Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Activist filmmaker with a difference: Shriprakash's visit to Princeton

Activist filmmaker Shriprakash based in Ranchi (Jharkhand, India) visited Princeton on November 21st, 2004. His film "Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda" on the effects of uranium mining and radioactive waste dumping on adivasi communities was screened [organized by Association for India's Development (AID)]. There was a discussion following the screening and after that, we went to Sujit's place and had the opportunity to talk to Shriprakash informally. I got a different and interesting perspective about grassroot activism from this discussion, which I would like to share.

I have said "different" perspective. So, I should first mention what I was expecting and why. During the past couple of years, I have got the opportunity to meet several social activists from India through talks/discussions organized by Asha for Education and AID. It has generally been that these activists look for greater involvement of people in the US with the struggles in India. They generally use their opportunity of visiting the US to build collaborations or support groups for the struggles in India. Given this background, I was expecting that Shriprakash too would appeal to AID and the Indians living in the US to get involved in the uranium mining issue in Jadugoda so that they could exert pressure on the local government and strengthen the protest movement on the ground. However, during the post-film discussion when we asked Shriprakash how AID could help the Jadugoda struggle, his answer was that the best thing we could do was to recognize and honor the local people on the ground who are involved in the grassroot movement. He did not want any other "help". This was not what I expected and I was curious to know more about where Shriprakash was coming from. Though I had earlier planned to leave soon after the post-film discussion, I now decided to go to Sujit's place where Shriprakash was going to stay for the night. There we got a chance to talk more with Shriprakash and get an answer to the question which was on my mind "Why wouldn't one want greater middle class/NRI involvement in the Jadugoda struggle?".

Shriprakash recited a poem, which eloquently captures some of the things that we talked about that evening. This poem called "Stage" is written by Dr. Waharu Sonavane and is from a collection called "Adivasi Swar Aur Nai Shatabdi". A few lines of the English translation are below. The poet, a victim, says:

We did not go on to the stage,
Neither were we called.
We were shown our places,
told to sit.
But they, sitting on the stage,
went on telling us of our sorrows,
our sorrows remained ours, they never became theirs.

Shriprakash told us that several grassroot struggles and movements are hijacked by middle class urban educated activists often to further their own ends (like gain fame, get awards). This may still be OK I argued if the cause of the struggle was fulfilled. There are some realities in India like access coming with being able to speak English and this might be a strength that the middle class activist brings to the movement. But Shriprakash clarified. Things on the ground are often not so simple as a politically motivated activist would like and it is often not easy to take a stand one way or another. For example, refering to the uranium mines as Jadugoda, Sriprakash said that it is not easy to make a blanket statement that immediate shutting down of the mines is what the adiviasi people there want. Though the mines and nuclear dumps may be causing disease and reducing the life a mine worker and his family due to radiation exposure, a job at the mine provides for their food so that they can survive.

A middle class activist often does not reflect this and in his own worldview might think of environmental degradation as the most important factor while taking a decision to support the cause of closing the mines. Shriprakash articulated about how for a middle class person survival is taken care of. What he/she is doing now is with that in mind. The choice of the adivasi however is between a slow and fast death.

There was a difference between Shriprakash and the other activists that I have mentioned before. All the other activists I have met so far have had an urban middle class upbringing. Shriprakash's parents on the other hand are farmers and his early life was in the village.

It was revealing discussion with Shriprakash. Sriprakash's simplicity, lack of veneer and ability to bluntly speak the truth has left an impression on me.


Blogger mp said...

Thanks a lot for the write-up, Anirban . And, please do update on what you are up to in India too.


10:43 PM  

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