“Minding mines in India”
I made a documentary film about the situation in Chhattisgarh, India, where I saw epic quantities of land, lives and livelihoods being annihilated by mining.
The film is located around the villages near Korba (one of the ‘Power Capitals’ of India) and Raigarh. Here, I visted local indigenous communities of Adivasis.
I was overwhelmed by perceptions: largely, the detrimental impact of corporate globalization on the rural and native landscape across India.
It was plain to see how capitalism sucks and exports all India’s resources. Capitalism bates India, by feeding consumerist candy of brands and technology from the West, and then steals her most valuable asset, that is her self-sufficiency. Capitalism strips India bare till she is dry and barren.
In the meantime, millions of indigenous Indians, Adivasis, have their homes, land and livelihoods destroyed, to pay for the capitalist engine that ultimately depletes and destroys anything truly Indian (for the sake of a globalized ‘profit’ machine).
Adivasis’ land is repossessed and destroyed by mines. They are promised ‘compensation’ and a job, but these are fickle promises. Compensation is negligible and won’t pay for a new home in a strange land, and jobs don’t materialize – no jobs for women, only (sometimes) for men, underground in a mine far away from their family. Men lurk at the entrance to mines, waiting for that elusive job and a wage that will pay for food.
The Indian landscape is destroyed by mining. Forests are cut down, mountains dug up, and bare earth is excavated to access the deep wealth of coal that lies below the surface. Once all the coal has been taken, the empty landscape is left barren. Dead. Piles of dust litter and pollute the air. This land is uninhabitable, infertile. Nothing grows or lives here.
56 million people have been displaced by dams in the past 50 years. Dams and mines have become India’s secular gods. They are weapons of mass destruction; weapons the government uses to control their own people. Dams and mines are the economy of corporate globalization. This economy leads to the dispossession and disempowerment of millions of people.
I went to visit communities whose lives have been affected by these problems. Their concerns are grave and immediate: how to hold a home, work and raise a family in the onset of everything being destroyed by the mines. These are basic, dire needs: water, electricity, health care, schools, toilets.
One example: I go to school. There are abysmal prospects here. The land is dry, parched, barren. The air is thick with dust and polluted smog. The mines creep visibly ever closer. There are no toilets. No water. No electricity. No air-conditioning, which, in a heat of 45 degrees makes learning in a sauna difficult.
How can one promote education in these conditions? ‘We are helpless,’ says that headmaster. ‘There is no solution.’
I go to another village where they are responding to these problems in a positive sense: I speak to their leader, a doctor, who has formed the village acreage into a company (registered with the government). They intend to mine their own coal, sell it to the government, and then restore their landscape.
The women in the village chant: “Our land! Our coal!” There is a rallying cry of defiance and courage.
But this ‘solution’ has problems facing it. The government’s ever-apparent corruption and tyranny will find a method of seizing and consuming any profit gained by this village’s new company.
What about those homes who have already been destroyed? Those destitute families without a home, income, or prospects?
And yet, despite the problems seen across India, there are also moments that demonstrate the inherent, native strengths of this country. These are apparent in localities, where we see the cultivation of India’s heritage, in silk weaving and embroidery. We see the tending (rather than the destruction) of the land. Here is a localized solution.
My film contains perceptions of the discomfort, destruction and the beauty in this magical, traumatised country. It also presents the larger picture behind what I saw, regarding the problematic political situation in India, which is causing catastrophic damage. I’m documenting the impact of mining on Adivasis, millions of whose homes have been destroyed across Chhatttisgarh.
I also focus on the ancient culture of India, which is still so alive and nourishing in localities. I want to examine the Adivasis’ heritage and culture in these localities, in direct contrast with the consumer capitalism and globalization that fuels and runs the incessant, pervading destruction.
The film ends with shots of a silk farm, where I saw silk cloth being drawn from a cocoon, spun, woven, embroidered – all by hand. This artistic heritage, which is truly Indian, is beautiful and nurturing, but waning. Cheaper cloth, machine manufactured, obtained from China and Korea, overtakes the economy. The owner of the silk farm and material shop I visited said that, nowadays, young people don’t want to learn this craft. It is dying out.
My film is an expanded media that addresses the tyranny, punity and the death sentence of the capitalist logos that thwarts and colonises the situation in Eastern Asia.
As an artist, I feel bamboozled by the dark myriad of perceptions gained from travelling through mines and villages in India. As a white, middle-class, British tourist, I represent the empire and imperial catastrophe lived out in front of me during my trip – shown in the neo-colonist dispossession, displacement and genocide killing life across India. As an academic, the aim is to disseminate this controversial, seminal knowledge. The hope is that India can rescue, recapture and install its very own ‘unindoctrinated wilderness […] full of untold secrets and wild imaginings’ (Arundhati Roy). This could teach the world how to live again.