Pratima Tete

Industrialization and Marginalization of the Adivasis: A study of Sundergarh District, Odisha, India

Pratima Tete

Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India

Abstract: When modernity started progressing in leaps and bounds, and industrialization became “Temples of Modern India” in the words of Nehru, Adivasis were further marginalized. According to Ekka, Adivasis constitute 40 % of the total people who are displaced for the purpose of industrialization, construction of dams and mining etc. The Industrial landscape of Jharkhand has undergone considerable change and the large-scale industries where vast metallic and non metallic mineral resources available in the area. Tribal communities in the state of Odisha is now amongst the poorest on this earth, dispossessed and alienated, without even the basic security food and shelter. The Annual Report of the National Commission (1990) for the Scheduled Castes (S.C.) and Scheduled Tribes (S.T.) states that with the liberalization policies, their conditions are bound to worsen at a faster pace. Adivasis have witnessed the onslaught of industrialization, globalization and the reforms in the economic policies. The struggle of the Adivasis to protect their land has been well documented in different researches, whether it is against the Netarhat field firing, Koel – Karo project, POSCO or Vedanta etc. The resurgence of Adivasis is being spurred by the increasing displacement caused by the new liberalization policies and the development paradigm. Movement against the construction of dam on Koel – Karo Rivers in Jharkhand is cited as a successful peoples' movement. This paper attempts to unearth the voices of tribals from Sundergarh district, Odisha which is second highest concentration for rich mineral extraction. This, extraction of mineral is been carried out at the cost of tribal’s living in the region on the tribal agricultural and customary forest lands by the multinational companies in the name of nation’s growth and development. This aggravates the issues since the tribals face manifold human rights challenges such as right to land, right to livelihood, right to life and liberty and right to clean and safe environment. As a result, the tribals of Sundergarh are pushed into poverty and forced to relocate to urban centres in search of alternative livelihood opportunities. Thus, the researcher argues that the development induced forced displacement in the region leads them to lose the opportunity to grow as well as their tribal identity. In this context, the paper illustrates the gross human rights violations and struggles of tribals in order to protect their land and livelihoods. The researcher is trying to explore the responses of the Adivasis towards mining, contextualizing them when the state has become very repressive and markets overwhelmingly determine the choices of the individual.

Keywords: Adivasis; Displacement; Land rights; Livelihood;


The French enlightenment in the 18th century is primarily celebrated as the freedom of individual and the progress in the field of science. Anything not science was not considered as knowledge. The freedom of individual gave dignity to the individuals and the progress in science sped up the process of modernization. The modern democratic state is premised on the recognition of the individual. If the enlightenment recognized the individuals, it has also demonized the communitarian, as regressive. Thus Adivasis, who stayed in community, were directly opposed to the enlightenment, which advocated individualism. When modernity started progressing in leaps and bounds, and industrialization became “Temples of Modern India” in the words of Nehru, Adivasis were further marginalised. According to Ekka, Adivasis constitute 40 % of the total people who are displaced for the purpose of industrialization, construction of dams and mining etc (Ekka, 2012). The industrial landscape of Jharkhand has undergone considerable change and the large-scale industries are vast metallic and non metallic mineral resources available in the area (Areeparampil, 2012, Rao 2012). Tribal communities in the state of Odisha are now amongst the poorest on this earth, dispossessed and alienated, without even the basic security food and shelter (Das, 2002).

Adivasis have constantly challenged the whole idea of enlightenment and their struggle/ movement present a critique of it. Adivasis stand directly opposed to the states' idea of development, and they have led struggle against it in the past. The Annual Report of the National Commission (1990) for S.C.s (Scheduled Castes) and S.T.s (Scheduled Tribes) states that with the liberalisation policies, their conditions are bound to worsen at a faster pace. At the same time the modern state has gradually shaped the needs and demands of the Adivasis. As someone has said that change is the only constant, similarly changes are gradually happening in the Adivasi society too. They are no more isolated. Earlier when the state, barely managed to enter into the Adivasi areas, now the apparatus of the state has reached every nook and corner of the Adivasi areas. Simultaneously Adivasis are also getting assimilated in the larger Indian fold through education, employment, sharing of political power etc.

