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Dibang Valley: Not a Dam country | People for the Planet

Updated: Sep 28

Dibang Valley, a district in Arunachal Pradesh, a North-Eastern state of India, named after and settled along the Dibang river, has flourished untouched due to its sprawling area, and its widely distributed Indigenous population. Being located in the North-Eastern part of India has allowed Dibang and its inhabitants to live undisturbed, but the apathy towards its development has bordered on neglect. Dibang Valley is principally home to the Idu-Mishmis, a tribe of Mongoloid stock, who speak the Tibeto-Burman language. They are a proud tribe, and rightfully so, having cultivated deep-rooted aesthetic values over millennia. The goddess, Nani-Intaya, is revered by the Idu-Mishmis as the sole creator of the Universe and pervades every sphere of Idu existence.


Of late, a hydroelectric power plant and a Dibang Valley dam project have been sanctioned and fast-tracked in Dibang Valley, despite wide-spread vocal protest by the tribe whose home stands to be harmed. The river, Dibang, colloquially known as Talon, and its tributaries, Dri and Tangon, situated in the Dibang catchment zone have been earmarked for these projects. The Etalin hydroelectric power project at Dibang Valley is a 3097 MW project, which is being executed through the Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited, and would cause diversion of 1150.08 hectares of forest land and felling of more than 3 lakh trees, thereby threatening the survival of the Idu Mishmi Tribal community. The dam, hailed as the 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project has been approved on the Dibang river and is set to be India’s largest dam and the world’s tallest concrete gravity dam.


To put it into perspective, the two projects, in conjunction, will compound to a loss of 6 lakh trees, as per our best estimate. Not only is it ecologically damaging, but aims an offensive arrow at the religious and spiritual sensibilities of the Idu-Mishmi tribe who consider the river Tangon sacred to their community and the souls of their departed brethren. The Idu-Mishmi tribespeople consider tigers as their next of kin, and with the proposed large scale diversion of forestland, the community of tigers which has flourished with abandon in Dibang Valley will be endangered, along with hurting the high regard the Idu-Mishmis reserve towards tigers, socially and culturally.


The visualisation of Arunachal Pradesh singularly as a powerhouse for hydroelectric energy erases the rich heterogeneity of the region, and erases the identity of the tribes that call it home, threatening them with silences, enforced by industrial might. Arunachal Pradesh needs to be regarded, instead, as the confluence of tribal heritage that it is, and the linguistic and traditional beliefs of its communities preserved, lest they fall prey to extinction after having sustained their existence since time immemorial, with their long-held pagan beliefs and customs lost to the throes of time.


With the cruel exploitative practices that have been fast-tracked and are underway, it becomes our moral, social and ethical responsibility towards communally-built biodiverse spaces to protect their existence, in the forms they choose and in the patterns they dictate, to thrive because they alone have perfected their symbiotic relationship with nature. It becomes an obligation on our part to uphold the sanctity and dignity of their lived realities, pass the mic towards the unheard, and stand behind; in solidarity, in support, and willing to amplify their voices, till they echo nationwide.


“The moment you remove an indigenous person from their area, that very moment the destruction of that area begins.” 
-Aito Miwu, from the Idu-Mishmi community


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