[17 June 2014, Note: Our campaign was successful and we've finished this project. The book is now available from publisher Earthcare Books.]
To fuel its growing economy, India has an immense hunger for energy, mostly from giant open-pit coal mines. To make room for the ever-increasing number of mines, the government evicts people from their homes.
I need your support to make the voices of some of these people heard, through a collection of oral histories of their experiences. I have 18 hours of recordings of interviews with them, but I don't have the money to hire someone to translate and transcribe them so I can publish them.
The people interviewed are residents of what used to be Lat, a fairly typical agricultural village in the coalfields of Chhattisgarh, about an hour from the town of Raigarh in eastern India. A few years ago, the government decided that the coal under Lat was more important that the residents' way of life.
There aren't any official numbers on how many people have been displaced like this, but a widely cited figure comes from Dr. Walter Fernandes, who has estimated that about 60 million people were displaced or affected by development-related projects from 1947 to 2004. These are disproportionately people from India's most disadvantaged groups.
I'm an American journalist, working in Kolkata. While writing a book for a Delhi-based publisher last year about India's energy shortage, I discovered that increasing resistance to such displacement is slowing down government and corporate efforts to build new coal mines, dams, power plants and other energy-related projects.
I also found, however, that there are almost no sources available in English describing the experiences and views of such displaced people at length. Books by activists and reports by coal companies and government agencies push their agendas, news reporters occasionally decorate their prose with quotes from displaced people, but displaced people themselves almost never get to have their say.
"Lat Does Not Exist" is meant to fill that gap, making available transcripts of conversations with people in one development-affected village, for researchers and other people who are unable to travel to such a village, live there, and chat with its residents for a couple of weeks -- as I was able to in January 2013 with a small team of journalists and photographers: Nikhil Roshan, Lo Kapila, Chandan Prasad and Devika Singh.
"Lat Does Not Exist" will include about 50,000 words of lightly edited transcripts of these conversations, and about 150 photographs. I'll write a 1,000-word introduction putting the village's experience in context but, other than that, the book will just be a forum for the people of Lat to tell the world about their experiences and their opinions about what has happened to them.
Speakers include people who are refusing to leave the fragment of the village that remains, teetering on the edge of the massive pit that is the Chhal open-cast coal mine. They also include members of the Lat diaspora, who have already moved away from the village, to the official resettlement site provided by the coal company, and two unofficial resettlement sites.
From young guys excited that jobs at coal mines will pay for new motorcycles to women who miss farming as it was their chance to get out of the house, from families whose first days at the resettlement site were spent fending off elephants to those who refused to move and sit daily in protest at the mine gate, this is a collection of their stories.
We hope to get a commercial publisher for "Lat Does Not Exist," but even if we don't, we'll publish it through Amazon.com's publish-on-demand service, and distribute it throughout the world. I've done this before with a book of oral histories called "Life on the Edge of the Empire: Oral Histories of Soviet Kyrgyzstan." Either way, if you help me get these interviews translated and transcribed, there will be a book.