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Women and Mining

We women are daughters of mother Earth. In caring for our mother we care for ourselves. We are not born unequal but we make ourselves or become a gender to be discriminated against. Discrimination based on gender or caste is the reason behind female foeticide/infanticide, dowry deaths, unequal wages, illiteracy and caste based discrimination in India.
Women have the primary responsibility to nurture the family, collect forest products and manage agriculture and livestock. Women have an intimate and symbiotic relationship with ecology, as they are linked to the natural resources.

When the Government begins to assert its rights as an owner it ignores the fact that tribals need special protection. The Land Acquisition Act gives government the power to acquire land for public purpose. However, this power has not been used by the government in the interest of the people. Instead it continues to perpetuate the lopsided policies of the then Portuguese regime which in a bid to promote capitalism had granted mining leases to a few individuals. It is indeed quite ironical that despite being in a country that swears to be socialist, the means of making wealth continues to be in the hands of a few but the sufferings are heaped upon many. The hills, the land, forests are the natural wealth of our State. The absence of title deeds of the land makes villagers prey to their exploitation by the industrialists and the government. These tribals are not even aware that their land is being acquired until it is too late to do anything about it, it is the bulldozers arriving at their door that wake them up.
With mining the water table changes, wells dry up or go deeper. This affects the lives of hundreds of families. The descendants of the hard working, land loving people of Muscavrem , Dandorem and other villages in Sanguem, Quepem  and other Talukas have been affected.  The large scale mining activity on the banks of the Kushavati river, the deposition of large amount of silt in paddy fields rendering them unfit for cultivation, water shortages due to indiscriminate pumping of water for beneficiation plants has depleted the water table causing acute water shortage in the area .It is the women who have to walk long distances to fetch water for drinking, cooking etc.
The dumping of mining rejects, the transporting of ore, the noise pollution are here for us to see how mining has affected the traditional occupations and culture. New illnesses caused by dust pollution have ruined human life along with plant and animal life. The local culture has undergone change. Men drink and women have to bear the brunt of alcoholism. Farming has come to a standstill. When land and forest get snatched from them women are forced to do socially humiliating work. No one respects displaced persons rights to livelihood. They live jobless lives or drive trucks to ferry the ore.
In India women do not have legal rights over land and forests. Land is a tangible source of livelihood which needs to be compensated. The people have a right to what is under the ground as well as what is above the ground. When displacement takes place losses suffered by women that is the produce of land and forests need to be recognized, calculated and compensated. In all this business of mining women are the worst affected. They are forced to move themselves.
When women lose out on their natural resources they are forced out of their land based resources and compelled to work into unorganized, unprotected  socially humiliating jobs as domestic workers, labourers  or driven to prostitution.  These compulsions are forced upon them as now they can no more cultivate the land or gather forest products for domestic or medicinal purpose or as livelihood. These women have wealth of knowledge about herbal and traditional medicines. The tribals are aware of local plants as medicine for common ailments. They do not know medicines for ailments introduced by mining activity.
The various crops grown by the tribals are a means of ensuring a balanced nutrition, i.e. tubers, roots, leaves and fruits. The food security of women is ensured in traditional systems. Women’s main source of cash is the forest wealth they collect and sell in the village markets.
Government should consider women mine labourers’ health as a priority. Our development policies in economic activities like mining, do not take into account women’s health as important indices for human growth. Rural, tribal women are victimized in the mining industry. The women have to carry heavy weights causing fatigue, dust borne diseases specially related to the respiratory system, back pain, problems caused by drilling/blasting activity, the heat and humidity, environmental illnesses and occupational diseases.
Both open and underground mining has adverse environmental impacts. There is depletion and degradation of existing surface water and tailings, leakage, leaching from dumps and large scale deforestation.
I am not saying mining is not needed. But the wealth that mining gives a state has to be shared with people of that state. The displaced persons have to be important beneficiaries. Policy issues have to be framed to give gender justice within and without mining.  Mining must offer viable opportunities, working conditions, international standards and agreements and ensure equity, equality without discrimination based on gender. Work out a system to minimize pollution, safe transportation. Say NO to mining and new mining licences.

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