Dongria Kondh – Royal descendants of the mountain God

‘We are born of this earth, and this earth is ours. Niyamgiri belongs to us.’— Laksa Majhi

Royal descendants of the mountain God

The Niyamgiri hill range in Odisha state, eastern India, is home to the Dongria Kondh tribe. Niyamgiri is an area of densely forested hills, deep gorges and cascading streams. To be a Dongria Kondh is to farm the hills’ fertile slopes, harvest their produce, and worship the mountain god Niyam Raja and the hills he presides over, including the 4,000 metre Mountain of the Law, Niyam Dongar.

Yet for a decade, the 8,000-plus Dongria Kondh lived under the threat of mining by Vedanta Resources, which hoped to extract the estimated $2billion-worth of bauxite that lies under the surface of the hills.

The company planned to create an open-cast mine that would have violated Niyam Dongar, disrupted its rivers and spelt the end of the Dongria Kondh as a distinct people.

‘We’ll lose our soul. Niyamgiri is our soul.’

The Dongria Kondh of India’s Niyamgiri Hills have won a heroic victory against mining giant Vedanta Resources to save their sacred hills. The Supreme Court told Vedanta in 2013 that the Dongria must decide whether to allow mining on the Mountain of the Law. The Dongria answered with an unequivocal ‘No’.