(May 11, 1999) What follows is an interview with Ms Guruwari Purty, a health worker in India. She is part of a group which did a survey on the reproductive health of women around the uranium mines in Jadugora, India.
(509/10.5011) J.O.A.R. - Q: Could you tell us something about your self?
I belong to the Ho Adivasi community. I live in a predominantly Adivasi village called Chakulia, which is close to the Ghatshila Copper Mines in Singhbhum - Jharkhand (Bihar) India. My father was a copper miner. He returned home one early morning from night duty, I offered him water for a washup before he went to sleep. After some hours when we tried to wake him he was dead. We still do not know how he died. I was 12 years old, the eldest of four children, my youngest brother was five years old. After my father died the Copper Company gave a job to my mother, she now works in the workers' canteen of the company.
Q: What did you study?
I did my graduation in Economics Honors, at the Ranchi University, and then a one-year course in midwifery. After this I worked in my village as a health worker. Our village has organized a health scheme that is like a health cooperative: it cares for the ill and during times of death in the family. I then volunteered to do a survey on the reproductive health of women around the uranium mines in Jadugora which is just 10 km from my village.
Q: Could you tell us about this survey?
Some of the activists from my community were working on the question of displacement and deteriorating health conditions of the villages around the Jadugora uranium mines. They wanted to do a detailed survey as to what is the situation regarding the health of women and children. They approached me to help out. I readily agreed. We were four women--Jeeramani Hasda, Sudha Besra, Sakro Mardi and myself--who volunteered. All four of us are Adivasi from this mining belt. We all are the most educated women in our community. Ajitha Didi was the coordinator of the survey. The survey was being done by Bindrai Institute for Research Study and Action (B.I.R.S.A.) together with Dr. Imrana Qadhir of the Center for Community Health and Social Medicine, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
All five of us went to Delhi and in the university we were given training on the reproductive system of women and how to do the survey and design the questionnaire. We returned and did a house-to-house survey that took one whole year. We covered 14 villages and interviewed more than 2,700 women.
Q: What was your knowledge of the problem of the women before the survey?
I had some knowledge of the problems of our people but I had no knowledge of its extent and intensity. From childhood I knew that an injustice is being done to us Adivasi people, and I always felt some anger that this was unfair. But as we worked going house to house hearing the stories of the women we were making a journey deeper and deeper into the lives of our own people. At the university our education does not teach us about what is happening to our people and why this is happening. Our education just helps us to climb out of the mess we are in, it does not help us to stop this messing business. The process of doing this survey helped me to realize this.
Q: What are these problems of the women and children you refer to?
It is so difficult to explain in words. How do you explain to someone that all the children you conceive have died in spontaneous abortions? How do you explain the feeling of terror you go through when you are pregnant? Will this child live? Or will this child go like the earlier ones? And even if this child lives will the baby be normal or have deformities?
How does a woman explain the feeling she goes through of not being able to conceive? Her husband and his family continuously expecting her to deliver their child? The fear that her husband will take another women?
How do you explain the plight of a couple when they have two or three deformed children who need continuous nursing day and night in conditions of poverty?
Our people are getting weaker each day. They are no longer as strong like our ancestors were and yet they have to work hard in rough weather conditions undernourished in order to survive; yes, just survive!
Maybe what I say sounds emotional. But it was the feeling I had and even today this feeling lingers within me. I am in a quandary. Can I tell these women that the reasons for their plight are because someone sitting in Bombay or Delhi or London needs electricity? Or can I tell them what the government continuously tells us, that for "National Development" some people have to go through this hell? It is easier to suffer when you can put the blame on your predicament or on the evil spirits, but when you know that this is being done because of the indifference of the people who rule us and that they are powerful, then suffering will have to change to anger. I hope that one day very soon more women will understand things the way I do today.
Q; Do you really feel that the uranium company and the government officials are really blind and deaf to what you're talking about?
Today you have technology that can tell us what is happening this minute in US regarding their President, but you do not have the ability to "feel" when you just bulldoze our houses, our sacred groves and graves, like the uranium company did in Chatijkocha village on January 27, 1996. When your boot kicks us, does the message not go to your ears and eyes? Therefore it is not a question of being blind or deaf, it is not even a question of being human or animal. Not to feel or see when you are kicking someone is the character of Satan.
Q: You speak about your lands being taken away and your sacred groves and graves being bulldozed. What is the relationship of your community to your land?
It is not just our lands, it is the Earth. This Earth is our mother, we are here today because of the land this Earth has given to us, and everything, yes, everything depends on this relationship. It can only be a relationship of respect, a sacred relationship. Any lesser relationship will be catastrophic.
Q: If the relationship with Mother Earth is a sacred one, then how is it that minerals from your land can be used for other than sacred or respectful purposes?
Do we Adivasis have the control over the products of our good earth? At one time in history my ancestors did have it and I am told that we were a happy people. For the past 100 years since mining has started on our lands it is the big companies and the government that decides. We do not want our land to be used to produce destructive weapons, and bomb people like the United States and Britain does. This is a violation of this sacred relationship and only the work of Satan.
Q: What would you like to do to change this relationship?
As tribal women, I would like to say that we do not do things as individuals, we think and act as a community. The problem is that we are ready to act as a community but we must do some real good thinking, we need to outwit our predators in their thinking.
Source and contact: The interview was held on February 20, 1999.
Interviewed and translated by Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation J.O.A.R.
Village Ducassai, P.O. Noamundi-Dist. Singhbhum, Bihar 833217, India.
Tel: +91-6596 33501
Uranium mining in Jaduguda.
UCIL's sprawling uranium complex in Jaduguda, south Bihar, hemmed in by a ring of mountains resembling a horse-shoe, is the sole supplier of uranium for India's nuclear power stations. The Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR) says about 30,000 people living in 15 villages are exposed to radiation.
According to a JOAR survey done in seven villages within a 1-km radial area of the tailing-pond, 47% of the women have reported disrupted menstrual cycle, and 18% said they suffered either miscarriages or gave birth to stillborn babies in the last five years. Moreover nearly all women complained of fatigue, weakness and depression.
The survey reveals further that people in the nearby villages suffer from ailments such as skin diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, fertility loss, bone and brain damage, kidney damage, hypertension, disorder of the central nervous system, etc. And the problems are not confined to humans alone. Buffaloes in the area are showing a deformity in their tails and kendu fruits are turning out to be seedless.
Source: Sunday Special (India), 10 April 1999