Most critiques of the aluminium industry focus on refineries and smelters, which are among the worst culprits of global heating. But bauxite mining excavates a huge surface area, and has caused environmental devastation in Jamaica, Guinea, Australia, India and recently also in Vietnam.
Perhaps no bauxite deposits are located in more sensitive areas than those in India, whose most significant deposits occur as cappings on the biggest mountains in south Orissa and north Andhra Pradesh. Tribal people live in hundreds of communities around these mountains, which they regard as sacred entities for the fertility they promote. Appropriately, the base rock of these mountains was named ‘Khondalite’ after the region’s predominant tribe, the Konds. Early geologists noticed the perennial streams flowing from these mountains, and modern evidence suggests that their water regime is severely damaged when the bauxite cappings are mined.
Bauxite has probably never been sold for a price commensurate with the damage done by mining it. For Konds and other small-scale farmers in East India, the aluminium industry brings a drastic disturbance to their way of life and standard of living that amounts to cultural genocide. If mainstream society sees these bauxite cappings of India’s Eastern Ghats as resources standing ‘unutilised’, Adivasi culture understands them as sources of life, and sees mining them as a sacrilege based on ignorance.