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A Village in Meghalaya Punished for Saying ‘No’ to Uranium Mining

A true unsung hero: 90-year-old Spillity Lyngdoh fought against uranium mining on her land.

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We believe in telling stories that the ‘legacy media’ ignores. Stories which are reported by small regional publications but never makes to the so called 'national media'. For this story we have tied up with T7 news, a news organisation in Meghalaya. The Quint has always been at the forefront of coverage from Northeast India, it’s possible because of the support we get from you, our readers. Please support us by becoming a Quint member and help us bring you these untold stories that has global relevance.

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Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

Copy Editor: Saundarya Talwar

28 October 2020

It was a rainy afternoon in Domiasiat, a village in the south-west Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, when the village matriarch, whom all lovingly called Mei-ieid (grandmother), quietly died in her sleep.

The 98-year-old Spillity Lyngdoh Langrin was buried in her own land – the land she loved and fought for.

This is the story of how a village with just six households and its matriarch stood up against uranium mining on their land.

The funeral procession of Spillity Lyngdoh Langrin

(Photo: The Quint / T7 News)

The Fight Against Uranium Mining

In 1975 the Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD) did an aerial survey of Domiasiat and found uranium. By the early 80s the villagers had allowed the mining to start.

But soon they start noticing the after-effects.

"I was not sure why, but my cattle was dying. Women in the family were giving birth to stillborn babies. Our source of water had turn acidic."
Spillity Lyngdoh Langrin, Resident, Domiasiat
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In the early 90s, Langrin, for the first time, had said "NO" to uranium mining and asked AMD to leave her land. Powerful student organizations like the Khasi Students Union (KSU) lent support to her fight.

In the early 2000s the government revived their plan to mine uranium. This time the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) offered almost Rs 45 crore to Spillity Lyngdoh Langrin for a 30-year lease. But she refused.

Spillity Lyngdoh Langrin refused 45 crores offered by UCIL. 

(Photo: Tarun Bhartiya)

Tarun Bhartiya, a Shillong-based film-maker, who was fascinated by Spillity's determination extensively filmed her for almost 15 years.

"Rs 45 crore is a lot of money. So, I asked Spillity Langrin, ‘They are offering you so much money. Why aren’t you selling or leasing it out to them?’ She said, ‘Will this money…,’ and she pointed to the water source and the forest, ‘...be able to buy this? Will the money be able to buy me freedom?’ That was one of the most inspiring things I had ever heard."
Tarun Bhartiya | Shillong-based film-maker and activist
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In 2009, the Government of Meghalaya allowed UCIL to mine in an area close to Domiasiat. But by 2016, the people's movement led by Spillity Langrin and KSU forced the Government of Meghalaya to put a moratorium on uranium mining in the area.

The Price of Saying ‘No’

In May 2020, at the peak of the COVID pandemic lockdown, a local news organization, ‘T7 News’ visited Domiasiat to do a lockdown story. This was perhaps the first time in a decade that a media organisation had gone to the village.

The crew was shocked by what they saw.

"In 2007, we had opposed the proposed uranium mining at the public hearing. Maybe because of that the government closed down the LP School, through an order of the Deputy Inspector of Schools, who did not even give us any information. In Hima Langrin, this is the only place that does not have a school and water supply. Whereas smaller villages with fewer households have got schools and water."
ND Syiem, Son-in-law of Spillity Lyngdoh Langrin

The Lower Primary School in Domiasiat was shut soon after they protested against uranium mining. 

(Photo: The Quint / T7 News)

"My first reaction was how can these people live like this. There was no development at all. There was no water, no electricity, no school, no mobile network, no political support; just because the place has very few votes."
Hilarius Khabihkhiew, Reporter, T7 News
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The infrastructure setup for uranium mining has now crumbled. 

(Photo: The Quint / T7 News)

Too Little, Too Late

When T7 News released their report, the people of Meghalaya were shocked. Soon, they started speaking in solidarity with the people of Domiasiat.

Seeing the outrage, the Meghalaya government tried to hurriedly build a school as a damage-control measure.

But there is still no electricity or water supply. Any substantial development eludes Domiasiat even now.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from videos and short-doqs

Topics:  Uranium   Meghalaya   uranium mining 

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