REVIVING RIVER MYNTDU, REVIVING A LOST CULTURE

First published on Vikalp Sangam. July 9th 2016

“The elders used to call Myntdu River their mother,” shares H. H. Mohrmen, a Jaintia Unitarian minister and an environmentalist from Meghalaya. Mohrmen is in a jeep with journalists, who are traveling to cover a unique riverine festival that is hosted by elders from communities downstream of Myntdu.  The drive on winding roads in the West Jaintia Hills passes by tall areca nut trees wrapped in pepper vines. Below, a rust-hued riverbank glistens in the sun.

In  Pnar, Myntdu is known as Ka Tawiar Takan meaning “our guardian angel.”  Ironically, the “guardian angel” today is lifeless; decades of coal mining in the Jaintia Hills have all but destroyed this once thriving river. Elders, who are founding members of Borghat-Jaliakhola Aquatic Life Welfare Association (BJALWA), are hosting the riverine festival to take a stand for the health of their “mother” in deep peril.The mission of BJALWA is to reconnect tribal communities with Myntdu, revitalize their culture and to spark action and dialogue for restoration efforts.

BJALWA members are galvanized, in part, by the 2014 ban on coal mining in Meghalaya issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) after a petition was filed by a student’s union in Assam that implicated coal mining in the pollution of Kopili River downstream.Last year, Myndtu, along with Lukha River in eastern Meghalaya, made national headlines after turning an eerie shade of blue. Environmentalists blamed mine run-off and acid mine drainage. Downstream, this was not news; tribal communities have long suffered the deleterious consequences of decades of coal mining in the Jaintia Hills.

“Before mining, we had abundant fish. We had drinking water from the river. Now we get our fish from Bangladesh,” bemoaned Phran Rymbai, an War-Jaintia elder, who is also a member of BJALWA.  “Unlike the elders, sadly the current generation has lost its connection with Myntdu, because the river has been lifeless for many years now and is used mostly for transportation,” explained Mohrmen.

The Curse of Coal

Coal mining in the Jaintia Hills began in the 1970s. Within a decade, the mining had devastated many downstream villages of Myndtu, irrevocably altering the very fabric of riverine communities. As their life source, the once plentiful fish, vanished, tribal communities switched to betel nut and pepper cultivation.

Children’s rights activists and environmental advocates condemned mining in Meghalaya on many fronts. Besides polluting and scarring the landscape, the “rat hole” mining technique was denounced for employing many children from Nepali and Bangladeshi migrant communities, who dug narrow tunnels with their bare hands and pick axes.  Despite numerous fatalities and grave injuries, rat hole miningremained largely unregulated in Meghalaya. The 2014 NGT banbrought much relief to civil society groups in Meghalaya, who had mobilized for years to stop environmental destruction and labor rights abuses in the mines.

Reviving a Lost Connection

The festival brought together hundreds of villagers—elders and youth— an effort to slowly rebuild a lost bond. The spirited gathering showcased canoe races, football and swimming competitions and a large feast.  Kran Syrti, an elder of the Pnar tribe and one of the founding members of BJALWA, reminisced days of his youth when the Myntdu was a lifeline for his community.  “We used to catch fish that weighed 50 kilograms!” he shared. “This river was a source of our food and our livelihood.”  Elders, like Kran, recall seeing scores of dead fish floating on the river in the 1980s. “We knew it was coal mining,” he said. “Everything died–the fish, snakes. We used to have two species of tortoise in the river.”

Founding members of BJALWA long for the aquatic life to return to Myntdu so that the youth, too, can experience the abundance of Meghalaya’s rivers.  Journalists, like Mohrmen, are using writing as a key a tool for their environmental activism to bring attention to the realities of downstream communities and highlight community conservation efforts.  “Mining in Meghalaya has not only killed streams and rivers, but it has most importantly disconnected people from nature which their ancestors have for so long considered sacred because it provides and sustains all their needs. Mining and unsustainable development is the major cause of the erosion of our culture and tradition,” wrote Mohrmen in The Shillong Times.

The elders of BJALWA agree. They are pinning their hopes on their new community-based organization to revitalize a lost connection with their “mother” through public education and shared activities. “It’s important that all mining activities are completely banned for several years. No transportation and no extraction should be allowed. Only then will the environmentbe protected, ” observed Sannio Siangshai, a journalist attending the festival. Siangshai also pointed out that coal mining was not the only culprit contributing to the pollution. Meghalaya’s rivers are now also threatened by burgeoning limestone mining and cement factories.