For a very long time now Adivasis have witnessed the onslaught of industrialization, globalization and the reforms in the economic policies. The struggle of the Adivasis to protect their land has been well documented in different researches, whether it is against the Netarhat field firing, Koel – Karo project, POSCO or Vedanta etc. The resurgence of Adivasis is being spurred by the increasing displacement caused by the new liberalization policies and the development paradigm (Kujur, 2005). Movement against the construction of dam on Koel – Karo Rivers in Jharkhand is cited as a successful peoples' movement. Adivasi community now stands weak and struggling to protect their remaining land. Adivasis are sandwiched between the growing economic demands of the state and the growing urge to modernize themselves. On the hand if the market is constantly creating newer demands in Adivasi society, on the another hand Adivasis are also looking at the past when they lived harmoniously with the nature. There is an urge to explore the possibilities/ opportunities offered by the industrialization/ globalization/ market, but at the same time being intact with tradition and culture.

There has been a very long struggle of the Adivasis against the expansion of Odisha Cement Limited (O.C.L), in Langiberna in Sundergarh district, Odisha, where this research has been conducted. The data was collected from the four villages around Lanjiberna Limestone mining in Sundergarh district, Odisha. These villages were Kheramuta, Saliameta, Lengiberna and Dukatoli, under Kokoda Panchayat, Rajgangpur Block. These villages are in the close proximity of the mining area. All these villages are affected by OCL, and almost all the families have given their land for OCL. Earlier Duka toli village was close to Kheramutta, but the whole village has been resettled in a new location close to Bihaband. The previous location of the village is deserted now, with no sign of any existence of the village. It has become the dumping ground of the OCL now. In the new location, people continue to live with their previous village name. Similarly, a part of Keramuta village was evicted around 25 years back. A new village with the name Nawa toli was set up near Bihaband. The village which previously existed had become mines now. The mines run deep into hundreds of feet.

The researcher belongs to the Indigenous Community of Kharia tribe. It is an insider view of the relationship of Adivasis with land and nature. This paper is about how Adivasis look at mining and how they are trying to negotiate with it. The Adivasis as community is strongly opposed to O.C.L. mining but there are different views on this. The finding shows that some of the villagers are in favour of mining while others are not. Adivasis are fundamentally connected to land, water and forest which is the basic source of life, but due to the drastic changes in political and economic conditions they stand divided. In India during the colonial period, Adivasi communities were conceived as a simple and homogenous community and its coexistence with the nature was romanticized. The understanding of tribes as backward and uncivilised continue to dominate Indian academia.

Indigenous Methodology and Ethics

The research among the Adivasis/ Indigenous People is rampant in the states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in India, has become an easy way to get recognition in the academics. Not many of the researchers have taken seriously the Ethics of doing research among the Adivasis, and consider their right to speak on their behalf. Recently Adivasis in Jharkhand fought against the state government which amended the two important laws; the Chottanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 (CNT) and the Santal Pargana Tenancy Act 1948 (SPT), which protects the land of the Indigenous People; but academicians were far away for their struggle. This arises from the fact that the researchers do not have any commitment towards the movement/ struggle of the people. The Adivasi activists and villagers provide information to the researchers who publish their articles in books and journals, without acknowledging the people and the community. Having denied of their Right to represent and speak for themselves, these people are largely invisible and ignored in academia.

According to Smith (2008) Indigenous Research agenda comprises of survival, recovery, and development, self-determination. This focuses on decolonization, transformation, healing and mobilization. Unlike India, countries like Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand are very serious about indigenous methodology and ethics. In these countries, the ethical guidelines for Indigenous research are now integrated into the national systems of ethical review for research (Drugge 2016). Their major contribution is that the research is not to be done 'on' the indigenous communities but 'with' them. Historically Indigenous communities has close association with land and the its surroundings, which the researcher must recognise. They should have control over the land, economy, and political system over the areas they inhabit. It is very important to recognise Indigenous people’s world views, distinct culture, language, belief system and the way they want to represent themselves.

Having seen that there has been rampant violation of ethics of doing research, many indigenous studies departments have come up with guidelines to do research with the indigenous communities. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies has a guideline for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies. Similarly, the Siami people of Sweden have also taken up the question of ethics very seriously. In India too, Journal of Tribal Intellectual Collective India (JTICI) ask authors to submit an informed consent from the Tribal community among whom the research was done along with the paper for publication. The website of the JTICI mentions guidelines for submitting paper as,

“When submitting research articles to JTICI about tribes in India, informed consent from the Tribal Community in which the article is written about is mandatory because of the potential for adverse consequences at a governmental level that are unrecognized by academic researchers.”

There is a continuation of treating the Adivasis as data and mere informants, denying them agency and voice. For decades these people have been used as ladder to scale academic heights, whereas those among whom the research was conducted continue to remain at the periphery. Having been exposed to research and social experiments for the last 150 years, Adivasis/ Indigenous people of India have been brutalized due to misrepresentation in academia especially by the anthropologists. Anthropology, dominated by the evolutionary perspective portrayed Adivasis as uncultured, uncivilized, and barbaric as opposed to modern and civilized. These studies have not been able to make the lives of the people better but rather objectified and treated them merely as data. Righty, according to Linda Smith, the word, 'research' itself is probably one of the dirtiest words in the Indigenous word vocabulary (Smith, 2008, 1). This shows the magnanimity of destruction the researchers have done to the indigenous people, that they have become repulsive to those who are doing research.

The methodology and ethics which they follow draws parallel to the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and United Nations declaration on Indigenous people at different times. The ILO convention "Indigenous and Tribal Population, 1957 (No. 107) had made sure that social, economic, health, education and over all well being of the Indigenous people is taken care of. Besides, this convention also recognized "The right of ownership, collective or individual of the members of the populations concerned over the lands which these populations traditionally occupy shall be recognized." The ILO convention no. 169 of 1987 covers indigenous peoples right to development, customary laws, lands territories and resources, employment, education and health. This convention had given greater autonomy to the indigenous communities over their way of life and institutions. It was ratified by 22 countries mainly in Latin America, but India is not a signatory to this. The official stand on this regard of the Indian government is that, there are no indigenous people in the country. However, the tribal also known as Adivasis consider themselves as indigenous people. As per the resolution 49/214 on 23rd December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided the International Day of the Worlds' Indigenous Peoples' should be observed on 9th August every year. Since then Indigenous people across the world celebrate this day with workshops, cultural program, seminars, talks and lectures on the status of Indigenous people. In India too this day is observed by different Adivasi/ tribal/ Indigenous communities, NGO's and civil society.

History of Odisha

The state of Odisha has 22% of tribal population constituting 9.7% of tribals of the country. There are 62 scheduled tribes (tribal communities) and 13 communities are categorized as primitive tribes. Odisha has 30 districts and Sundergarh is one of the districts under the fifth schedule. The Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution protects the Rights of the Adivais inhabiting in the scheduled areas. The district is located in the north western part of Odisha being bounded by Simdega District of Jharkhand on the north, Raigarh district of Chhatisgarh on the west and north-west, Jharsuguda, Deogargh Districts of Odisha on the South and South-East and Singhbhum district of Jharkhand and Keonjhar district of Odisha on the east. With the geographical area of 9712 Sqkms, it is the second largest district in the State accounting for 6.23% of the total area. The population of district is 20.9 laks (2011 census) thus making it the sixth most population district in the State. The rural population is 1,355,340 which forms 64.74% of the total population of the district. Some of the major tribes of the districts are Oraon, Munda Kishan, Kharia, etc.

Industrialisation in Sundargarh District

Sundargarh occupies a prominent position in the mineral map of Odisha and is rich in iron-ore, limestone, manganese, dolomite, and fire clay. As much as 1019.47 of land has been leased out for mining in Odisha with most of these being in the Scheduled Areas of the district. And it has tremendously attracted corporates sector to establish their industries. The Steel Plant of Rourkela, under the Steel Authority of India Limited, is the first Public Sector in the country. Due to this rapid industrialization in the district has 11 large Scale, 5 medium scale and 507 small and micro registered enterprises.

Sl No./Name of the Project/No. of Villages uprooted/No. of families uprooted/No. of person uprooted/Total Amount of land Acquired Acres.

1./Rourkela Steel Plant/32/2,975/19,722.69

2./Mandira Dam/31/1,193/8,785/11,964.00

3./Utkal Machinery Limited, Kansbahal/4/34/183/236.32

4./M/s Odisha Cement Limited, Rajgangpur/466.930

5./OCL, Lanjiberna Mines/2,476

6./Gomardhi Dolomite/598.30

7./BSL, Birmitrapur/600

8./Purnapani Mines and Township/4/280/ 715.50

9./Purnapani Railway Line/4/185/120.72

10./Barsuan Mining Road/4/5.23

Table 1: List of Projects in Sundargarh District before 1990s ( Source: Jojo, 2011)

In 1898 limestone and dolomite was started by E.G. Barton near Panposh in 12 acres of land. After independence in 1950's rapid industrialization started happening in Sundargarh district. The Rourkela Steel Plant and Odisha Cement Limited Rajgangpur were set up. To supply water to the Rourkela Steel Plant Mandira Dam was constructed. The construction of dam displaced large section of population in the 1950s-60s. Before displacement it was promised that they will give individual family member jobs in the Rourkela Steel Plant but the promises never fulfilled till now. In 1990s small cement factories in the district mushroomed. Around 20-30 acres of land was acquired to establish these industries. Then late in the 1990s sponge iron factories came in the district which numbered to 46 in the district. For the sponge iron 1400-acre land was taken. A large number of people from outside started coming to work, drastically changing the demographic profile of the region. Pollution is one major problem affecting the agricultural land, water bodies, the air, and plants.

