Anthropologist Felix Padel is British, but he prefers to call himself an Indian intellectual.
He speaks fluent Hindi and Oriya, has lived in and around Indian tribal communities for most of the past 31 years, and is now out with his second book on the impact of industrial development on tribal life in Eastern India.
“That’s what I would call true globalisation,” said Padel, whose book, Out of this Earth – East Indian Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel, was launched at Landmark, Lower Parel, on Tuesday.
The non-fiction book, co-authored with Oriya writer and filmmaker Samarendra Das, is an attack on the politics that govern the bauxite mining industry — most of the aluminium it produces, they claim, is pumped into the bombs and airplanes of modern warfare.
“Up till the late 1980s, more than 50% of India’s aluminium was to be reserved for electrification of villages,” said Padel. “Today Orissa has swathes of villages near hydro-power plants with no electricity.”
“Governments have just not realised what mining is taking away from the earth,” said Padel, whose book records testaments from tribals around Orissa’s big NALCO project, who claim all their streams have dried up after their mountains were mined. “Even environmentalists don’t emphasise the importance of mountains enough.”
The stalling of the Vedanta project in the state came as a sign of hope for Padel, who believes that honest implementation of Indian laws is the only solution to problems of tribal displacement and Naxalism.
Padel also happens to be the great-grandson of evolution-theorist Charles Darwin, and an important agenda of the book for him was to reject notions of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ regions while talking about the rights of tribals.
“Who decides?” he asked. “Darwin spoke about thousands of different species developing and evolving simultaneously, so why can’t different human cultures develop side by side?”