More than 8,000 Dongria Kondh live in the dense forests of the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha. Virtually unnoticed until 2006, they came to public attention when they peacefully fought the mining giant Vedanta Corporation to save their sacred mountain. Though they won the first round of the battle the war is far from over.

Trapped between the state government and the Maoist rebels, the Dongrias are struggling to maintain their eons old traditional eco-friendly way of living.


'Mountain is our religion' 0

Though women work through the day in the field, evenings are for their children.

 

'Mountain is our religion' 1

The Dongria Kondh, a sub-section of the Kondh, live in the dense forests of the Niyamgiri range. Listed as particularly vulnerable tribal group by the government, they are animists and communicate in their native Kui language. Their main livelihood is shifting cultivation.

'Mountain is our religion' 2
A Dongria man in traditional dress. 
'Mountain is our religion' 3
Community bonding is strong among the Dongria. They often catch up before they go farming or on the way back from the field. 
'Mountain is our religion' 4
The men of Lakhpadar trying to fix a solar power line themselves.
'Mountain is our religion' 5
Portrait of a young Dongria woman. 
'Mountain is our religion' 6
Lakhpadar village in Narala tehsil of Odisha’s Kalahandi district is the heart of the agitation against mining giant Vedanta Corporation. It has 20 to 25 mud houses but traditional thatch roofs have been replaced with asbestos.
'Mountain is our religion' 7
Lodo Sikoka (L) and Huika Samba are the faces of the movement. Both live in Lakhpadar. Both have been targeted by company goons and harassed by the administration.
'Mountain is our religion' 8
A man combs his hair after a bath. The Dongria Kondh are particular about hair and traditional attire. Males decorate their hair, ears, and nose with ornaments.
'Mountain is our religion' 9
Freshly fermented liquor called “salpa” from the sap of palm trees is used in rituals and drunk as well. The palm is one of seven trees considered a must in a Dongria sacred grove. 
'Mountain is our religion' 10
For centuries Dongrias were isolated from the world. Their only source of entertainment was dance, mostly in the evening. The men sometimes hunt at night, using LED lamps and their axes to hunt rabbits, squirrels, and edible insects.
'Mountain is our religion' 11
Lakhpadar has around 40 children. No one goes to school as the nearest one is 15 km away. It is more or less same across all villages. As kids can't go that far through dense jungles they want their own village schools with Dongria Kondh teachers using Kui as the medium of instruction.
'Mountain is our religion' 12
Most men have tattoos on the arm. They usually etch the names of their parents.