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Anti-MNC tribal activist's arrest in Odisha: Green Nobel prize winner, other activists seek NHRC intervention

Kumi Sikaka
By Our Representative
The recent Green Nobel prize winner Prafulla Samantara, along with other senior activists – Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Aruna Roy of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, and Binayak Sen of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) – have sought urgent intervention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the recent arrest of a tribal woman, Kumi Sikaka, in Odisha.
Belonging to the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS), whose legal struggle under Samantara for 12 long years led to the ouster of UK MNC Vedanta from Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills, Sikaka was arrested early on May 2 by security forces on charges of being a Maoist. Sikaka happens to be NSS leader Dodi Pusika’s daughter in law.
Calling the arrest an attempt by the government to “defeat the struggle of Dongria tribes to protect Niyamgiri hills”, the activists in a statement said, the latest action shows the level to which “witch-hunt and harassment” have reached following the MNC’s failure to gain ground to mine bauxite in Niamgiri Hills.
In March 2016, the Supreme Court scrapped the petition filed by state-owned mining company Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) to consider afresh the possibility of holding gram sabhas to decide bauxite mining on top of Niyamgiri hills by Vedanata, since gram sabhas held in July-August 2013 had decided against it.
The judgment followed a strong struggle by NSS, which received wide recognition, to the extent that Samantara, who led the legal fight, complementing the ground struggle, has been awarded, Goldman Prize, also called Green Nobel.
Prafulla Samantara
“The of Sikala arrest comes closely after the annual report of Union Home Ministry suggested that the struggles of the Dongrias to protect Niyamgiri hills by NSS is backed by Maoists and NSS is a front organisation of theirs”, the activists said.
Writing to NHRC, the activists said, “We believe, the action of the security forces follows the Home Ministry report and is part of a larger design to suppress the democratic and non-violent struggles of the Dongrias, Jharania and Kutia tribes in Odisha.”
They added, “The police claim that Sikaka is a hardcore Maoist rebel with a prize on her head and anyone trying to prove otherwise would be seen as a Maoist. This is not only false but a continuation of the agencies ploy to weaken the struggle of the Dongrias, since Kunni Sikaka is niece of Lado Sikaka, leader of NSS, and from Lakhpadar village. She is married to Jagili Pusika, the son of Dodi Pusika, also a vocal anti Vedanta activist.”
The letter further said, “Several other tribal activists are in jail on fabricated charges of being Maoists for several months and years now, case being that of youth leader Dasuru and the teenaged Saibo, both from Gorata village. This is in continuation of the state’s attempt at silencing the opposition against the State’s agenda of giving away Niyamgiri hills to the Vedanta Corporation.”
Seeking immediate release of Kumi Sikaka, the statement says, NHRC should also call for a detailed report and take action on “falsely implicated and imprisoned Dongria tribals associated with the NSS, who have been languishing in jail for months and years now.”

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