(March 28, 1993) The following is one of a series of interviews with tribal people of Jadugora, Batin and Nawapahar area Singhbhum Jharkhand (Bihar), India whose lands are being mined for uranium. The interviews were taped and translated into English for presentation at the World Uranium Hearing in September 1992 with support from the AJSU-All Jharkhand Students Union and JOHAR-Jharkhandis' Organisation for Human Rights.
Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. is a 100% government of India-owned mining company coming directly under the Atomic Energy Commission, a portfolio always handled by the Prime Minister. Uranium has been found in some places in India, but up until now, the only uranium mines in India are in Singhbhum District in Jharkhand (Bihar), the homeland of the Santal, Ho and Munda tribes people. Attempts to open up two tribal states, Meghalaya and Nagaland, for uranium mining are being resisted by the tribals there. In Singhbhum it is mined in the Jadugora, Batin and the Nawapahar mines, all within a radius of four km.
Mining was first started here by the British colonial government and is now being continued by the Indian government. The mines are situated 2000 ft below and there is a refining mill to purify the ore which is then transported to the Nuclear Fuel Centre at Hyderabad in the State of Andra Pradesh in South India. The waste or tailings obtained from this process is flushed through metal pipes over inhabited villages to a tailing pond situated between Telaitan and Dhumurdih villages. The tailing pond, or slakedam as it is locally called, is built in a valley that was once the rich rice fields of the tribal people of these two villages.
UCIL mines together employ about 4000 workers who have permanent jobs. Another 1000 workers are employed by contractors who take jobs on contract from UCIL. Of the 4000 workers, a small part work in the office/administration, some others in the hospital and some in maintenance. Most of the permanent workforce work as underground miners. Ninety-five percent of these underground miners are tribal. In the top manage-met or first grade posts there are almost no tribals employed, while 100% of the contract workers are tribal.
No trade union or political party has to date addressed the issue of radiation effects on workers and villagers effectively. The workers or villagers do not have any information or know-ledge about the hazards or effects of uranium mining.
What is your name and which village do you come from?
My name is Mangal Majhi and I come from Matigara village which is 1/2 km from here in Jadugora where I am presently living.
Could you tell us about this area before the mining company came?
This area was once full of dense forest. The forest was so dense that people had to get back from the Kalkapur market before sunset, as elephants and wild animals used to roam around in the evenings. I used to work for Holder Company since 1945. The Atomic Energy Commission had given the contract to them. Officials from Delhi used to come to give us training. We were never interested in the job, or to work. The foreigners would come to our houses to take us to work. We, along with 15 women helpers, used to perform the job of drilling using big drums after cutting them suitably. In the evenings the foreigners used to take us back to our homes. Some of us went to Rajasthan and other parts of the country with this same company. The non-tribals working along with us became big shots in the company but our status remained the same as we live by the truth. After working in different parts of the country I was sent back to my home town Jadugora where I worked for UCIL.
Did you know what was being mined here in the beginning? Were the Santals ever told what was being mined here?
In the beginning we did not know and our Santal community was never informed. In fact we had to take an oath of secrecy.
What is your opinion about the fact that the mine is built over your JAHER or holy place?
NO. We did not like this, but the government did it all forcibly, we tribals are illiterate and simple and not considered even human. There is no one to protect us. We surely did not want them to defile our sacred places.
In you memory during the past fifty years did the people ever get organized to fight mining operations?
Yes, some people got organized and fought. They agitated and in the agitation some lost their lives too. I was not here at that time but heard about it when I came back. The agitation subsided when it did not get support from other quarters.
Did you ever handle uranium ore with your bare hands?
Yes, I have handled the ore while drilling operations, I was mostly in the survey work. The geologist used to tell us at what depth the uranium would be available after inspection. All this affected my health, I developed gastric trouble, as we could never eat on time. The doctors kept telling me that I had TB. Then I consulted a private doctor in Jamshedpur who told me that I did not have TB. But by then the UCIL doctors had already given me 90 injections and some medicines, as a consequence of which my eyes and ears have been damaged. I got my eyes treated by Dr. Mustafa of Bistupur, I now feel as if some insect is moving in my ear. I still feel sick, I became sick because of drinking uranium-contaminated water. I am taking medicines for the last 15 years. They took my blood, stool, urine, and even semen samples but the results were never shown to me. They keep telling me I have TB.
