Against the wall

Published: Sunday 31 August 2008

Against the wall

Today, however, this unique culture faces threat due to a massive bauxite mining and alumina refinery project of the uk- based Vedanta Resources and its Indian arm Sterlite Industries that the country's Supreme Court has recently cleared.

The photographs talk a little differently. There is little violence there. In fact, there is curious shyness about Taylor's subjects--very little trace of conflict in their eyes. "The Dongria Kondhs are incredibly dignified people. They would never make eye contact," the photographer explains. There is evidently a strategy to this depiction. Taylor says, "I want people to understand what they are losing out on. It is not only a destruction of India's unique and sustainable culture but a ruthless exploitation of Niyamgiri's rich and fertile land for short-term profit."

The high priests of shining India might dismiss the fate of the Kondh tribe as "collateral damage". But Taylor hopes his photographs will go someway in making that dismissal more difficult. His strategy might seem somewhat nave in a world where economics rules the roost. But the depiction of the Kondh tribe and the Niyamgiri Hills is not just another outsider's concern about a disappearing culture. A six-month stay in the Niyamgiri villages left him fascinated with the wise coexistence of man and nature. He became privy to the secret myth of the Niyamgiri Hill. "The Niyamgiri campaign symbolises struggle of indigenous communities, living in sustainable ecosystems, that are facing eviction and destruction of their land, water and air for mega projects and mega profits," Taylor says.

The empathy for his subjects is palpable once you speak with the photographer. "Niyamgiri's soil is being converted into wrappers for soft drinks and chocolate bars," he says.

Sanjit Das, a photojournalist who has collaborated with Taylor on this exhibition believes in depicting the impact of India's changing economic and political landscape on the lives of the poor and marginalised. "At the centre of all conflicts there are ordinary people trying to manage their lives in the midst of extraordinary pressures. I try to reflect their humanity and resilience," he says.

The exhibition also featured interviews from films by Mumbai-based Suma Josson where Kondh women and men speak candidly about the spiritual importance of Niyamgiri, the impact of pollution from the refinery and their resolve to save their sacred site.

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