Candid camera

IMAGES OF NARMADA· Rajnikant Yadav·India International Centre New Delhi

Published: Sunday 31 January 1999

AN exhibition of photographs by Rajnikant Yadav, entitled "Images of Narmada", was held from December 9 to 15 at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi. It documented the culture of various tribes living on the banks of the Narmada, including Bhils, Bhilalas, Baigas and Gonds.

That Yadav has travelled extensively through the length and breadth of the river valley was apparent. His close association with the tribes and knowledge of their lifestyles was quite clear. He has tried to narrate their ways of living to the urban populace, which knows precious little about the tribes. The only interaction with the outside world for the tribes is a visit to the weekly market, where they sell cattle and forest produce and buy jewellery, salt, ready-made clothes and other necessities.

There are photographs of women in their colourful outfits, men with their bodies printed with bold white circles wearing outlandish headgear made of peacock feathers. Besides, there are pictures of 2300-year-old idols of Shiva, Vishnu, and Jain gods. Yadav has also captured the most ordinary activities of the tribalfolk on film: Baiga women working in paddy fields, men clearing land for agricultural activities, a Baiga woman cooking page, a diet made of rice.

The Bhagoriya festival is dressing time for the eligible men and women. Young ladies wearing colourful outfits with bright yellow chunries, traditional ornaments, and tattoos on the foreheads and arms go to the fair looking for a suitable match. The young men are also no less adorned; their accessories include flutes.

Completely isolated from the 'civilised' world, their way of life has not undergone many changes. However, this would not continue for long. Their homes are threatened by mega-projects, such as the Sardar Sarovar Project. Some of the picturesque sites shown in the photographs will soon be drowned by these projects. "The beauty of the valley is rapidly vanishing," says Yadav. The rich ecosystem in the Maikal ranges is getting destroyed.

The Baiga tribe, that depends on the forest for daily requirements, are now struggling for survival due to rapid deforestation. "Timber smugglers are felling trees mercilessly. Five per cent of the thick forest has already disappeared," says Yadav.

Urbanisation has brought about a lot of change into the tribes. Many women have been drawn into prostitution.

For the people in the Narmada Valley, development has become a bane. They are not only losing their land, customs and traditions but also their dignity. Yadav's attempt to document their plight and make it public is no mean effort.

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