People, climate change and future of the industry
By Raaj Manik
An international workshop on mining in South Asia was organised by Activists and Academia Network, called, the Centre for World Environmental History (CWEH) at University of Sussex in which Phulbari Solidarity Group made a robust contribution. On Wednesday 11 May 2016, a remarkable delegation of activists from the global South has shared their anti-mining community activism, and engaged with experienced colleagues in the global North working to expose the brutality of northern extractive companies in the South.
Speakers included Gladson Dungdung, who was offloaded from the Air India flight on his way to the workshop, was due to report on threats to Saranda Forest in Jharkhand, human rights abuses and the destruction of the environment by iron ore mining companies. Also front-line environmentalists and researchers from Bangladesh and India, including Malvika Gupta from University of Delhi, Rumana Hashem of Phulbari Solidarity Group, Roger Moody of Nostromo Research, and Miriam Rose of Foil Vedanta delivered insightful work and narratives of excellent grassroots struggles against mining and corporations.
PSG founder and eye-witness to Phulbari carnage in 2006, Rumana Hashem, has delivered a talk,titled “Translating Phulbari Resistance and anti-coal struggles in Bangladesh: A bottom up approach to social movement to protect environment and indigenous rights from corporate excess”. Hashem advocates for and showed how a bottom up, informal and non-bureaucratic approach to anti-mining and environmental movement have become tremendously powerful and successful in north-Bangladesh.
The drastic increase of privatisation and multinational corporations has not only caused environmental damage and energy injustice but also induced forced-displacement, destitution of indigenous people and farmers in southern countries, such as, Bangladesh. But resistance to extractive corporations and dodgy deals involving government sponsored companies across the South is in the rise. While Bangladesh has been taken hostage for oil, gas and coal by US, China, Indian, Russian and UK corporations, grassroots activism and people’s resistance across the country are remarkable, notes Hashem.
On 26 August in 2006, three people were shot dead at an anti-open cast coal mining outburst of 80, 000 people in northwest Bangladesh but locals were able to form powerful resistance to fight back the miners for decades. Hashem’s talk analyse anti-coal power struggles and social movements for environment and agriculture-based livelihood in Phulbari, and argued that a bottom up approach to environmental and anti-imperialist struggle has been successful in the northwest of Bangladesh.
Hashem illustrated a three-level socio-political movement, called the Phulbari Resistance, against an UK-listed company GCM Resources, formerly known as Asia Energy, that prevented the implementation of a massive open-cast coal mine in the town of Phulbari which would be destroyed by greedy corporate plans. If the mine is built, it would lead to forced-displacement of up to 230, 000 people over the course (30 years) of the project. It would increase poverty and crisis of food production in a country which struggled to provide food supply to nearly one third of its population in 2006-2010. The project would further cause water pollution and would plunder 94 percent of agricultural land in the region. It would leave devastating impact on environment.
Hashem’s talk revealed how local farmers and indigenous people formed powerful resistance in Phulbari under the umbrella of an open platform of left-environmentalists, called the National Committee of Bangladesh, and fought a dirty extractive company, GCM Resources, in Bangladesh. Her report exhibited that the impact of Phulbari resistance on grassroots mobilisation across Bangladesh is so that it led several other social and political movements including Save the Sundarbans, Bashkhali anti-coal plant outburst, and movement against onshore and offshore gas blocks.
Hashem insists that “it is possible to prevent forced-displacement and livelihood from increasing corporate excess only if we followed a bottom up approach to balance power at local, national and international levels, and only if a true solidarity and consensus between the northern and southern grassroots activism has been formed.”
The illuminating talk by Hashem was followed by a researcher and advocate for indigenous rights, Malvika Gupta from University of Delhi, who illustrated how indigenous kids are manipulated and re-colonised by the colonial language and English education in India. The narratives of oppression of indigenous communities by British corporation in India and Zambia were explored and discussed by Miriam Rose of Foil Vedanta, and Roger Moody of Mines and Communities and Nostromo Research, UK.
All speakers have robustly argued that mining is in rapid fall. Despite pernicious oppression and abuse by multinational corporations in the global south, extractive companies and mining across the world have been facing their downfall.
The day-long conference at the Centre for World Environmental History (CWEH) has ended with a hope that mining will continue to fall. The director of the centre, Dr Vinita Damodaran given a vote of thanks to the superb speakers and activists who brought in new hopes to the conference room that extractive companies are likely to be vanished in near future so long as we continue to fight consistently.
The event was facilitated by Zuky Serper, an Activist and Artist in Residence, and chaired by Dr Vinita Damodaran at CWEH at University of Sussex.