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Stories from an India Not Shining


The news of farmers committing suicides doesn’t get highlighted neither does it garner reaction like Aamir Khan’s comment on rising intolerance did. This news of hundreds of farmers committing suicides every year in our country is reduced to a few numbers.
It is to raise such pertinent issues and make people aware about the lives of our farmers and what compels them to take that extra step that Nandan Saxena and Kavita Behl thought of speaking about these issues through their documentaries. They recently completed a trilogy on the slow genocide of farmers in India. The third film, ‘I Cannot Give You My Forest’ which is about the Kondh, the original dwellers (adivasis) of the forests of Niyamgiri, Odisha, is being screened at the 46th International Film Festival of India (IFFI). The film shows how these adivasis are dependent on these forests for food. Sadly, these very forests areas are being mined for minerals thus threatening their existence. The film won the Rajat Kamal National Award for Best Environment Film.
Of their other two documentaries, ‘Cotton for my Shroud’ won the National Award for Investigative Film, 2011. The story talks about the real reasons behind farmers committing suicide in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra. The other documentary ‘Candle in the Wind’ speaks about the widows of the farmers who committed suicide in Punjab. It is the story of their resilience and how they tackle economic and social problems.
“These stories speak about the other India, which is not shining. As journalists we could not speak about these stories and we felt stifled. So we thought of documenting these stories and the people who need a voice,” says Nandan.
He further commented that in a country like India where we have slogans like ‘Jai Kisan’ but no separate budget for agriculture and instead have budgets for defence and railways.
Nandan also opines that the corporate, government and media are not presenting the real picture behind farmers’ suicide. What forces them to kill themselves and whether it is just about non-clearing of loans? “If we industrialise our farming what will happen to our food security. As a country we should have control over our seeds. But, it is multinationals like Monsanto who are controlling the seed market of the world. If a small country like Vietnam could throw away Monsanto, then why not us?” questions Nandan, who further informs that we already have genetically modified BT cotton and BT mustard seeds. These seeds cannot be regenerated and thus place pressure on farmers to buy new seeds for the new season. It also requires chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Thus, it increases their debt.
“We talk about calories, but not about nutrition. As a country we have a right on safe food and potable water. With industrialisation we are polluting our soil and water bodies. The perpetrators of this crime should be behind bars. It is the worst kind of terrorism,” says Nandan, who further blames the Green Revolution, which is against the traditional way of farming. “We are now growing paddy in Punjab. You will find farmers digging tube wells and lowering the water table,” says Nandan. Nandan, who has spent more than 20 years documenting such issues, says that we as a country are worshipping fake gods. “We are looking at countries like USA where they have big farms and no people. But, our reality is opposite to their,” says Nandan.
‘I Cannot Give You My Forest’ speaks about the relationship between women with their forest. Nandan believes that saving forests starts with women as they are seed mothers and they are the ones who pass on seeds to the next generation.
Kavita Behl maintains that all is not lost and there is hope and the constant fight to save our forests is example of this. “Forest is not only about degeneration, but also about re-generation. It is a symbiotic relationship,” says Kavita, who further states that it is not right to only blame the government. We as a community have to come together and realise our strength.
Even though these documentaries are about the ‘other’ India, Nandan says that his films never faced an issue with the Censor Board. “Our narrative attacks the problem and we keep it universal. Thus, we don’t corner the Government. Also, Indian philosophy is nature centric, so such topics resonate with the people,” says Nandan.
On a concluding note they inform that they are now working on a feature film about a widow in Vrindavan. “We are opting for a feature film as there is need to tell our stories differently. Feature films help present stories in a more emotive and layered fashion,” says Kavita, who also opines that there is a need for a documentary channel by Prasar Bharti in order to give more visibility to documentaries.
(‘I Cannot Give You My Forest’ will be screened on November 27 at 9.30 a.m. at Inox screen II. Nandan Saxena and Kavita Behl are conducting a workshop on filmmaking at KalaAcademy’s Black Box)

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