Sahana Manjesh reviews Hartman De Souza’s book “Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in Goa”
Recent times have seen strong student protests across India – at FTII, JNU, HCU, among others. There is also a resurgent dalit youth mobilization in these times. These protests have emerged from a generation that has grown up in the post-liberalised era, having found itself deceived about ‘inclusive development’, and trying hard to remind those in power of the fundamental rights and freedoms the story of independent India began with. Dedicated for, among others, ‘every Indian below the age of thirty who believes that forests and mud and water have more value than the ore’, is Hartman De Souza’s book Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in Goa, a timely gift and guidebook to these student protests and those to come.
Eat Dust is Hartman’s chronicle of the illegal mining activities in Goa over the past few years. Having followed the drama unfold before his eyes, Hartman takes us on a tour of his beloved Goa, explaining to us with painstaking detail the landscape and the people who are contorting it; and saving it. Nobody escapes Hartman’s critical gaze – politicians, business tycoons, journalists, lawyers, activists, artists and locals – each of them playing various roles in the dialogue of development. The constant tussle among various stake holders is explained to us in Hartman’s true style – a labyrinth of stories.
“It was like what happened when my eighty-year-old mother Dora, faced the magistrate at Quepem’s district court in early October 2008. From the great height of the bench, she frowned as she looked above her glasses and asked Dora quite sternly – some would even say rudely – whether she even knew that the barrier to the mine she had chained herself across was legal.
The judge was definitely not prepared for Dora, who – resplendent as only she could be, with her mop of ash-grey curls and honest, unblinking eyes – retorting in a rising and angry alto: ‘What is legal about taking away forests and water?’.”
Eat Dust is no work of fiction, although one is left wondering at the bizarreness of the truth behind the loot. It is a book however that passes on timeless lore, like the story of Paikdev’s spring. As Hartman takes us over hills that once stood in Goa, to the court room, and river side, and traces his own story from Kenya to Goa, one gets a rich context for what is actually, and incredibly, unraveling in Goa. A web of disempowering laws in the form of executive notifications, concentration of wealth in the hands of a few families with unstoppable ambition, general political nexus with power and corruption and a zero tolerance policy towards dissent together sustain violent arrogance – an arrogance that allows forests to be cut down with impunity and to disrespect the lives of all those who live symbiotically in these forests. The theory of eminent domain recognizes the right of the state to take over private resources for public benefit, for just compensation. But as one reads Hartman’s account of the manner in which Goa’s mines are operated, it is clear that the state is now permitted to take over community resources and forests to benefit a chosen few, justly or otherwise. This is not only a perversion of the theory of eminent domain, but is against the spirit of the Forest Rights Act, a piece of legislation that was a result of dedicated peoples’ struggles, with revolutionary possibilities of enabling conservation and protection of the rights of forest dwellers.
And even as the book is deeply rooted in Goa’s experience, it echoes songs of protest from other mineral rich pockets in India including Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Telanaga and elsewhere. It is precisely this relatability that makes Eat Dust a guidebook for dissent. Hartman passes on the legacy of connecting the dots – from religion, to caste, to economics, to the legal system, to the media, to aspirations and demands – in order to truly make sense of our ‘Age of Greed’. And as he explains all that is going wonky, he also chronicles the many forms of protest and defense of the rights of the forests, animals, and people of Goa –through the report of the M.B.Shah Committee that led to a brief court stay on illegal mining; through the fight of the indigenous people negotiating with the government on what inclusive development truly means; and through the various acts of civil disobedience that tease, question, arrest and alter the juggernaut of the mining lobby.
Hartman narrates about how Andrea’s MTV (Mining Transport Venom) Road Trips took her and her camera along with visitors to see for themselves the perils of mining, with disappearing forest covers and the lives they sustained. This is also the beginning of the journey of Space Theatre Ensemble, an ensemble of artists steered now by Andrea, who perform in schools for children, at colleges offering different professional degrees, cafes and festivals of dissent, and of course for the police! Their performances are a means of engaging with their audience through questions that we would all do well to ponder over and act upon. This is their activism, deeply rooted in the shock of seeing Goa’s forests and springs disappear, and yet engaging with the larger problems that allow for such lopsided concentration of wealth.
Spoiler alert, Eat Dust does not have a traditional happy ending. In April 2015, the Supreme Court of India lifted the stay on illegal mining in Goa and the Goan government promptly responded with a framework to enable more illegal mining – a framework that has not been democratically negotiated. What is more, Hartman’s afterword forsees unrestricted mining to continue in Goa, and as news comes in, there are presently several mining leases that are being granted in violation of legal sanctions. There is a sense of urgency to spread the word about illegal mining activities in Goa and elsewhere, before we are comfortably settled into a sense of complacence, far too late to prevent irrevocable damage.
Hartman’s book narrates to us the stories of the countless people who have questioned and negotiated the journey of ‘development’. And this is what makes Eat Dust a deeply inspiring book. It is born out of what is a palpable and honest love for the mud and its inhabitants, and a need to pass on this hope and memory. As we grow and come to inhabit various roles in the development discourse in whatever capacity, a book like this might equip us to make sense of the story that has unfolded this far, and remind us of the alternate visions for the route we want to take, individually and collectively, in mining as in other endeavours, going forward. Do get a copy of the book for yourselves, as gifts for friends, families and lovers; it is a read very worth the while.