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The limits of Shiva’s dance: West Papua, Australia’s role in genocide

Categories: Asia-Pacific, Corporate profit, Corporate responsibility, Corruption, Genocide, Human Rights, Indonesia, International Law, Rule of Law, Shared humanity, West Papua

by: Bakchos
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Nataraja dances, his right foot supported by a crouching figure, his left foot elegantly raised. Of his four arms, one swings downwards, pointing to the raised foot; another with palm held up signals, “Do not fear!” In his other hands he holds aloft a drum and a flame. The river Ganga sits in his hair. A Cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, and the crescent moon and a skull are on his chest. He dances within an arch of flames. The dance is called the Dance of Bliss.

Statute of Shiva outside CERN

This dance is said to have first been performed at Chidambaram, about 244KM south of Madras, on India’s East Coast. For worshippers of Shiva the Dance of Bliss is eternal, having neither beginning nor end. Nataraja is the Lord of the Universe. His dance expresses the state of bliss which he enjoys and embodies, he dwells in the heart of every person, and though he is to be found throughout the universe his complete form is uniquely present in Chidambaram. Chidambaram is the heart of the world where Nataraja is accompanied by his consort, Sivakamasundari. She is his knowledge, his desire, his action. She embodies the compassion he feels for the world. Nataraja’s left foot is raised in dance so that worshippers may bow before it. He grants all wishes. The sight of Nataraja in Chidambaram is a great blessing, and worship of him frees one from rebirth.

How supremely great in power and grace this dancing image must appear to all those who have striven in plastic forms to give expression to their intuition of Life!

In these days of specialization, we are not accustomed to such a synthesis of thought; but for those who ‘saw‘ such images as this, there could have been no division of life and thought into water-tight compartments. Not do we always realize, when we criticise the merits of individual works, the full extent of the creative power which, to borrow a musical analogy, could discover a mode so expressive of fundamental rhythms and so profoundly significant and inevitable. Every part of such an image as this is directly expressive, not of any were superstition or dogma, but of evident facts. No artist of today, however great, could more exactly or more wisely create an image of that Energy which science must postulate behind all phenomena. If we would reconcile Time with Eternity, we can scarcely do so otherwise than by the conception of alternations of phase extending over vast regions of space and great tracts of time.


Nature is inert, and cannot dance till Shiva wills it: He rises from His rapture, and dancing sends through inert matter pulsing waves of awakening sound, and lo! matter also dances appearing as a glory round about Him. Dancing, He sustains its manifold phenomena. In the fullness of time, still dancing, he destroys all forms and names by fire and gives new rest. This is poetry; but none the less, science.

Coomaraswamy, A.K. (1974), “The Dance of Shiva” Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers PVT. Ltd New Delhi

Coomaraswamy’s eloquent statement about the power of the dance of Shiva has reverberated throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first Century with parallels being found between Coomaraswamy’s eloquent yet powerful statement at the work being carried out by the physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (“CERN”). The parallel between Shiva’s dance and the dance of subatomic particles was first discussed by Fritjof Capra in an article titled “The Dance of Shiva: The Hindu View of Matter in the Light of Modern Physics,” published in Main Currents in Modern Thought in 1972. Shiva’s cosmic dance then became a central metaphor in Capra’s international bestseller The Tao of Physics, first published in 1975 and still in print in over 40 editions around the world.

In recognition of the synergies between the dance of Shiva and the work being carried out by CERN, in 2004 the Indian Government gave CERN a 2m tall statue of Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The statue, symbolizing Shiva’s cosmic dance of creation and destruction, the plaque accompanying the statue of Shiva Nataraja at CERN explains the significance of the metaphor of Shiva’s cosmic dance with several quotations from The Tao of Physics. The plaque reads as follows:

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, seeing beyond the unsurpassed rhythm, beauty, power and grace of the Nataraja, once wrote of it “It is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.”

More recently, Fritjof Capra explained that “Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures, but is also the very essence of inorganic matter,” and that “For the modern physicists, then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.”

It is indeed as Capra concluded: “Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics.”

