Open cast coal mining is destroying the forests of India's indigenous Gond tribal people.
At the Silk Road Gallery we have often featured the wonderful paintings of the Gond people of India. But now the existence of Gond is under threat because of India's demand for coal.
This detail of a Gond painting shows the richness of their relationship with nature.
I came across this article in last week's Guardian newspaper: India’s ancient tribes battle to save their forest home from mining.
The Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest stretches of dense forest in central India. It is rich in biodiversity, contains many threatened species and is home to elephants, leopards and sloth bears. And it is also home to the Gond, one of India’s original indigenous peoples. Unfortunately for the Gond the Hasdeo Arand sits on top of more than a billion metric tonnes of coal reserves.
The Gond have an intimate relationship with nature and their art shows the almost mystical relationship with other creatures. Animals morph into trees; there is no sense of perspective or scale; nothing seems to indicate that a person is considered more important than than an insect; all livings things seem be equal in the life of the forest.
To the Gond every feature of the forest has a spiritual significance and they rely on products collected there to sustain life: flowers, fruits, grains, seeds, tubers and roots for food and medicines; timber, leaves and grasses for ropes, mats, brooms, baskets, fires and building.
Despite at one time being declared offlimits to mining, a new government in 2011 granted mining permission for the first coal blocks in Hasdeo Arand. Now more open cast mines have been approved by the government of Narenda Modi. An estimated 80% of the entire forest area – and 30 villages – may be lost, according to Bipasha Paul, programme officer for Chhattisgarh-based NGO Janabhivyakti, which is working with the Hasdeo Arand residents.
The villagers are currently fighting a rearguard action against the mining giant Adani to protect their ancestral homelands - one of the sub-continent’s richest and most diverse regions. “If the coal mining comes we will lose everything” they say.
The proposed mines and an associated 75km coal rail line impact elephant habitat and inhibit migration routes in the forest. There are already a growing number of reports of incidences of human-elephant conflict as the elephants’ habitat diminishes.
I've been fascinated by the paintings of the Gond since I first encountered them over ten years ago and whenever I'm in India I always make a point of looking for some new paintings for the Silk Road Gallery.
I'm not suggesting we should all live this way but find it heartbreaking that people who are living in harmony with nature, setting an example for how we should all try and live, should have their home and way of life utterly destroyed for one of the planet's great enemies, the coal powered power station.
The government has promised compensation and resettlement to those Adivasis impacted by the mines and forced to leave their forest homes, but most indigenous residents know nothing of life outside the Hasdeo Arand. Many fear they will be forced to join the exodus to the suburbs and slums of India’s vast metropolises.
I have no direct contact with the Gond people, I buy these drawings and paintings through Tribes, as it's names say, an organisation that helps tribal people in India supplement their income through selling their unique art. Art that gives us an opportunity to see the world through their eyes, as a place of wonder and interdependence on all forms of life.
We have other blogs about Gond paintings on this website, simply search for Gond.