India tribes fight mining firm in real-life Avatar

Fri Mar 5, 2010 7:11am EST
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By Nita Bhalla

LANJIGARH, India (Reuters) - As Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for the Oscars, a world away in remote eastern India, activists say the story of the blockbuster sci-fi film Avatar -- nominated for nine awards -- is being played out.

Set in the fantasy world of Pandora, Avatar tells the story of the Na'vi -- a clan of blue-hued humanoids whose existence is threatened by a mining corporation which wants to exploit a vast store of mineral deposits which lies beneath a giant sacred tree.

In India's impoverished but mineral-rich state of Orissa, hundreds of indigenous tribespeople are battling to stop London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc from extracting bauxite from what they say is their sacred mountain.

"The fundamental story of Avatar -- if you take away the multi-colored lemurs, the long-trunked horses and warring androids -- is being played out today in Niyamgiri mountain in India's Orissa state," said Stephen Corry, director of the British charity, Survival International.

"Like the Na'vi of Avatar, the Dongria Kondh tribe are also at risk."

Vedanta says its mine would not violate the rights of indigenous tribespeople, saying that all its projects are conducted within the law and using international best practices.

"It is a myth that people don't want development. The tribals want their children to go to school and have enough to eat," said Mukesh Kumar, CEO of Vedanta's alumina refinery, located at the foot of the mountain, which will process the bauxite.

"If the mine goes ahead, Vedanta will help them to achieve this."   Continued...

<p>A woman from the Dongria Kondh tribe dances while in a trance on top of the Niyamgiri mountain, which they worship as their living god, to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain near Lanjigarh in India's Orissa state February 21, 2010. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause</p>