Who told you that you became sick by drinking uranium contaminated water?
No one told me so, but I feel it. We have witnessed effects of uranium contaminated water on plants and animals here. There used to be a kundu tree here near the stream and one-day it suddenly died. The fish in that stream also developed all kinds of diseases and started dying. Due to this, some cows and goats of ours have also died and others are not as fat as they normally should be. I am still a sick person and one fourth of my body is useless, even after taking medicines for fifteen years.
It is impossible for us to relate cause and effect in a scientific way to prove that the people and all organisms living in and around Jadugora Uranium Mines are effected by radiation due to mining.
Technology has made many things possible today, and this is the age of technological advancement. The system that creates this technology has also made it beyond the reach of the victims of this technology to hold it/them (technology) accountable.
We do not seek a scientific way to prove that we are suffering, that so many of us have diseases we need not have. We all here just have to under-stand one another, all victims of this scientific advancement.
The government of India and the UCIL management has deliberately kept vital information about the effects of radiation away from the people on whose very lands mining operations is taking place.
The UCIL management has constantly lied to the people that the radioactivity here in Jadugora is below the permitted level and not dangerous.
The lands and forest and water sources and sacred places of the people have been forcefully taken away from them mostly against their knowledge or free will.
The forest, culture, beliefs and self-respect of the people have been violated in the name of technological advancement which to a good extent meant military advancement too.
We see the general health and immune system of a once very strong and healthy people fast deteriorating.
The tailing pond is used as a passage for many villagers and grazing ground for cattle. In 1986 the dam of the tailing pond burst and the overflow affected many villages and habitation, no inquiry was conducted, and only a temporary patch has been put across the dam to repair it. No inquiry or report was given to the people by the management.
The overflow water from the tailing pond flows into the fields of the villages and into a canal and finally into the big Subarnarekha river, which is presently being dammed with funds from the WORLD BANK, this therefore will spread the radioactivity far and wide as the government claims that the Subarnarekha project is basically for irrigation.
Children, women bathe in the over-flow water of the dam as their traditional sources of water have been diverted to the mines and industries.
The yellowcake is sent back from the Nuclear Fuel Centre in Hyderabad, just to be dumped on tribal lands. It is transported in a hazardous way, and often children pick it up and use it as plasticine to play.
It is kept on the Raka railway station, which is on a dense passenger traffic route exposing hundreds of passengers to risks. The railway wagons are the regular ones and also used for food and consumer goods transportation.
The unused uranium ore is used as landfills and to construct the roads all around, and the pathways to homes and even the courtyards.
We have learnt that many tribal workers are laid off as unfit for work after working in areas exposed to radon gas or yellowcake.
The patients/victims are never told about the causes and consequences of their illness. When interviewed, two UCIL Hospital doctors informed us that blood samples taken from patients go to the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre in Bombay for testing. Their results are never shown to the concerned doctors or the patients. All in the name of the Official Secrecy Act.
We do not believe that there could be a safe way to mine uranium. We cannot take these great risks to produce a dangerous mineral that is used largely for war and mass destruction.
We would like to make it clear that our struggle for the stopping of uranium mining on our lands cannot be delinked from our struggle against the policies of the rich industrialized countries and their agencies n i.e., the INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND, IMF AND THE WORLD BANK, to further exploit our resources and control our economy and politics.
The production of uranium and other hazardous minerals is linked to the policies and agendas forced on us by the FIRST world. Today this has become a question of prime importance for us in the Indian sub-continent.
Any attempt to isolate the uranium question from the New World Order or the policy of Structural Reform or hegemony of the rich countries would only weaken our struggle.
Contact: Xavier Dias, JOHAR-Jharkhandis' Organisation for Human Rights, Post Bag no. 3, Chaibasa - District Singhbhum 83 32 01, Jharkhand, India.