Jharkandis Organisation Against Radiation
What most people fail to realize is that the nuclear death-cycle begins the moment the uranium is mined – even drilling a probe can turn a district’s groundwater into a wellspring of slow massacre. That’s why the mining and milling of uranium always takes place in regions remote from the mainstream population. As was documented again and again at Salzburg in 1992 during the World Uranium Hearing, around the globe the frontline victims, those who are suffering and dying because of the atom’s military and “peaceful” uses, are quite regularly indigenous peoples: the Cree, Uigurs, Western Shoshone, Pitjantjatjara, Tuvins, Dene and Dine, Chukchi, Kokotha, Apache, Sami… and in India, the Adivasi – a word that literally means, “first people.”
For over thirty years the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL) has mined uranium ore at Jaduguda in the Singhbum district of Bihar, and for over thirty years, Jharkhandis Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR) has sought to defend the heath and traditional living space of the region’s Adivasi – members of the Oraon, Hoe and Santhal tribes. These people claim Buddha as their ancestor, and until the government in Delhi, fuelled by nuclear ambition, discovered the region to be rich in uranium, they lived in sacred connection with the earth as farmers and fishermen.
As the film, “Buddha Weeps in Jaduguda,” so painfully documents, the UCIL mine has quarried a mass tragedy: many children growing up in the area have bumps for toes or three fingers on one hand and six or even seven on the other; the incidence of spontaneous abortion is obscenely high; goats give no milk; fish have no tails; and Kendu fruits have mutated into seedless varieties. Mine laborers – who are almost exclusively local tribal people (mine management is largely made up of relocated Caucasian Brahmins) – uninstructed in safety precautions, routinely suffer skin cancers and TB.
“You will not find anyone living beyond 55/60 in any of the villages around the mining area… It is like sitting in a place surrounded by fire.”
Confronted with such overwhelming evidence, the UCIL admits to no wrong-doing: “I don’t think that radiation from mining has caused diseases among the people living around the uranium mining area”, says the UCIL managing director R. Kumar, adding: “Uranium mining is of national importance, you know.”
For each ton of Jaduguda uranium oxide (yellowcake) shipped for processing, between 1000 and 40,000 tons of tailings remain behind, waste that can hold up to 85 percent of the ore’s original radioactivity. India’s Atomic Energy Act states that there should be no habitation within five kilometers of a waste site or uranium tailings pond. Even though Jaduguda has been in operation for more than 30 years, seven villages yet stand within one and a half kilometers of the danger zone. One of them, Dungardihi, begins just 40 meters away. In 1986 the tailings pond dam burst sluicing radioactive water directly into the village. Since then, a new dam was built. The cost-effective construction material? Uranium tailings.
“UCIL is not paying any attention to the havoc that radiation from mining has been causing in the area,” says Ghanshyam Birulee, president of JOAR. The mission of his activist organisation is to resist further nuclear development, to educate the local Adivasi about the dangers of radioactivity, and to keep Bihar from becoming India’s de facto nuclear waste dump. Mr. Birulee’s father, Jairam Birulee, was a UCIL minor who died of a “mysterious” disease at 50. His mother, Dama Kui, also met a similar fate at a young age. Mr. Birulee relates, “You will not find anyone living beyond 55/60 in any of the villages around the mining area… It is like sitting in a place surrounded by fire.”
In 1992, JOAR dispatched Xavier Dias and Ajitha George to testify about the plight of the Bihar Adivasi at the World Uranium Hearing. The two activists arrived in Salzburg feeling isolated, but returned to Bihar empowered by the knowledge that that they were united in their struggle with indigenous peoples from every continent. With this Award, may the spirit of the World Uranium Hearing once more make manifest the global significance of JOAR’s frontline fight – because uranium mining isn’t simply a matter of national importance, you know.