16 mins read

World Uranium Hearing

World Uranium Hearing

Xavier S. Dias

Xavier S. Dias, Village Duccasi, Bihar, India. Co-founder of Jharkhandis Organization for Human Rights.

Present Address : B6, Abhilasha Apartment 11a, Purulia Road Ranchi-Jharkhand

Email : reachxdias@gmail.com

Respected Elders, Brothers, Sisters! I bring you greetings from the people of Jharkhand, the central tribal areas of India.

Technology has made many things possible today, and it has also made it possible that the victims of technology cannot testify or prove technology accountable for its destruction. I have a series of slides that we have taken. We are part of the Tribal Jharkhand Movement, and I work with the All Jharkhand Students Union as well as with the Jharkhandhis Organization for Human Rights, two political organizations fighting for a Jharkhand state, and I think the organizers of this Hearing would be happy to know that news of this Hearing has given us a new impetus to take on the question of uranium mining as part of our political agenda. It is not in our culture to say “thank you”, but I would like to really say that we appreciate the organizers and the organization, especially those who cannot be seen — in the office, in the kitchen, the interpreters and all the people who worked to make this Hearing a very big event in our struggle, the struggle of the indigenous people against uranium mining.

Could we have the lights dimmed, please? The first slide, please.

This is a village, Radjgao(?), it is just between Jaduguda and the Bhatin Mines, two kilometers East is Jaduguda, two kilometers West. The first three, four slides will just show you something of the Santal way of life, the Santal village life, and most of the photos you are seeing, within a year’s time these people are going to be displaced for the Narwapahar uranium mine that is coming up in this vicinity. I chose this slide because it gives the atmosphere of how happy the children are before mining and industry could come and take it over.

This is women transplanting rice just below the tailing pond. — A Santal person making his fishing nets. — A woman just returning from the river after a bath and collecting little fire-wood fuel. — This tribal society is much more egalitarian than the other non-tribal Indian society, and men take care of the little ones.

This is a Santal house, it is a house of a family that doesn’t have much land, and you could see how just beautiful it is and this would give you an idea of the culture of the place.

This is Jaduguda Mines, a bird’s eye view of the mine taken from the tailing pond. Right up there, you see the shaft from where the workers go down, it’s 2,000 feet below the ground.

That’s where the pipeline comes which brings in the tailings to the tailing pond. — This is inside Narwapahar Mines, where the ore has just been brought up and is being loaded by a tribal contract labor, not permanent labor, onto trucks.

Here is a worker returning home inside the mine. This is prohibited area, but we managed to get these photographs. — Here they are taking the uranium ore from one mine to the mill for processing.

This is the new uranium mine, Narwapahar Mine, built with Russian technology. If you could read that board, it gives you some idea of the British legacy that we have of speaking English, and these boards are found around all mines in our area, because every year there is a competition in safety, and the mine that produces the best board, the best hoarding — in English, of course — gets the first prize.

Here is another board, but I don’t think it’s very clear. — This is the beginning of the tailing pond, and this is probably the end of this person’s rich cultural life; he is one of the displaced people of that tailing pond area and he now sustains his family by selling fuel.

Here we are standing on the dam of the tailing pond; on the left of the photographer is the area where a new tailing pond is going to be constructed, so the village is going to be evicted; and on the right is the old tailing pond, the radioactivity here is very high.

We are standing on the tailing pond, where in 1986 the dam burst and the material from the tailing pond all flowed into the village nearby. Now the management is trying to patch it up with cement.

This is a very interesting photograph, it’s the tailing pond, the lower level. The upper level — there is water where the material is flushed into. The lower level, if you see, there is a couple carrying a child, returning from the doctor as the child is sick. And they are using the tailing pond as a pathway.

These are probably footprints on the sands of time. The pipe there has burst and somebody has gone and drunk the water, and we’ve got the footprints.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Here it’s good intentions creating a hell. The extra uranium ore is used to mantle roads and houses and other things.

This is the area for the new tailing pond. — The uranium is refined in Jaduguda, up to 80 percent purity, and it goes down 1,500 kilometers to a place called Hyderabad in South India, where you have the Nuclear Fuel Center. And there the radium is extracted — forgive me, I cannot use the technical languages — the uranium is extracted and the yellowcake is sent back to be dumped on our lands. So, on the 25th, I managed to get these photographs, just being unloaded at the Rakha railway-station.

When the drums are unloaded we found about a dozen drums that were burst. — This is an interesting photo because here you have the drum and in the background you have this woman transplanting rice in a village further up.

That’s also a pathway where people go and come. — And this little child is just returning or going to school.

Here these workers, these are all tribals and mostly people who have been displaced by the Uranium Mining Corporation from their lands. Now they are landless, they work loading these drums whenever the train comes with the drums, and they are paid maybe a mark extra to do this work, so they prefer doing this work. And I have tape-recordings, which I have transcribed into a paper where they are giving their individual stories: At the end of the day their hands turn white. They cannot work for more than three months. Most of their co-workers are dead and they suffer from all sorts of ailments.

