim on the mountain. Local people were not informed about their boundaries, the fact that they had received CFR titles, or even what CFR titles actually mean. The documents outlining the CFR boundaries were not provided to each village, and those that did receive it, would have been unable to understand their boundary because of the highly arbitrary and technical notation language used. The process of contesting allocated CFR titles is possible, but it is long and arduous, precisely what the state-corporate nexus wants as it allows them enough time to receive environmental and forest clearance.
Migration and Land Rights:
Alongside the Madia-Gond, Etapalli is inhabited by a number of Oraon Adivasi families who migrated to the area from northern Chhattisgarh in the 1950s and 1960s. They migrated for a variety of reasons, including a paucity of land in their home villages. Once here, they continued their traditional way of cultivating and living off the land.
But after their migration, they encountered a legal and administrative hurdle that has left them in a precarious position. Although they are recognised as a Scheduled Tribe in Chhattisgarh, they have largely been denied this recognition in Maharashtra, which would allow them to access benefits such as special land rights, and educational and employment benefits.
According to lawyers Rajni Soren and Ameya Bokil, there is ambiguity about the land rights of migrant Scheduled Tribe communities. Bokil noted that it is possible that some families migrated before 1950 – under the Maharashtra Caste Certificate Act, an individual who has been permanently residing in the state since September 6, 1950, is eligible to apply for a Scheduled Tribe certificate. Further, Soren said, the Forest Rights Act, 2006, doesn’t specify that its provisions only apply to Scheduled Tribe members who seek benefits within their states of origin. Moreover, the cut-off date for the Act is 2005 – under the Forest Rights Act, a member of a Scheduled Tribe can apply for a land title of a piece of forest land if they have been using it from at least this year onwards.
But other rules and rulings can be read as opposing these provisions. For instance, according to a 2018 notice from the ministry of social justice and empowerment, an individual from a scheduled caste or tribe is only entitled to benefits due to those groups in the states of their origin “and not from the State where he/she has migrated”.
In 2022, the Supreme Court reiterated its own 1994 ruling that Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe migrants cannot claim benefits in the state to which they have migrated. Bokil argued that as long as individuals qualified under the terms of the FRA, it was unjust to deny them rights because they were migrants.
Kailas Ekka, whose Aadhaar card records Murwada as his home address, visits his native place in Jashpur, Chhattisgarh, every year. But, he explained, he and other Oraon migrants had made their homes in Etapalli more than 50 years ago, and couldn’t return to Chhattisgarh as there was no land there for them to cultivate. Now, with the mines expanding, he is worried that the lack of titles will leave him and others in the community vulnerable to being displaced from their land. “We’re here to save our land,” he said, “We have no choice but to protest.”
In Mallampadi, some in the village have tribal certificates and land titles because their parents had managed to procure them and handed them down. Most, however, lack these certificates. As a result, they cannot claim compensation for damage to land, or avail any benefits due to Scheduled Tribe communities in areas such as agriculture and education. People argue that just because the state doesn’t recognise them as Scheduled Tribes, they don’t cease to be Adivasis!
Madia-Koitur Adivasis (or Madia-Gond and legally recognised as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group) form the majority population in Etapalli tehsil, Gadchiroli District. Bamboo, tendu leaves, mahua, tori, fruits and berries, medicinal herbs, mushrooms, roots, vegetable greens, wood… everything Madia-Gonds depend on for their sustenance comes from the forest. The community uses at least 79 native plant species for the treatment of 34 ailments including dermal disorders, blood-related diseases, diabetes, edema and fever!
However, the forest is more than just a means of sustenance. The Madia-Gonds believe that the hills are home to spirits of Adipurush or animal-like humans from the past called Khodk in Madia. The rivers and streams are the abode of the water-dwelling beings, called Kaniyam and the Kodhk and Kaniyam must not be harmed. This wisdom says that cutting down the mountains would invite the wrath of the Khodk, and stop the rain from falling on the land. Polluting the rivers would lead Kaniyam to punish the villagers with fatal diseases, forcing them to abandon their homes and the villages.