As the festivities continued on the Myntdu, Mohrmen pointed to small pieces of coal scattered across the riverbank.  “We hope our rivers are revived,” he remarked. “Because when a river dies, so does our culture.”BJALWA members concur. They also exemplify the vital role of elders, who are keepers of stories and folklores of Meghalaya’s embattled rivers, in passing cultural knowledge to the next generation.  “To us, these are not just rivers. They are living entities,” said Mohrmen.

 

The Myntdu River has deep cultural and spiritual significance for tribal communities in the Jaintia Hills.

Writer and environmental activist, H. H. Mohrmen, shows pieces of coal picked up from the riverbank of Myntdu.

 

Members of Borghat-Jaliakhola Aquatic Life Welfare Association (BJALWA) hope that aquatic life in Myndtu will slowly return after the ban on rat hole mining.

 

Festival attendees watch a swimming competition on Myntdu.

 

Football competition of youth by the river marks one of the festival activities.  The elders hope that these activities will rebuild a lost bond with Myntdu.

 

Canoe races, of both men and women, drew loud cheers. 

 

Journalists cross a bamboo bridge to interview BJALWA members and document the festival. Writers, like Mohrmen and Siangshai, have played a key role in raising public awareness on coal mining pollution and the impact on downstream livelihoods and ecology.

 

The Myntdu River, once abundant with fish, remains lifeless. Much of the fish now comes from neighboring Bangladesh.

 

As the fish from the Myntdu died, communities shifted their livelihoods to areca nut and pepper cultivation.

 

“Now that the mining has stopped, we hope the fish return,” said one member of BJALWA.

 

BJALWA members hope to inspire and galvanize tribal youth to become stewards of the river and join the restoration efforts.

 

Despite NGT ban on rat-hole mining, environmental advocates believe that illegal mining continues in the Jaintia Hills.

Related Posts

The Philippines, a nation rich in precious metals, encounters powerful opposition to mining
Philippines bans new open-pit metal mines
In Indonesia, women farmers crush cement mining and production factories
Resistance, exchange, (post)extractivism: YLNM Coordinators meet in Galicia- in photos
Safeguarding People and the Environment in Chinese Investments- A guide for community advocactes
To change a BIT is not enough
Philippines: Green group calls for immediate enforcement of suspension, closure orders on 26 large-scale mines
VICTORY! OceanaGold loses ISDS claim against El Salvador
Philippines: Indigenous Peoples Rally in Support of El Salvador against Oceana Gold
Interview with freed environmental defender Beejin Khastumur
Beejin Khastumur: Environmental defender’s trial saga continues
All that Glitters is Not Gold: Resisting Mining Plunder in The Philippines
REVIVING RIVER MYNTDU, REVIVING A LOST CULTURE
Take Action: A Fair Trial for Environmental Defender Beejin Khastumur
Victory! Oceana Gold Pulls Out Drilling Operation after people’s barricade
Save Dory’s home from toxic mine waste!

Save Dory’s home from toxic mine waste!

  • Written on: 17 June 2016
  • Posted under: Campaigns
300 Tibetans protest gold mining at a sacred mountain in Tibet
Outcry as Adivasi activist Gladson Dungdung is prevented from traveling to the UK
Open Letter: Adivasi rights activist Gladson Dungdung prevented from boarding a Delhi-London Air India Flight
Good news for the only place on Earth where tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants live together
Filipino environmentalists join global protests to demand justice for Honduran activist Berta Caceres
Nueva Vizcaya stops entry of mining firms

Nueva Vizcaya stops entry of mining firms

Global Civil Society Organisations Call for Release of Mongolian Environmental Defender Beejin Khastumur
Urgent Action: Call for the release of imprisoned Mongolian environmental defender
Leader of NGO Opposing Illegal Mining in Mongolia Arrested
Bayto, the village that stood up to mining

Bayto, the village that stood up to mining

Shan civil society groups call for gold mining suspension
India: Tribe set to resume David & Goliath battle with mining corporation
Burying the Law to Make Way for a Coal Mine

Burying the Law to Make Way for a Coal Mine

The Coconut Revolution: Resisting Rio Tinto’s Panguna Mine

The Coconut Revolution: Resisting Rio Tinto’s Panguna Mine

  • Written on: 19 February 2016
  • Posted under: Videos
Adivasis’ Last Stand: The New Battleground Against Mining is Khandadhar
Voices of Indigenous Women Human Rights Defenders from the Philippines
Philippines: Indigenous Peoples Seeking Lepanto Mine Closure
Mongolia: YLNM members DMNN suffer threats and assault for investigating illegal mining
Balok Sea Turns Red from Bauxite Mining

Balok Sea Turns Red from Bauxite Mining

  • Written on: 06 January 2016
  • Posted under: Videos
Villagers in Myanmar retake land from mining company
Mongolia: Demonstrators stage sit in to demand an end to illegal mining
At COP21, the people and future generations will be failed once again
LAKBAYAN 6: RESIST IMPERIALIST PLUNDER, STOP LUMAD KILLINGS!

