New Delhi, January 3 (IANS): Amidst fiery speeches, exaggerated sounds from tractors all around getting set to travel to a village in Rewari from the Tikri border, photographer and filmmaker Randeep Maddoke remembers the time when he worked as an agricultural labourer and a daily factory worker near his village in Moga, Punjab for Rs 50 a day. He also remembers how once he had to borrow Rs 12,000 from a teacher to pay tuition fee at the Government College of Art in Chandigarh.
"All such experiences open your eyes to the sharp divides all around," says Maddoke, who went on to be the first Indian to be invited to the prestigious Market Institute of Photography in Johannesburg, that too on a full scholarship, but could not attend due to health reasons at that time. His film 'Landless', that was screened at multiple festivals last year gives a voice and face to the landless Dalit labourers and raises multiple issues, including farmer suicides, unfair working hours, social boycott, contract labour, exploitation of Dalit women and role of moneylenders.
The photographer-filmmaker, who has been with the agitating farmers from the time the new farm laws were announced, was summoned by the President of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Joginder Singh Ugrahan, to make a team of photographers, filmmakers, painters, and multimedia artists to document the agitation. "Ugrahan told me that this movement is going to be historic, and must be recorded for generations to come. Earlier, documentation of the protests were only about collecting newspaper cuttings. Now, we now have a team of 12 volunteer artists from across the country which is constantly archiving different moments."
The photographer and filmmaker, who has extensively documented the class struggle of Dalits in Haryana, Punjab and Tamil Nadu besides chronicling the making of the democratic Republic out of the monarchical Nepal and later, the devastating earthquake there, feels that it was important that the volunteer artists were from diverse Indian cities and not just Punjab, so as to break the narrative that the laws would affect only the Punjabi farmer. "Some are from the deep south and many from the western part of the country. All of them are looking at the agitation with their own unique perspective."
Having already archived data worth two hard discs of 2 TB each, Maddoke finds it interesting that a lot of youngsters, from both urban and rural areas are coming forward to be volunteers. "Earlier, the 'face' of farmer agitations used to be the old agriculturist. This has changed now. In fact, we are witnessing a lot of volunteers from both urban as well as rural areas, something that could be seen during the CAA-NRC protests."
Stressing that as an artist, the farmers' agitation has been one of the most interesting movements he has documented, the artist says that he has always believed that art emerges from society and cannot function in isolation. "This is very close to my heart. People like us who have attached themselves with the movement to document it are not doing that from the proverbial 'distance'. We are here for the farmers."
Believing that it is important to carefully document every major movement in history for future generations, Maddoke along with the others in the team has elaborate plans to hold exhibitions, make books and finalise documentary films on the farmers' agitation once the protests are over."