The purpose of Coomaraswamy’s book The Dance of Shiva which is essentially a series of seemingly disconnected essays, but they all spring from the same central thought and converge into one design, the vast and tranquil metaphysics of India, which work to render happy and ennoble the human race. In Coomaraswamy’s book as with Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance there is no negation. All is harmonised. All the forces of nature are grouped like a forest whose thousand waiving arms are led by Nataraja, the master of the Dance. Everything has its place, every being has its function, and all take part in the divine concert, their different voices, and their very dissonances, creating, in the phrase of Heraclitus, a “most beautiful harmony”. Whereas in the West, cold, hard logic isolates the unusual, shutting it from the rest of life into a definite and distinct compartment of the spirit, labelling in the process as ‘other’, India, ever mindful of the natural differences in souls and in philosophies, endeavours to blend them into each other, so as to re-create in its fullest perfection the complete unity. The matching of opposites produces the true rhythm of life.

The matching of opposites produces the true rhythm of life a most beautiful harmony

I shall find hidden Thy infinite joy
In every splendour of smell and vision and sound;
Even while a thousand fetters still bind me to the wheel
I shall taste thy infinite liberty

Rabindranath Tagore

In late 1995, Freeport McMoRan’s international political risk insurance had been cancelled. The insurer, a United States based company Overseas Private Investment Corporation, specifically cited the Grasberg mine operation as contravening the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which required that “overseas investment projects do not pose unreasonable or major environmental hazards or cause the degradation of tropical forests“.

Following Suharto’s demise an increasing number of West Papuans began campaigning against the environmental and social impact of Grasberg. The matter was brought before the US Federal District Court in April 1996 and in May 1999 to the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights.

In August 2002 in the midst of growing West Papuan resistance to the Grasberg mine, two American teachers and an Indonesian employee of Freeport-Indonesia were murdered at the Grasberg mine complex. In the wake of the investigation into these murders revelations emerged that one of the alleged murderer’s was involved in a business relationship with the Indonesian military and that Freeport was paying an annual security bill of $5 million for government-provided security at the Grasberg complex, together with additional amounts totaling $12 million for unarmed, in-house security. Among other things, it was argued that this arrangement might violate the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, potentially exposing Freeport and its foreign management to criminal sanctions in the United States. Responding to questions from journalists on this point the then Freeport chairman James Moffett made the following comment to the New York Times in 2005:

There is no alternative to our reliance on the Indonesian military and police…The need for this security, the support provided for such security, and the procedures governing such support, as well as decisions regarding our relationships with the Indonesian government and its security institutions, are ordinary business activities.

On 23 March 2004, Rio Tinto announced it had sold its 11.9 percent shareholding in Freeport, booking a $518 million profit on the sale. According to Rio Tinto’s media release this sale did not affect the joint venture between Rio Tinto and Freeport: “Rio Tinto remains committed to the Grasberg Joint Venture, which in 2003 contributed $104 million to Rio Tinto’s adjusted earnings of $1,382 million. The management of the Joint Venture will not change as a result of this transaction.” In 2006 the earnings from the mine totaled USD 122 million, a USD 110 million reduction on the previous year’s result. Rio Tinto is still represented on the joint venture’s operating committee.

As recently as 2008, fundamental human rights violations in West Papua, including torture, excessive use of force and unlawful killings by police and security forces” have been confirmed by the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, Amnesty International, and United Nations Committee against Torture. On the back of allegations of environmental vandalism and human rights abuses at the Grasberg mine and in West Papua generally and Rio Tinto’s ongoing involvement in the day-to-day management of the Grasberg mine, the Norwegian Government in February 2008 made the decision to divest of Rio Tinto shares.

On 15th February, 2008 the Norwegian Ministry of Finance released a report titled: Council on Ethics: The Government Pension Fund – Global. In that report the Norwegian Government gave as its reasons for divesting from the Freeport mine the following:

In the Council’s opinion riverine tailings disposal is undoubtedly the major environmental problem associated with the mining operation today as the daily disposal of 230,000 tons of tailings generates severe and long-term environmental damage. Furthermore, the Council deems it probable that acid rock drainage from the stockpiles will constitute an increasing and considerable environmental problem with potentially far-reaching harmful effects in the future. Consequently, the Council takes as its point of departure that the damage is severe and that there is an unacceptable risk that the environmental impact caused by the mining operation is lasting and irreversible.