The legend of Devon ke dev (god of Gods) Ohdal, more famously known as Thakurdeo, is integral to the community’s identity. The deity is believed to reside on the hilltop of Surjagad Hill, which is also the epicentre of mining in the region. A three-day yatra is carried out every year in January to the top of the hill and the procession is joined by no less than 15,000 Adivasis across Maharashtra and neighbouring Chhattisgarh. The actual shrine is on the top, on the other side of the Lloyd mines. Since the mining restarted, we are no longer able to access the shrine aside from the scheduled yatra time.
Part of the community worldview includes honouring and maintaining a strong connection with ancestors and deceased elders. Utensils, cots, chairs, suitcases, clocks, stone structures and quite a few bottles of liquor, amongst several other things, mark the graves or ‘gumiyas’ on the outskirts of Madia villages. Some can be found in places where no humans, besides the Madia ancestors, have ever dared to walk, proving that it was the Madia-Gond ancestors who first set foot in this region as the original inhibitors.
It is clear that the existing and upcoming mines threaten not just livelihood, but a way of life and deep wisdom. This loss cannot be compensated for through false promises of development and employment.
Attacks on Protest
The democratic and peaceful protest against mining in Surjagarh has been repeatedly criminalised since 2005 by what is alleged by the authors of the report to be state-corporate nexus. Activists say that in order to facilitate mining, the state has colluded with private corporations and clamped down on any dissent from Adivasis, by labelling them Maoists and anti-nationals. This is in keeping with a 2014 report by the ministry of tribal affairs, which noted a pattern of criminalisation of Adivasis in areas with mining and other projects. According to the 2021 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on prisons, seven in 10 of the 5,54,034 people in prison in Indian jails are under trial and a majority are from marginalised castes (21.21% SCs, 10.78% STs, 35.83% OBC).
A 2018 fact-finding report by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations, which examined state-sponsored oppression in Gadchiroli, noted that the mining company, the local administration and the Central Reserve Police Force in Etapalli “all work together”. It said, “a parallel system was being set up around the red soiled hills of Surjagarh that would wreak havoc in the lives of the locals. Security camps were built and additional battalions of specially trained police and security forces were deployed in the area. “All this was done in the name of anti-Naxal operations, as there has been a history of armed resistance in the area.”
Rakesh Alam, president of the Adivasi Yuva Chhatra Sangathan, and Pattu Pottami, Gram Sabha Adhyaksh of Dodur are united in their takedown of the way locals’ rights have been trampled upon to make way for corporates. “The first thing they did to start the mining process in Damkondwahi was to build a road and establish Jio signal towers. Then they built police stations. We know that the police stations are not for our safety, but rather, they have been built to repress our mass dissent,” Alam and Pottami say. Ganesh Korsa, member of the Adivasi Yuva Chhatra Sangathan, also expresses his concern at the growing number of police camps, saying, “If they completely take over our mountain and put up police camps, we will not even be able to move freely between out own houses and villages.”
The protesters also say they have faced police beatings and have been implicated in false cases. Some say they were brutally lathi charged and locked away without any clear accusations levelled. People are accused of being Naxalites in every village here. “The environment here is such that if we protest near the mine or an administrative office we will be arrested and put in jail immediately,” said Lalsu Nogoti.
In October 2021, locals had protested near the Surjagarh mines, after which police came to the site and detained protestors. Several activists – including Nitin Padda, Ramdas Gera, Sainu Gotu, Shiela Gota, Pattu Pottami, Jai Sri Virda, Sushila Narote, Rakesh Alam, and Mangesh Narote amongst many others – have been charged under Section 110 (punishment of abetment if person abetted does act with different intention from that of abettor.) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code.
Kailas Ekka a 67-year-old from Murwada village in Etapalli, recounted that in February 2018, Ramkumar Khess, a resident of the neighbouring village of Koindwarshi, went bird-hunting with his friend in the jungle and was killed by the C-60, an elite paramilitary anti-Naxal force. A day
after his death he was declared a “Naxal” – his family has denied this and said he had been killed in a fake encounter. Journalists have reported several such accounts of killings.