LAKBAYAN 6: RESIST IMPERIALIST PLUNDER, STOP LUMAD KILLINGS!

  • Written on: 17 December 2015
  • Posted under: Campaigns
Climate Change and Coal Mining in India

Climate Change and Coal Mining in India

Protesters demand Aquino government close mines linked to paramilitaries
Inside the indigenous movement to protect India’s commons
No Response, No Accountability for Tenasserim Coal Mine Damage
YLNM Coordinator ‘Enteng’ Bautista tailed and harassed by suspected military agents
Coal, Which Built a Chinese City, Now Threatens to Bury It
Indonesia: Farmer Anti-mining Activist killed in Selok Awar-Awar
Heed the Costs of Gold Mining

Heed the Costs of Gold Mining

Philippines: Environmental groups and communities protest Mining Philippines 2015 Conference
#StopLumadKillings | Philippine Groups protest mining conference
Addressing Lumad killings, mining abuse & internally displaced people
India’s Coal Rush

India’s Coal Rush

  • Written on: 09 September 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Our Resistance, Our Hope: Unity Statement of the International People’s Conference on Mining
Lianga Massacre: Lumad leaders killed in Philippine ‘mining capital’
Photo Story: Communities tell OceanaGold to abandon Didipio mine
Bangladesh Government says NO to Phulbari Coal Mine
How radio protects community forest land- Cambodia

How radio protects community forest land- Cambodia

  • Written on: 21 August 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Against Letpadaung: copper mining in Myanmar and the struggle for human rights
Achievements of the Global Day Against Mega Mining
Philippines: Environmentalists hold protest-dialogue to reject multinational mining in Lobo
Greenpeace, villagers fight to keep coal mining from ‘life-giving’ Mahan forest in India’s energy capital
Villagers oppose laterite mining on Koraput hill
Mapping Gender Based Violence and Mining Infrastructure in Mongolian Mining Communities
Soil mining continues unabated on Palora Hill
People’s Victory – Environmentalists hail exit of mining giant in Tampakan
The Horrors of Rat Hole Coal Mining

The Horrors of Rat Hole Coal Mining

  • Written on: 24 June 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
The Bloody Illegal World of Sand Mining

The Bloody Illegal World of Sand Mining

  • Written on: 22 June 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Mining Affected Peoples to Unite at International Peoples Conference on Mining, Manila 2015
Glencore? No More! London protestors call for end to Glencore’s mining abuses in the Philippines and worldwide
Palawan Brooke’s Point Pastor

Palawan Brooke’s Point Pastor

  • Written on: 08 April 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Philippines: Palawan Indigenous Group calls on Citinickel to stop all mining operations
‘We will never give our land’. In India millions protest removal of the need for local consent in land acquisition for mining.
Philippines – 20 years of mining plunder, pollution and destruction must end.
Hunger Strike and Protest: Mongolian Government Gives Green Light to Hundreds of Mining Projects
CONDEMNED: Russian Coal Mining and Shor Displacements

CONDEMNED: Russian Coal Mining and Shor Displacements

  • Written on: 05 February 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
At a Glance: The Philippine Mining Situation
Alyansa Tigil Mina: Mining in the Philippines

Alyansa Tigil Mina: Mining in the Philippines

  • Written on: 10 December 2014
  • Posted under: Campaigns
Coal Mines Polluting South Kalimantan’s Water
Vedanta & Niyamgiri: Supporting Evidence
Mining in India: Films

Mining in India: Films

Mining in India: Reports

Mining in India: Reports

Greenpeace: Coal in India

Greenpeace: Coal in India

The God of the Mountain: Vedanta’s Assault on Niyamgiri

Start a Conversation. Share Words of Solidarity.

This website is about building a movement. We can only build a movement when we connect with one another. We invite you to do just that…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *