We, a crew of 4, joined the rally the very day it started and we walked for over 30 kms, non-stop. We were the last to reach, now I blame the smoking and the city air. The villagers as I discovered later on didn't smoke [very few did], didn't drink, no liquor shops around [this was a voluntary decision, not the law], but they did eat a lot of 'Paan'. I capitalize the 'P' for a reason cause this is what they are fighting for, the betel leaf is their livelihood and their pride.
On the third day, I realized, after talking with my sister, that documenting the protest walk was leaving an extremely uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. We hardly shot anything for the first 3 days. I don't want to undermine the efforts of the political party involved but I was feeling cheated. Had I given too much credence to a movement where it was not due? Was this a political farce only to garner votes? Was I being pretentious in documenting something I was just beginning to understand?
We had, on the first day, familiarized ourselves with the villagers of Dhinkia, many of whom were unable to join the protest due to false cases registered against them. I wanted their stories. The stories behind their locked gates. We decided to head back. When we arrived, the Sarpanch, 'the leader of the village' was quite apprehensive about us staying there. There have been instances where the government and POSCO , the company, have sent people to pose as NGO's, to convince people to give up their lands. After a few calls to the political heads, we were given the go ahead to stay and document the village. Once they knew we were there to support their movement, the villagers went out of their way to accommodate us.
There were three instances during our stay there that provided me with not just awesome footage but also a profound realization that I have never ever ever had such amazing, fruitful, emotional conversations with people. I'm not the sort to cheer when something i strongly believe in is proclaimed out loud, especially when everyone you interact with thinks otherwise, but I did after hearing these villagers talk. Their ideas of development is not racing around in fancy cars or dining at the most insipid restaurant [no hotels, cause everyone eats at home], or waving expensive gadgets, their idea of development is to tend to the earth, to live off it's gifts and not to ask for more. They don't have electricity, no TV, no refrigerators, no electrical items, but they do have a huge school right in the middle of the village. You know their priorities because you can see them. Their kids don't learn English or Hindi, it's Oriya, their language. Such a community is definitely not underdeveloped, if anything it's one of the most developed communities that I have come across. They know that what their government is doing by way of grabbing their land and suppressing their voices, is exactly what the British did before Independence. They do not mince words when they compare their government to hitler and mussolini. Old men, bent with age, their veins thumping with anger, say they don't want to beg on the city streets.
It grows dark by 5:30 in the evening, something I wasn't too happy about, considering there was no electricity. It meant that I could shoot only during the day. One of the things that I did want to capture was the night vigils that the villagers carry out. All the villagers, on an hourly shift, are required to camp out near the gates of the village to protect their land. With a lantern, we headed out in the night to talk to the men and women who guard their village. They were huddled up under a bamboo tent, playing cards. Their dogs were close by. Was this some sort of a dream? Did these people actually think that they could protect their villages from a central government that is known to gun down their farmers, brand 'Adivasis' as Maoists and kill them? What will these villagers revolt with? their bows, their dogs, their bodies? As a paan field help, Nabhoham Malik, said 'I will take the bullet but I will not give up my land'. I see his eyes. I will see them as long as I live, the fire doused in tears that crept silently into his eyes, they will haunt me.