Villagers in the East Indian coastal state of Orissa are giving advocates of the human right to health something to think about. On July 19, the state high court upheld the Indian government’s decision to reject a massive expansion of the Lanjigarh alumina refinery. In its four years of operation, Lanjigarh’s owner, U.K.-based multinational corporation Vedanta Aluminium, Ltd., caused great harm to the health and well being of nearby communities, inundating their fields and waterways with toxic “red mud.” The campaign to hold Vedanta accountable to international environmental health standards is not just a primer for activists about how rights-based discourse can have concrete benefits at the community level. It also highlights a basic premise of the human rights movement: that basic civil rights and the right to health are inseparable. By insisting on state protection of their well being under international covenants, the Dalit and Adivasi residents of Orissa show us that a long history of oppression need not be a barrier to social change.

 
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