Indian Adivasis Can't Crash White House Parties

After nearly two weeks, I continue to be surprised at how much news coverage there is about the party crashers who interrupted the White House state dinner with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised).

But as someone who closely follows human rights in South Asia, I was wondering how the plight of the underprivileged in India might garner even the fraction of attention that the Salahi couple have.

Unfortunately for the case of two activists for indigenous peoples in India trying to earn even a smidgen of that interest for their people, it has ended very tragically. Unlike the White House party crashers’ controversial but peaceful visit, this protest ended in disaster.

Eyewitnesses said that the police opened fire when one of the leaders, Singanna, entered the police station to talk with officials. Another leader, Andrew Nachika, was also shot dead and at least eight other protestors sustained bullet injuries as police and paramilitary forces continued their unprovoked firing at the unarmed and fleeing protestors.

On November 20, Singanna and Andrew Nachika, two leaders of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) were among 80-100 other members of the organization who were peacefully protesting outside a police station in Koraput district in Orissa state.

The protesters were demanding that the police stop harassing the Adivasi communities who have been campaigning for an end to illegal mining in the area. Adivasis are (very roughly) akin to America’s Native American communities. They have lived for centuries in the eastern and central parts of India, including the states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.

This unnecessary use of force on Adivasi protestors resulted in at least two deaths. The Orissa state government must investigate and prosecute the police and paramilitaries that were involved in these killings. All state governments must end what is clearly becoming a pattern of harassment of Adivasis throughout India.