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Two worlds that never meet

Video Essay>> Dont cut my head off • by Somnath Batabyal, Matti Pohjonen, Kazimuddin Ahmed and Pradip Saha • produced in collaboration with The Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context, University of Heidelberg • 49 min

By Satarupa Roychoudhury
Published: Thursday 31 May 2012


Lhizony-U draws out jars from a well-stocked cupboard. “This is chilly. These are grapes. Cabbage, lady’s finger, maize,” she says. The vessels contain seeds and dried vegetables. There is a matter-of-fact tone in Lhizony’s voice as she describes the vegetable and fruit diversity of her village Chizami in Nagaland. Seno Tsuhah, who also stays in Chizami, appears equally unflappable while describing rice varieties cultivated in her village. But all is not well. Seno is disappointed. In 2009, she travelled to Copenhagen to attend climate change’s CoP 15.

Seno is the main narrator of the video essay, Dont Cut my Head Off, which draws its title from a Chizami story about a young maiden who pleads a head-hunter to spare her. Seno attended the meet hoping to voice her community’s plea at climate change’s august gathering. But to her dismay there was no sync between her community’s perceptions and the ways of negotiators and experts. Highbrow discussions lavish with words like adaptation and mitigation made little sense to her.

Till some years ago people in her community knew there were sunny days ahead when the owl created a ruckus. But of late, it rains heavily even as the bird screeches its lungs out. The ant has also lost its ability to predict weather.

For Jairam Ramesh, the then environment minister, such understanding is only poetic mumbo-jumbo. He did meet Seno once. But a Naga woman describing how her community manages biodiversity did not leave any impression on the minister. Seno puts the discord aptly: “Time for us is slow. Time there is fast.” In a brilliant sequence in Dont Cut my Head Off, Ramesh’s platitudes on improving quality of forests is followed by a Chizami elder describing what forests actually mean. “Earlier the girth of a tree was such that even four people holding hands could not embrace it.” But some gaps do shrink. In what seems a detour from Chizami’s story, the filmmakers interview British activist Clemmes James who was arrested in 2008 while hijacking a train to protest commissioning of a coal-fired plant. James wanted to turn the ensuing litigation into a platform for climate change-affected people to narrate their experiences. Then Seno realised how far removed from reality these campaigners are. Perhaps there is a lesson here for some of our experts.

The author is a community media practitioner in Ahmedabad

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