Over 2015-18, 20,314.12 hectares of forest land (an area equaling the size of Kolkata) was diverted for developmental practices like mining, thermal power plants, dams, road, railways and irrigation projects etc, as per the official data released by the Govt of India in 2018, Mongabay India reports.
E-Green Watch suggests that until 2018, about 1,00,000 hectares of forest land has been diverted in the mineral-rich states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh for 500 mining projects. In just two years, these three states — where half of India's poorest districts are located — contributed about 75 percent to the mining fund worth Rs 18,000 crore.
What has been received in return, either in terms of money or development, for this diverted forest land is unclear. What is immediately evident, however, is the price has been paid by those who live on these forest lands: the Adivasis or indigenous tribes. Adivasis constitute up to eight percent of India's population, yet their issues and concerns have remained unamplified.
As a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch noted: "India has laws on the books to protect mining-affected communities from harm, but their enforcement has essentially collapsed."
Throwing light on this exploitation of the Adivasi communities in the garb of development is the documentary film Kabza, by author and researcher Purabi Bose. The film, otherwise banned in India, had its national premiere at Mumbai's Godrej India Culture Lab last month.
Kabza is part of Bose's non-profit initiative, Landing Together, which is a unique approach of documenting the stories of indigenous and pastoralist communities. Landing Together comprises four short multilingual films that cover 12 unique communities of the tribal belt from mainland India's Maldharis of Kutch to Mizo people in northeast India. Apart from Kabza, the other three films are Abadiat (about tribal women’s land and forest rights), Tasawuff (on palm oil plantations vs shifting cultivation in mountains) and Tariqah (community forest rights for indigenous peoples). Bits and pieces from all these films combine to form Bose's self-funded debut 85-minute feature film Vaña Vaasiyon (Forest Dwellers) that was released in 2018.
"I realised doing a film for somebody else didn’t make a point and meant I would end up doing a propaganda film. When you are working for an organisation, you are being paid and hence you will say what they want to say and show to their audience. I don’t have a problem with that, but I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to start something on my own, from my own funding," Bose says, of how she envisaged the concept of Landing Together. Later, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also pitched in and funded her travel, helped her establish contacts and provided access to places in the North-East and Chhattisgarh.
From 2016 and through 2017, she travelled across 23 states that include 35 tribal districts (majorly populated by the Scheduled Tribes) in the mainland and the North-East. "I spent 18 months travelling and documenting," she says. "I went to all these places and asked them to talk about their current scenario and how it is affecting them with regard to their relationship with the forest and the land, and how the community feels."
Kabza deals with extractive resource industries mining for coal and bauxite in the traditional indigenous territories of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh states of central India. In the film, Bose jumps straight into the narrative through the voices of the Adivasi community. "As a practitioner, background researcher and scientist, I thought if a film ever comes up it has to be about things that are able to communicate people’s voice and not a particular individual's ideas of how the world should be," she remarks and further stresses on giving people space and letting them talk on their own. "If you give them even 10 minutes, those people can raise their voice. After all, it is a social movement that ultimately makes all the difference."
Bose says she doesn't like when the mainstream media often calls certain communities "voiceless" and hence ends up patronising them by "giving them a voice". "As a society, we have defined them as voiceless as if they don’t know anything and they are ‘ignorant’ and ‘illiterate’. That notion in itself is so painful," she says. "When you go there, you see how this community knows so much about trees." Her decision to film Kabza only in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also comes from a certain resentment towards this aforementioned notion. These states were chosen for the film primarily because these are the three states only a few people can enter, especially with a camera. "For me, it was important because I know there were and there will be many filmmakers who have shot there. I wanted to make sure that these three states get highlighted in a way like never before. I didn't want to go there with a script and get voices according to it," Bose adds.
What also comes across as refreshing in Bose's film is the way the women feature in and take forward the narrative, be it in talking about their issues or stating their concerns about the ramifications of mining in the area. "I have worked with these communities for the past 20 years, and I have also seen how we, as a society, have been mainstreamed with the idea that women need to be empowered," Bose says. "I think the biggest challenge we have today is tackling this westernised notion that women are vulnerable and they need to be empowered, especially pertaining to urban, peri-urban and in some cases rural areas. But, we need to understand that indigenous people are different. We often put them and the people from rural areas in the same compartment — which is incorrect. If you go to the indigenous communities you will find the women at the forefront; they are equal."
"Women living inside the forests are very different; they have identities of their own which for some reason we, the urban people, seem to have forgotten," she adds.
For Bose, achieving gender parity in terms of narrative voice in her film was important and rather easy. "I treated them equally and that helped a lot," she says. "When you are ready to create that environment where you are ready to listen to both men and women, then automatically the space for women narratives is created."
Kabza, apart from highlighting the exploitative practice of forest land diversion for mining, also brings forth many subtle issues that affect the indigenous communities. Bose talks about how these meta-narratives came into being because of her desire to approach the project in a non-scientific, fluid manner. "When we do science we go with a preconceived notion with certain set parameters in mind [sic]," she says, explaining, "So, if one were to inquire about a water sample in a particular area, it will further be narrowed down to just one source, for instance, the river water. Other sources like groundwater etc will not be taken into account. And, in addition to that, suppose one of the respondents is suffering from malaria we wouldn't show any interest; we wouldn't even want to know why malaria happened to that person in the first place. One is so concerned about extracting that scientific inference that one doesn’t pay heed to what could be a major problem for an entire community."
"If one doesn’t engage with people and their day-to-day problems that just means one is not communicating properly," she concludes.
Bose didn’t have any preconceived notions about how her interviews should proceed; instead, her observations and interactions have made Kabza the film it is. Some days, the interactions would throw light more on the social issues rather than the environmental issues in the region, and vice versa. On other days, they would also be intertwined. Bose elucidates this with an example: "There were discussions around alcoholism in the forest areas. The women told us how the foresters would bribe their husbands with alcohol and how that had become a huge social issue. And at the same time, it was part of their environmental concern also, because their men were being bribed for their land and forest resources. ‘We women got together and we pushed off these middlemen outside the village,' they told us. So, for them, it’s part and parcel of their lives."
While Bose brings in many perspectives from these tribal communities in the film, she chooses not to include the voice of the other side — the government, forest department, mining industries. Despite shooting with and interviewing the people in power, she chose to drop those portions from her final edit. Bose mentions how these interactions with the authorities unravelled a rather grim picture. "The State is very clear about the mainstreaming of these indigenous people and the weakening of their cultural relationship with the forest," she says. "It wants to educate these people and send them to schools. Once they are educated and have seen the world, they will know what is materialism, what commercial shopping malls look like, etc. And seeing all that, they will leave the jungle and will never return. Thus, for the mining companies, almost half the work is therefore done.
"The mining company featured in my film also organises film screenings every week so that these people get to know how people live in the cities and what kind of clothes they wear. It also provides alcohol to them and it does so because it wants them to realise themselves that the life they are leading is not good enough and that life in the cities is better."
Bose reveals that her team faced threats, especially from the mining companies, while in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. They stopped us, came to our hotel, got my phone number, called me at my home and told me they knew everything about me and my whereabouts."
Bose says while many filmmakers want to bring in all the stakeholders to their platform and have a multi-stakeholder discussion, she chose not to. “I didn't want to change the topic and complicate this dialogue that I wanted to create about the people and their issues, rather than getting into a 'for vs against' kind of a debate where one group talks about how they perceive development and the other group disagrees,” she says. “Personally [I think], having everything in a film tends to dramatise it, which I don’t approve of."
Watch the trailer of Kabza here:
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Updated Date: Nov 07, 2019 09:48:13 IST