History of Odisha Cement Limited, Langiberna

Prior to Independence the industrial activities in Sundergarh were confined only to Birmitrapur, the site of the limestone quarry. The establishment of the cement factory at Rajgangpur in 1951 and the steel plant at Rourkela in 1955 were mainly responsible for rapid industrial development in the district. During the past decades large, medium and a number of small-scale and ancillary industries in and around Rourkela began to concentrate and created an industrial complex. All the large-scale industries of the district viz., (i) the steel plant at Rourkela (ii) The fertiliser plant at Rourkela (iii) Cement factory at Rajgangpur (iv) Messar Utkal Machinery Ltd., at Kanshbahal (v) The limestone Quarry, Bisra, are in the complex. Sundergarh has emerged as one of the industrially advanced districts of Odisha. Industrial activities including mining and quarrying engaged 56,044 persons (17.29 percent of the total working population) in 1971. The Odisha Cement Limited (OCL), was established at Rajgangpur in pursuance of an agreement in December, 1948, between the State of Odisha and M/s. Dalmia Jain Agencies Limited (now M/s Dalmia Agencies Private Limited originally Managing Agents of the Company). Limestone, the principle raw material for manufacturing cement, is obtained from the company’s own quarries at Lanjiberna situated at a distance of about 10 km, from the factory site (Mining Plan, 1989).

Figure 1: OCL Mining Site, Lanjiberna.

State violence: Narratives from Kheramuta Village

This narrative describes the incident of police abuse and brutality against the adivasi community of Kheramuta Village in 2002. A team of police force suddenly came at night around 1 o’clock. They dragged out the youths from almost every household. A mother from a family tried to refrain her son at the hands of the police. Police started beating the lady and she was hurt and profusely bleeding. Another female child was also beaten up by the police because she was protecting her brother from the abuse of the police. There were no female police around during the incident. After the incident, a meeting was convened, which was attended by the MLA, Gregory Minz. They arrested around 27 youths one after another from the village. The youths were picked up without any arrest warrants. They were kept in the jail for about a month.

An incident happened in 2003, where a person working in a mine as a bulldozer driver, was killed. He was a sound and strong individual who often stood for the Rights of the Adivasis and discussed the matters extensively with the people. One afternoon, he was sleeping under the shadow of the bulldozer. As there was an urgent need for work with the bulldozer, the company workers not being able to locate him behind the bulldozer, with the help of a security guard mistakenly ran over him. The incident was kept hidden from the family and the villagers. By the time it was evening, the news of a person’s death in the mining area had somehow spread in the village which triggered a protest in the area. People demanded a strict action against the culprit and wanted the body of the deceased. But they (company) did not hand over the body to the family. This angered the villagers when they ransacked the office and burned it down. However the villagers alleged that he was intentionally killed. It was only after the intervention of the police that the dead body was given away to the family. On that night people wanted some proper information about the incident from the authority of the mining company, so they kept waiting for the responses outside the office. As it was getting late, some people went to sleep at home, and the place became less crowded. Observing the decrease in crowd, police lathi charged upon the people the same night. It was unexpected from the side of the police. There were women, children and older people who were injured during the incident. People were taken into the police custody. But somehow police managed to send the women and children, holding back the youths for at least a week in the custody. After one week they were freed from the jail.

Figure 2: A Female brutally attacked by police in 2002.

Keeping alive the struggle: Memories of Sahid Susheel

Another incident had occurred when one of the person from Lanjiberna village, early in the morning came for open defecation which was quiet close to the mining area because of the availability of water. But the security guards of the mine assuming that the person had come for stealing, recklessly started firing at the person, a youth named Susheel Lakra. He was hurt and fell unconscious after the incident. A witness to the incident rushed back to the village and narrated the entire incident to the villagers. A huge crowd came along with him to the spot of the incident. Meanwhile he succumbed to the injuries on the way to the hospital. The situation became very tense. By the afternoon people had gathered and surrounded the mining office and started brutally beating the guard who had fired on Susheel. The company compensated Susheel's family with some amount of money. In memory of Susheel, villagers commemorate every year 8th December as martyrdom day, with several programs and activities.

