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Winner of ‘Green Nobel’ Prafulla Samantara says India Plundering not Protecting Tribal Lands

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Prafulla Samantara, one of the current recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize. VOA
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India is plundering the land of its indigenous people to profit from mining, with little regard of the devastation caused to poor tribal communities, said an Indian land rights activist who won the prestigious von Monday.

Prafulla Samantara, 66, from India’s eastern state of Odisha is one of six winners of the annual prize — often known as the “Green Nobel” — which honors grassroots activists for efforts to protect the environment, often at their own risk.

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Samantara, recognized by the Goldman jury for winning a 12-year legal battle to stop a multi-national firm mining bauxite on tribal lands, said he was honored by the award but voiced concern at the continued mining threats faced by India’s tribes.

“The state has a history of not honoring legal protections of indigenous people in the constitution. Corporate influence and the promise of profits continues to tempt the government to disregard indigenous people’s rights,” Samantara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

“The mining-based industry has become priority for the government and the global market, but it does not support the common people. They are often led to believe that mining is for their own benefit, but then they are displaced by destructive development.”

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India’s tribes make up almost 10 percent of its 1.3 billion population. Yet most live on the margins of society — inhabiting remote villages and eking out a living from farming, cattle rearing and collecting and selling forest produce.

Many live in mineral-rich regions such as Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, and risk being chased off their ancestral land due to a rising number of mining projects.

While their land is protected under a decade-old law known as the Forest Rights Act, few know their rights — leaving them open to exploitation.

Fast-track

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government swept to power almost three years ago, it has taken a pro-business approach by fast-tracking environmental clearances for mining firms in a bid to boost investment, jobs and growth.

The son of a village farmer who went on to college to study economics and then law, Samantara led a battle against the London-headquartered Vedanta Resources which wanted to mine bauxite from a mountain considered sacred by indigenous people in Odisha.

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He was kidnapped, assaulted and attacked for his activism against, but in the end, a vote of villagers — which had been ordered by the Supreme Court — rejected the mine.

Samantara — described by the Goldman jury as an “iconic leader” — slammed the government for blocking the foreign funds of thousands of charities, including green groups.

“It is deplorable. Many are fighting legally and are being targeted by the government,” he said.

Despite increasing threats to the environment and to those fighting to protect it, Samantara said he remained optimistic.

“I feel there is a growing threat to the very existence of Mother Earth if man-made destruction of nature is not stopped. But I see a ray of light,” he said.

“Though my contributions may be a drop in the ocean, thousands like me in the world can bring a radical change in thinking and spur action, encouraging a shift from consumption to preservation and conservation for future generations.”

The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman and provides $175,000 cash award to each individual.

Other winners were Congolese Park Ranger Rodrigue Katembo, Guatemalan land rights activist Rodrigo Tot, Australian family farmer Wendy Bowman, Slovenian organic farmer Uros Macerl and a Los Angeles community organizer by the name of Mark Lopez. (VOA)

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Mahalaya: Beginning of “Devipaksha” in Bengali Celebration of ‘Durga Puja’

“Mahalaya” is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha” and heralds the celebration of Durga Puja

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Mahalaya morning in Kolkata. Flickr
  • Mahalaya 2017 Date: 19th september.
  • On Mahalaya, people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers; which is called ‘Torpon’
  • Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted in All India Radio
  • The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent

Sept 19, 2017: Autumn is the season of the year that sees the Hindus, all geared up to celebrate some of the biggest festivals of India. The festive spirit in the Bengalis all enthused to prepare for the greatest of the festivals, the ‘Durga Puja’.

About Mahalaya:

Mahalaya is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha,” and this year it is celebrated on September 19.

Observed exactly a week before the ‘Durga Puja’, Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power! The goddess is invited to descend on earth and she is welcomed with devotional songs and holy chants of mantras. On this day, the eye is drawn in the idols of the Goddess by the artisans marking the initiation of “Devipaksha”. Mahalaya arrives and the countdown to the Durga Puja begins!

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The day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis. The day is immensely important because on this day people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers. Clad in white dhotis, people offer prayers and take dips in the river while praying for their demised dear ones. The ritual is popular as “Torpon”.

Mahalaya
An idol-maker in progress of drawing the eye in the idol of the Goddess. Wikipedia

As per Hindu myth, on “Devipaksha”, the Gods and the Goddesses began their preparations to celebrate “Mahamaya” or Goddess Durga, who was brought upon by the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; to annihilate the fierce demon king named Mahishasura. The captivating story of the Goddess defeating the demon got popularized with the goddess being revered as “Durgatinashini” or the one who banishes all the evils and miseries of the world. The victory of the Goddess is celebrated as ‘Durga Puja’.

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Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted at dawn in All India Radio in the form of a marvelous audio montage enthralling the souls of the Bengalis. Presented with wonderful devotional music, acoustic drama, and classical songs- the program is also translated to Hindi and played for the whole pan-Indian listeners.

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Mahalaya
Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991). Wikipedia

The program is inseparable from Mahalaya and has been going on for over six decades till date. The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent! He has been a legend and the dawn of Mahalaya turns insipid without the reverberating and enchanting voice of the legendary man.

Mahalaya will keep spreading the magic and setting the vigor of the greatest festival of the Bengalis- the Durga Puja, to worship the supreme Goddess, eternally.

                 “Yaa Devi Sarbabhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Sanhsthita,

                     Namastaswai Namastaswai Namastaswai Namo Namaha.”

– by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC