Before mining came to Chhattisgarh, a landlocked state in central India, Hasdeo Arand was a remote forest with a dozen tribal hamlets. Spanning more than 650 square miles, the forest is often called the “lungs of central India” and is home to endangered elephants, sloth bears, and leopards, as well as valuable water reserves. Many of the local villagers are Adivasis, or “original inhabitants” hailing from the Gond tribe, who cultivate crops in their backyards and sell woven grass baskets at the market. For them, this land is sacred.
This is how Umeshwar Singh Armo remembers growing up in Jampani, a small hamlet crowned with guava trees. This is where his ancestors were buried, and where he hopes future generations of his tribe will thrive. Today, the 43-year-old is the village chief of the local district of Paturiadand, home to around 900 villagers.