Middlemen: Adivasis against Adivasis

In general parlance at the village level, those who work in favour of the company is called middle men. Similarly, one person in Saliametta was working for the mining company. He in collaboration with the company started some work in the village. If something happened in the village, he would report it to the company. One day he along with some people from the company started mapping the fields at night. People were not asleep till that time. Some people got suspicious as some noise was coming from the backyard. They came out and saw around 5-6 persons mapping the field and shouted at them. The tried to run, but were caught. The villagers inquired what they were doing at the middle of the night. Next day a meeting was called in the village. Two or three people apologised in front of the whole village but one person did not accept his fault and kept on avoiding any explanation. This persons' face was painted black, and slippers were put around his neck and made to walk around the village.

Discussion and Conclusion

The perception of the Adivasis towards mining: The overall perception of the Adivasis towards mining is that, it has brought more harm to them than benefits. Almost all the respondents had protested when the mining initially came to their area. Though there are some people who feel that OCL has contributed for their betterment, but people with similar experiences are very few. People in the villages are divided on lines of languages, religions, cultures only because of mining company. People have expressed their deep regret for giving their land for mining, because at the end of the day, they find themselves at a complete loss. They feel that all the problems in their life have been created by the company. Had not been the company there, they would have been happier.

The livelihood opportunities for the Adivasis in the mining: When mining in their area began, the people had expected that it will provide employment to the people from the nearby villages. Initially all of them got jobs in the company. During the process of mechanization, many people lost their jobs. They were asked to retire voluntarily after few years of work. The generation next to them could not take up the job in OCL because they were not trained as per the requirement of the company. Many of the villagers with whom the researcher interacted refuted the claims of employment with the appropriate technical training. The villagers said that there are youths in the villages who have under gone technical trainings but do not get employment in OCL. The villagers allege that people from outside are employed in OCL. The local youths are deprived of the job opportunities.

The influence of mining on the socio-cultural aspects among the Adivasis: The social fabrics of the village, linked with culture and tradition is gradually deteriorating. The social bonding not only within the villagers but also intra village was very strong. People used to meet regularly after their work in the evening. They discussed together when any problems used to come to the village. Initially, some of the key informants have told that, people were very united when OCL was trying to enter into the village. Festivals like Karam and Sahrul would be celebrated for week long, but it is not possible now.

The influence of mining on environment: The most visible impact/ damage are to the landscape by the mining process. The spilled oil, grease and other contaminants finds their way in to the nearby fields and water courses, causing health hazards to inhabitants, cattle and damage to standing crop etc. The mechanized mining and processing of mineral causes air pollution due to emission of dust from drilling, blasting, loading, transport of mineral by dumpers, dumping operations, crushing and further handling operations. The noise level goes up due to the drilling, blasting, operation of diesel engines, machinery operations, loading and crushing operations. The blasting fly rocks in the nearby fields causing fear among the villagers, as it brings destruction to life and property.

Figure 3: Cracks in the walls of the house due to the blasts in the mines.

The influence of mining on health: It has not yet been studied that the dust which emits from Lanjiberna mining is causing harmful health problems to the villagers. But one of the villagers said, “There are number of health problems like one dieses- silicosis in this village. Some children were born handicapped and there were miscarriages too.” When there is blasting, there is a huge noise and vibration. These frequent noise and vibration is not good for children.

The changing occupational pattern among the Adivasis: The OCL has brought drastic changes in the occupational pattern in the nearby villages. Earlier, people were solely depended on agriculture for their sustenance. People have lost their lands in the hand of the mining company. Due to excessive mining, the water level has gone down, thus the area which used to be multiple crop fields have reduced to a single crop. Even the productivity has gone down drastically. As a result of this, people have moved on to the alternative sources of livelihood. They have picked up temporary jobs in OCL, nearby sponge industries, nearby small mines etc. They are mostly daily wage labours. Some of them are migrating to cities like Mumbai and Surat for jobs, where they are mostly employed in the construction sites.


I would like to thank my supervisor Prof. Bipin Jojo, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai for guiding me through my M.Phil. and Ph.D. and helping me in developing this paper.


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Table 1: List of Projects in Sundergarh District before 1990s.

Figure 1: OCL Mining Site, Lanjiberna.

Figure 2: A Female brutally attacked by police in 2002.

Figure 3: Cracks in the walls of the house due to the blasts in the mines.