It is difficult not to like Dayamani Barla. Even if you disagree with her, she has a warmth and passion that make people sit up and take notice. Hers is a battle to be fought and won, or to die trying. 'We have two choices. One is to join the criminals, the politicians and ArcelorMittal [AM], and to keep our mouths shut and do what they say, or to fight this. To fight and to die, that's better. To die this way than live like the other. We will die fighting,' Ms Barla, 44, says with typical passion. AM, the world's largest steelmaker, is the focus of her rage. The company wants to buy 3,240 hectares of land to build a US$10 billion steel plant in the mineral-rich east Indian state of Jharkhand. If it goes ahead thousands of farmers, mainly from India's Adivasi - or tribal - communities, will lose their ancestral homes, farm and forest land. The mass displacement is something Ms Barla, who has won awards for her activism, is determined to stall. 'ArcelorMittal are cheats. They want to sneak in. They said they want 10 villages. Then they'll want water. And also, because they need water, they would have to dam a river. Wherever the dam is built another 20 villages would be displaced. They don't tell you that. They are trying to make fools of us,' she says. Born in the Jharkhand village of Arhara, Ms Barla was the only daughter and youngest child of Adivasi farmers Jura and Hisaya Barla. The family, from the Munda tribe of Adivasis, had its own 2.5-hectare plot of land to grow rice and vegetables. But when she was eight years old her illiterate parents were deceived into signing over the rights to their land to a local businessman. Despite trying to reclaim its land, the family lost its small farm and her mother, Hisaya, was forced to look for work in the state capital, Ranchi, 150km away. Hisaya became a domestic servant, earning 15 rupees (HK$2.50) a month while Ms Barla, her father and three brothers stayed in the village eking out a living as daily-wage farmers. Ms Barla continued to study and work on farms, earning 2 rupees or 2kg of rice a day, before joining her mother in Ranchi at the age of 12. Working as a police station cleaner, Ms Barla supported herself through her studies, eventually completing high school and a master's degree in commerce. The seeds of struggle were sewn with those humble beginnings. Seeing her family being evicted left an indelible impression, one that spurred her on to take part in and document India's first successful anti-dam movement, the Adivasi-led Koel-Karo anti-dam struggle. The two-decades-long battle finally ended in the mid-1990s when plans to dam the Koel and Karo rivers in Jharkhand, which would have submerged 27,000 hectares of land and displaced about 135,000 Adivasi families, were shelved. Ms Barla went on to win journalism prizes in 2000 for documenting the struggles of displaced and impoverished communities. Her resolve to give a voice to India's poor led her to form the Adivasi-Moolvasi Culture Protection Association in 2007. Run from a tea shop in Ranchi, the association represents the rights of Adivasis who will be displaced if the Jharkhand state government allows AM to acquire the land. The movement has rallied against the steel plant throughout the area and lobbied politicians. Campaigners want the state government to provide people in the area - many of whom live without electricity, safe drinking water and access to education and hospitals - with schools, health care and employment, and to ban AM from buying land for development in Jharkhand. It is dangerous work. Ms Barla says she has received death threats. But her resolve is undiminished and led her to win the Chingari award last month in New Delhi. The award is given to women who actively oppose corporate development on environmental and human rights grounds. Ms Barla's fight is being replayed throughout the subcontinent. India is home to 84 million tribal people who have long been discriminated against. They lag behind the rest of India in terms of literacy, income and employment, and are overlooked by state governments reticent to provide schools, hospitals and roads. As increasing numbers of foreign and Indian multinationals sign up to deals to build multibillion-dollar industrial projects with state support, millions of Adivasis whose homes and farms sit on huge mineral deposits have found themselves on a collision course with federal and state governments. India's largest single foreign direct investment, a US$12 billion steel project by South Korea's Posco, has faced legal obstacles and sometimes violent opposition from Adivasi farmers in the neighbouring state of Orissa. But fear has no place in Ms Barla's lexicon. 'Fear can kill you. We have two paths. One is to join the criminals, the politicians and the company and to keep our mouths shut and do what they say, or to fight this.' Though there are laws to protect Adivasis' land and rights, widespread corruption means they are often flouted. AM admits opposition has caused the project, which was due to start this year, to be delayed but would not comment on the length of the delay or how much it had cost the company. Its figures suggest 3,000 families stand to be displaced. The company says it has asked local people for their views and that it will provide them with compensation, work, training, and education and health care facilities in line with the state's rehabilitation and resettlement policy. An AM spokesman said: 'We believe that a large number of people - both Adivasis and non-Adivasis - from the project area do want the project to come up because they believe it can change their lives for the better.' He said AM had started pilot schemes to provide technical training and was planning to start vocational training and women's income-generating courses. Ms Barla says: 'We want development but we don't trust AM and the state government . In the whole of Jharkhand, they [the state government and multinationals] have taken land from the jungle, river land, and the rich benefit.' 'We have given land in the past and received nothing. They help the business classes. It profits the rich. People sitting in governments get fat commissions while displaced people beg on the streets. 'We don't want this kind of progress. This isn't only for Jharkhand. This is for the whole of India and also the whole world. Agricultural land, jungle land, in all the world, in 10 to 15 years, there will be nothing left.' Adivasi communities have good reason to view corporate development with suspicion. The subcontinent's track record when providing displaced families with rehabilitation and resettlement has largely been poor, with government promises often failing to materialise. Ms Barla says: 'It's our heritage, our birthright. There is no price to be put on this heritage, so how can you give compensation?'