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Eloquent images of struggle

PRAFULLA DAS

Rupashree Nanda's "Harvest Of Hunger" establishes the link between food insecurity and distress migration in Orissa.



HOPING FOR A CHANGE: Nanda and a still from her film.

REAMS have been written on the plight of the thousands of poverty-stricken people who migrate from Orissa's Bolangir district every year to work in the brick kilns in different parts of the country. But freelance journalist Rupashree Nanda's "Harvest Of Hunger" gives a stark, yet honest, account of the issue.

Nanda's debut documentary, which won the "Best Investigative Film" in the non-fiction category in the recently announced 52nd National Film Awards, depicts the struggle of the landless and marginal farmers to beat hunger on a daily basis. The film's editor, Prashant Naik, also won the award for best editing.

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The 60-minute English documentary directed by Nanda establishes how the issues of food insecurity and distress migration in the drought-prone districts are inter-related. It challenges the underlying structures that breed poverty and the consequent endemic hunger. Nanda makes the viewer aware of how lack of employment opportunity and inequitable food distribution compels the landless tribal people and marginal farmers of Bolangir to take loans from labour contractors to work in brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh. Eloquent and moving, the images speak in a way that renders words meaningless.

The film documents one of the worst droughts to hit Bolangir in 2000. The camera follows the villagers as they turn to contractors for loans and migrate to the brick kilns to repay them. Subject to the worst forms of exploitation, they work for almost 18 hours a day in the kilns subsisting on a diet of broken rice. After months of non-stop labour, the migrants return home empty-handed when the monsoon comes; when the kilns close down and agriculture activity begins back home. Few return with some money as their earning is adjusted towards the loans. They return, dejected, hoping never to migrate. Yet, despite a good monsoon, they are on their way to the kilns again.

As one character, Saja, comments: "Is there work in the village? We have no choice but to migrate." Saja, as a matter of fact, died in a brick kiln the following year. Those who cannot migrate also suffer. They battle hunger, succumb to starvation and sell their children to survive. The film shows various committees arriving in convoys to enquire and investigate, but these only serve to alienate them further from the State. The film takes up the debate of food production and availability versus population and hunger. It shows how paradoxically the godowns are spilling over with grains while close to 400 million people are battling hunger. "Ironically, the very people who grow the food are those fighting hunger. No matter where they work, how hard they work, theirs is a harvest of hunger," says Nanda. Interspersed with interviews with the migrant people, labour contractors, kiln owners, economists and social activists, the film was shot under the most challenging circumstances in remote villages, railway stations, moving trains and inaccessible brick kilns. It was shot over a period of two years primarily with handheld cameras, available light and a skeletal crew.

Poignant

The film is replete with eloquently silent images. Particularly poignant are the shots of villagers queuing up in utter self-abasement for paltry loans in front of labour contractors, children play acting the process of brick making with soap cases doubling as moulds and streams of migrants being herded in the streets of Hyderabad echoing the images of prisoners being marched to the concentration camps.

Nanda is currently working on a film on Right to Information, and the campaign against Suktel dam project in Bolangir. She plans to continue working on issues relating to poverty, hunger, displacement and migration in both mainstream media and films. "I hope the film gets the attention of those who make policies and implement them. Our efforts would be truly rewarded if the film brings about a change in the lives of the migrant people," says Nanda who plans to dub the film in Oriya and take it back to the villages in Bolangir.

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