Mangesh Naroti, one of the key leaders of the current agitation, explained that in recent months, he had been targeted for harassment by police. In late February, Naroti received a show cause notice under Section 110 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, under which police can initiate preventive action against someone they deem a habitual offender, and claim is likely to commit a criminal offence. The notice accused “Naroti of being a Naxalite supporter, of spreading propaganda against the Surjagarh mining project and inciting people to protest. Naroti had already been booked under section 353 in 2017 for protesting outside Gatta police station against the sexual assault of two tribal girls.”
Naroti was asked to present himself at the police outpost at Haidri police station, close to the Surjagarh mine, some 25 km from his native village of Besewada. Once there, police interrogated him about Naxalites and the upcoming protests. “They accused me of giving Naxals food and helping with their work,” said Naroti. “I denied this, but they wouldn’t listen to me.” They then asked him if he was opposed to mining. “I told them, I’m not a Naxal, but yes, I oppose mines,” he said. “If more mines open up, my community will be displaced. Then where are we to go and die?”
Naroti received notices from the police every week to report to Haidri police station. These visits continued for four months. “I grew completely distraught in those months,” he said. “They used to make me sit at the station for long hours. They would swear at me and tell me not to go to the protests. I used to return home at 8-9 pm.” By June, Naroti couldn’t take the stress anymore and decided to stop going.
This is a form of mental harassment that has been ongoing for decades. “This sort of harassment is happening throughout Gadchiroli, wherever Adivasis are living near valuable natural resources,” Naroti said. “They surveil us and protect the mining officials.”
Police claim that the number of Maoists in Gadchiroli has decreased significantly in the last five years. “If naxal activity has decreased considerably since demonetisation, then why are so many police stations opening up in the area now?” said Sakal Bokare, an independent journalist from Etapalli.
“The government is forcefully constructing police stations without taking the permission of gram sabhas,” said Vichchami, a protester. “This month they constructed a police station at Peepliburgi and have plans to bring more police stations at Todgatta, Morewada, Gardewada and Jharewada, among others. Security forces constantly threaten villagers for opposing mining, interrogating them on their whereabouts. On June 2, around 40-50 policemen along with six forest officials had visited Morewada village to survey land for the construction of a police station. However, they were met with the protests of the villagers. “We questioned them. We told them they cannot build a police station without the permission of the gram sabha, after which they left the place,” said Dasru Gota, 28, secretary at Morewada gram sabha.
This report has been written with the help of the following articles and publications. Much of the report has been taken directly from these sources:
“खदान: रोजगार और fवकास, या fव थापन और fवनाश”, Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, 2016
“The cost of protesting against mining in Gadchiroli”, The Scroll, 27th September 2023, https://scroll.in/article/1056602/the-cost-of-protesting-against-mining-in-gadchiroli
“In Gadchiroli, Madia Gonds’ way of life and the forces that threaten it”, Ground Report, October 17, 2023, https://groundreport.in/in-gadchiroli-madia-gonds-way-of-life-and-the-forces-that-threaten-it/
“’76 Years After Independence, We Still Fight’: In Gadchiroli, a 150-Day Protest Against Mining”, The Wire, 15th August 2023,
“Lalsu Nogoti raises Todgatta tribals protest at UN Council”, https://dvoice.in/lalsu-nogoti-raises-todgatta-tribals-protest-at-un-council/
“Todgatta Protestors find Support in Community”, Indie Journal, 8th August 2023, https://www.indiejournal.in/article/todgatta-protestors-find-support-in-community/
“As land bleeds, the struggle for ‘Jal Jungle Jameen’ in Gadchiroli continues”, Ground Report, 17th October 2023,
“‘Authorities indifferent’: 90 days on, Adivasis from 70 villages protest against mining in Maharashtra’s Surjagarh”, Newslaundry, 15th June 2023,