Nirupabai, the iron-willed champion of Adivasi women's rights


Nirupabai, the iron-willed champion of Adivasi women’s rights

By Aruna Sekhar  December 7th, 2018

A proud Kawar Adivasi woman, who lives in Korba, Chhattisgarh, one of India’s most polluted districts.

Since 2014, Nirupabai has been displaced twice by a coal mine so big, all of Central Delhi could fit in it. Coal India’s subsidiaries haven’t typically offered jobs to women whose lands they’ve mined—mines are considered ‘too hazardous’ for women to work in; yet no such claims have been made about the air they breathe.

Since her home was first bulldozed in February 2014, Nirupabai has been fighting for Coal India’s mines to stop expanding, unless Adivasi women like her are given their due for being deprived of their lands, forests, livelihood and right to breathe over decades. She’s raised her voice at every door— from picket lines halting mining to Coal India’s offices, at environmental hearings and as the face of India’s first VR film to be acquired by the UN, The Cost Of Coal.

“You tell me what will grow on this poor land? Coal is the heart of the earth, but they remove it and say we are the sarkar. What is it that you have in your pocket that you didn’t take from our land?” Nirupabai asks.

Thanks to a court order filed by another Adivasi woman, Ratthobai Rathia, Nirupabai was awarded the right to work by Coal India for the land she’s lost so far. Her win offers hope for thousands of women displaced for coal who still take care of their maternal family and land. Her future, however, remains unclear as the mine continues to expand. “The people here are innocent, but I know what comes after promises are made. This is why I will fight for every last inch.”

Photograph: Ishan Tankha