Human Rights Defenders in India’s Coal Country
This August 15th, while we celebrate those who fought for India’s independence, let’s recognize what freedom means for those who still struggle for it everyday in central India’s coal country. We bring to you the stories of human rights defenders working in Raigarh, the heart of Chhattisgarh’s coal belt.
Coal has been described as forming a large part of India’s growth story, but we have also learned through the coal scam how mining companies and government officials colluded to make windfall profits by undervaluing our natural resources.
What’s hidden from us often, though, are the human and environmental costs of coal mining. From wide-scale displacement to impacts on air, water, livelihoods and health, the effects of coal mining are pushing already marginalized communities to the edge.
A large part of India’s coal lies in eastern and central India, in heavily forested areas and districts with large adivasi populations.
Many communities here are still being denied basic rights. Human rights defenders in these areas play a crucial role in holding governments and companies accountable. But these defenders operate under great personal risks and face many challenges, from threatsto their life to a lack of access to information and legal support . Their stories and struggles for justice and greater public participation, however, rarely make it to our TV screens.
Environmental public hearings and gram sabhas (village assembly meetings) are often the only openings for communities and defenders to raise their concerns and talk about the impact of development projects on their rights. Yet even these limited avenues are manipulated on the ground, and described by some in government as ‘roadblocks’ to our national interest…
This Independence Day, let’s salute the perseverance of these defenders of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, learn more about their struggles and remember why an equitable, inclusive society is worth fighting for.
Camera: Ajay TG, human rights defender and filmmaker from Bhilai, Chhattisgarh.
Music: Kuvi Prayer Song for the well-being of crops from Koraput, Odisha. IRDWSI/MV Bhaskar.
Images: Aruna Chandrasekhar, Amnesty International India.