The Council also evaluated the operations with regard to national legislation and international norms.[20] In its reply to the Council Freeport claimed to comply with all national environmental regulations.[21] In this context the Council found it relevant to point out that the environmental standards required by Indonesian authorities fall significantly short of current rules in Freeport’s as well as Rio Tinto’s home countries, where riverine disposal is prohibited. Weak environmental legislation and lenient enforcement indicate that there is no system in place to reduce the damage caused by mining, something that contributes to further aggravate the risk of severe environmental damage.

Riverine disposal is internationally considered an unacceptable discharge method for mine waste due to the environmental damage it provokes. The World Bank no longer finances projects which make use of riverine tailings disposal. Neither does The International Finance Corporation accept this method. Moreover, the World Bank’s “The Extractive Industries Review” (EIR) from 2003:23 and the international project “Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development” (MMSD) advise against riverine disposal because of the environmental damage it entails. The EIR states:

Scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that this method of waste disposal causes severe damage to water bodies and surrounding environments… In practice, this technology is being phased out due to recognition of its negative consequences.

It is interesting to note that it was riverine tailings disposal by the Phoenicians and their imperial decedents that gave Rio Tinto its name. The environmental impact of riverine tailings on the Rio Tinto is best expressed by NASA.

The Rio Tinto is now an expedition target for the Mars Analog Research and Technology Experiment (MARTE). MARTE is drilling for core samples and testing satellite links from Rio Tinto in preparation for remote robotics that may one day survey Mars. Thought to be a close analog to that of the Martian subsurface, Rio Tinto’s extreme environment could also represent a unique biological setting to explore sulfur-based life on Europa. Therefore, understanding the extremophiles that live here contributes to our search for extra-terrestrial life.

The 100bn dollar Anglo-Australian juggernaut of greed known as Rio Tinto proudly boosts by its name, its connection with the transformation of a region of the Earth’s surface into something approximating an alien surface. Is this what now passes for progress in the halls of international capital and its scions cultural fascism and environmental vandalism?

Everyone profits from West Papua, except for Papuans

The above headline is from TheGuardian newspaper of 12 October 2011, the headline quotes Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader living in exile in the UK who went on to say that:

So who is profiting from our sacred lands? The answer lies with companies including Freeport, Rio Tinto and BP – and, of course, the Indonesian government. When West Papua was colonised by Indonesia in the early 1960s, Indonesia quickly awarded the rights to mine our land to the US company Freeport-McMoRan (under the guidance of Henry Kissinger, who later joined Freeport’s board). The multimillion-dollar Freeport contract was signed in 1967, two years before West Papuans were given a vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia in a UN referendum required by international law and the UN’s commitment to decolonisation. The deal to exploit our resources had already been signed before the vote took place: Indonesia left nothing to chance in securing its future revenue stream. The Act of Free Choice (we call it the Act of No Choice) saw just 1,025 people allowed to vote, out of a population close to 1 million, under threat of violence.

Sarei v. Rio Tinto

West Papua is not the only victim of Rio Tinto’s greed. In 2002, a number of plaintiffs from PNG brought a claim at the District Court of Central California under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) of 1789 (28 USC §1350) (ATCA) alleging that they or their family members were victims of international law violations committed in connection with the operations of a copper mine in PNG by the mining company Rio Tinto Ltd. The District Court found that the plaintiffs had stated cognisable ATCA claims for racial discrimination, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war, but dismissed the claims with reference for one claim to the state action doctrine and for the rest to the political questions doctrine.

The plaintiffs appealed. In a ground-breaking ruling in 2006, the US Ninth Circuit (Central California) overturned the decision of the 2002 trial court and ruled, inter alia, that (i) ius cogens claims are actionable under the US ATCA as per Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain,(ii) violations of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea) claims are not necessarily ius cogens claims, but the widespread ratification of that treaty can provide the basis for an ATCA claim; (iii) corporations can be held vicariously liable for violations of ius cogens norms, (iv) ius cogens violations cannot be “official acts” under the act of state doctrine, and (v) ATCA does not require that claimants exhaust local remedies. The defendant in the case, Rio Tinto PLC, then submitted a petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc, which the Appeals Court (9th Cir.) granted on 12 April 2007.

The most important finding of the 2007 court was that (aliens’) “nonfrivolous claims against international mining company for vicarious liability for violations of jus cogens norms were actionable under ATCA”.

