The world has benefited immensely from the contribution of NGOs in creating awareness about and fighting against exploitation of all kinds. With the image of crusaders against the mighty oppressors, NGOs have a credibility advantage. No one looks at these activists with the suspicion which is so common for a mighty corporation or a powerful state. Sadly not all NGOs honour the unquestioning trust people have on them. The recent case in point is over the action of a controversial international NGO.
Its myth-making business was exposed when that NGO admitted that its report about an alleged massacre of 80 tribal people in Venezuela at the hands of a gold-mining company was actually incorrect and unfounded. Massacres are deemed to be occurring all the time, because that is the narrative people believe in. The subordination of fact to the narrative is becoming commonplace and NGOs like this one have finely honed the art of using this technique to target a select few.
Closer at home, that particular NGO has chosen to build highly suspect and flawed arguments on two high-profile cases involving the Jarawas of Andamans and the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri. In each of these cases, this NGO has used the bullhorn method to showcase themselves as the saviours of the Third World's 'noble savage', while making the Government and capitalists look like evil marauders.
In the process, sane voices have been drowned out and clarifications by other parties concerned have been made to look like apologies. In Odisha, this international NGO's claims of alleged human rights violations by Vedanta Aluminium in Niyamgiri are nothing short of a bizarre myth. It is a well-known fact that no Dongria Kondh member has been displaced from Niyamgiri, nor has the company ever engaged in mining there. By portraying Avatarlike stories about the Dongria Kondhs, that NGO has achieved its intention of influencing a section of the world media who believe and base their stories on these NGOs' handouts with utter disregard to double-checking or maintaining objectivity. What that NGO has also achieved through such orchestrated campaigns is to ensure that India's poorest poor languish in poverty forever. If companies like Vedanta and Posco are able to run their operations in Odisha, the state and the people will only benefit.
Only massive private investment can bring the schools, hospitals and basic living standards to the poor state. But for the jet-setting and agenda-setting professional activists from international NGO, this is of hardly any concern. Their job is to see the world as black or white.
Considering that they take a higher moral ground over governments and corporate, one would expect them to have apologized profusely for such a blunder. Instead, they proffered an apology that can be best described as a cursory one. Their nonchalance is a cause of concern and must serve us as a timely reminder that believing and supporting them without checking the ground realities will drive us to the depths of despair.
(This editorial piece is published in Delhi-based The Political and Business Daily on 15th September. )