This is a gentleman, Manghal Majhi. He is one of the first tribals in India who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission. At that time it was a British company, in 1945, when India was still under British rule. Manghal need not have worked and he didn’t want to work, but in his interview he says: “The foreigners would always come to our house with their jeep and take us to work, and they took me all around India, drilling holes, searching for uranium.” He called it a holding company which was later taken over by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. Manghal has since retired and has returned to Jaduguda where he is leading a retired life. But his story is a very sad story. He says that from the day he returned to Jaduguda, he has been a sick person and he has been treated for tuberculosis by the company hospital; but he went to a private doctor who told him that he does not have tuberculosis as a result of which he has lost his hearing, and he has a lot of stomach problems. He showed me a big box of empty bottles of medicine he has taken, and nearly ten cages of prescription receipts. He also said: “I am sick because of drinking uranium-contaminated water.” When I asked him why does he think he is sick because of that, he says, because he remembers there was a tree next to a river that slowly died — because it was passing by the same river where he takes his water. And because the tree died and a lot of animals and the fish died in that river, he thinks it has affected him.

This is Manghal’s daughter. We have had many cases, but because of shortage of time I just have to take a selection of these. She has lost her first two babies, stillborn or spontaneous abortions, this is the third child. It was born normal. Her husband is a contract worker in the mines.

He is Takhur Majhi of Elejerajhgan(?), and when I see him I get the impression that he is just coming out of a cancer ward after taking cobalt rays. He says that no one in his family, his father’s side or his mother’s side, has ever lost their hair. But he has lost his, he’s worked 20 years in the mines, his body is full of skin abnormalities. I couldn’t get it very well on the camera. He works as underground miner.

This is Ludia Majhi(?). The day I met him he ran away from a TB-sanatorium. He was being treated for the last six months with tuberculosis, and he couldn’t stand it any more. He ran away and he came back home. He works as underground miner, doing the drilling work. He drills 40 holes a day in the mines below.

He is Dikhu Murmu(?), a person who’s worked for 25 years in the underground, and he did not know what is being mined. He couldn’t pronounce the word uranium — you should hear it on the tape. He has skin abnormalities, stomach problems, and the company has not told him anything about his ailment. By the way, when I interviewed two doctors who refused to speak on tape, who work for the Uranium Corporation hospital, they said that they are unaware of any radioactivity cases. Secondly, what they said was, when I asked them what happens to the blood samples, the biopsies, the results of all that, they said, all those results are taken and sent to the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Bombay, and those results of the blood tests on patients are never shown to the concerned doctors nor to the patients. It all goes under the Official Secrecy Act. Probably our government would be afraid that if Pakistan comes to know about the effects of radioactivity they could attack us.

He’s a non-tribal, Amulja(?). He and his wife were working in another hospital, in another town. They got a job in Jaduguda, they’ve come to Jaduguda. Ever since they landed in Jaduguda, they’re having health problems. His wife has to have a valve insertion in her heart, and he has had a lot of problems. He says that in the hospital where he works, a lot of abortion cases are there, a lot of TB-cases are there, but they are not being shown. He says this on tape. He also says that the tribals who are not working for the plant, they have no access to the hospital. If they want to be admitted for anything in that hospital, they have to pay a very high deposit which they cannot afford.

She is a very interesting woman. She has been a midwife or an assistant midwife from the age of twelve. Today, she’s about 55 to 60 years old, she lives next to the mines, and when we interviewed her we asked her: “Could you tell us how many babies you helped to deliver in your whole life span?” So she says: “Really, I can’t count them”, but she says: “Most of the boys here standing around, most of you boys, I have helped your mothers to deliver you.” And then she went on to tell us that in the beginning, when she was a young girl, there were not so many abnormal babies born and abortion cases as there are now. She says, it is the evil spirits of Jaduguda that are eating the babies; that’s her understanding of the situation. But she says something much more interesting, which I have not heard in these two days of deliberation. She says that for the last three years they are getting a very funny disease among the children where the crown of the skull has not yet been formed of babies just being born. And it is still a fine membrane. She calls is “talka”, and she says, last year out of ten babies she delivered one that had “talka”.

He is Fago(?), a young boy whose mother was from this village, and the first child to be conceived. As I said, we cannot relate cause and effect, but his house is just below the tailing pond.

This is the village priest of Chatigora(?) village which is going to be submerged by the next new tailing pond. And he says that he’s very disappointed that the sacred groves of the tribals and the ancestral stone grave yards are going to be taken away. But he says that, whenever they went to the management of the mines to discuss about the land acquisition, the management always said: “Your government has decided it for you”, and he says it’s going to create a lot of problems.

This is one of the victims who has lost land and he is on the railway-station working.

These are the sacred graveyards of the tribals within the mining areas. — This too, another one. — This is — we were going from village to village telling them of The World Uranium Hearing, showing them the leaflets that were sent to us, and one person had to come, he couldn’t get his passport, so he didn’t come; we were collecting signatures of 5,000 villagers to be presented here, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get them before the Hearing.

This is the village of Hartopha(?) which is going to be taken over by Narwapahar Mines, and they were having a meeting and they have sent it on tape to you all in one voice saying: “We do not want uranium mined in our lands, we want to live in peace and harmony as before.”

Thank you very much.