The cost of western greed is the destruction of indigenous cultures.

The interconnectedness of all humanity

What countries like Australia, Indonesia and the United States, countries that benefit from the suffering of others don’t understand is that Planet Earth is a “most beautiful harmony”, where everyone, indeed everything has a place and a purpose. If we destroy one let alone a whole culture what we are doing in reality is destroying part of the whole, part of the “most beautiful harmony”. John Donne summed this concept up beautifully in his poem “No man is an island”.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne



  1. Australian miners certainly have a lot to answer for, both here and overseas.

  2. So Australian miners are accused of crimes against humanity in PNG, in the Congo, in West Papua, why don’t they stand accused in Australia. The destruction of our sacred sites, must be a crime against humanity. The NT Intervention, done at the request of the Australian mining industry must also be a crime against humanity. A subtle form of genocide.

  3. An interesting way to present what is a complex argument – in essence the argument is the same as you put in Red the colour of my blood… race is only skin deep – we’re all brothers and sisters in humanity. Somebody should tell Tony Abbott!!!

  4. We are all part of humanity, we all have the same rights, one of those rights must be the right not to be killed because my village that my people have lived in for 1,000s of years sits atop a mineral wanted by the West. Is this called genocide if we wipe out a village to gain access to their land and minerals? Just a thought.

  5. An interesting take on the role on the international mining industry in the destruction of indigenous culture world wide. Yes we are all part of the same humanity. We are all part of the planet we call Earth. We are all part of the universe, the Cosmos. No one of us in the cosmic order has any more rights than another.

  6. Just a few more examples of indigenous genocide by lawyer!

  7. Dance the immortal dance of the gods, for not even the gods can penertrate the greed of the white Christian mind. The world was not given as the sole dominion of the whitie, it belongs to everything that dwells on and in it, we are all one with the universe.

  8. Do not fear the foot of Shiva singles. Will I fear, I fear for my future, I fear for the future of this planet which is being destroyed through greed, racism, corruption, bigotry, theft, not to mention genocide, environmental rape, etc… What can do, a good first step would be to recognize and accept that we are all creatures of this planet, making us all a part of one single living organism.

  9. Shiva’s dance ends where greed begins i.e. greed knows no humanity.

  10. Tom Ashby I tend to agree with you on this one, where greed and humanity meet, Shiva can’t follow.

  11. Greed has cost us our humanity. Shiva can’t get through the iron wall of ego, greed and self-interest. The immortal dance of the gods has failed in light of Western, Christian greed.

  12. See even the gods can’t get through white, Christian greed – what a society whitie has given us.

  13. Greed and white Christian hypocracy – not even the gods can make their presence felt in such a world – what a place to leave to our children!

  14. It all comes down to how far people are prepared to go in pursuit of the almighty dollar!

  15. In the end it all comes down to greed.

  16. It maybe an alluring dance, but it still can’t get through the mind-set of greed and self-interest (egoism) of Capatalism!

  17. Shiva would puke if he came dancing through Sydney – don’t think the greed and corruption would sit well with him!

  18. Shiva cant dance in the face of the genocide that is happening in West Papua. A genocide that is being helped along by the Australian and international mining industry!!!!!

  19. Mahmud Ahsan via Facebook says:

    Like many other indigenous cultures, etc. Shiva’s dance foundered on the shoals of US consumerism. And the white Christians of the US call this justice.

  20. Right on Bro, Mahmud Ahsan you got it in one. US consumerism has a lot to answer for in terms of the enviromental and political mess the world finds itself in today!

  21. David Harrison it’s just greed I accept that US consumerism is part of the Western cycle of greed, but is only a part!

  22. Maybe Shiva fell into the very big hole PT Freeport has dug in West Papua. A hole used to steal the rightful property of the indigenous people who had lived on the land for thousands and thousands of years until the Dutch followed by the Javanese arrived.

  23. Can even an immortal god dance through the wall of greed that is the Western mining and banking oligarchy?

  24. What is happening in West Papua is nothing short of a total disgrace.

  25. Shiva’s dance faulters on Western greed!

  26. Shiva’s immortal and infinite dance, broken on the back of white Christian greed and hypocrisy.

  27. It all comes back to a lack of honour resulting in a denial of justice.

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