“History shows that whenever ethics and economics come into conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them. For a successful revolution, it is not enough that there is discontent.”
– Dr. B R Ambedkar
India as a collective identity and nation was born out of a revolution. Countless sacrifices made it possible for us to live in a free and democratic land. For generations to come, we are indebted to the vision and forbearing of our leaders and forefathers. Yet, we are now at crossroads. A way of life that recognizes liberty, equality, and diversity seems to be a distant dream, especially with the recent political, economic, and governance policies. Just a few months back, with the ill-planned Covid lockdown, thousands had to flee from the cities that employed them. We watched as our working class walked in helplessness and betrayal. Our large metropolitan cities could not provide space for the very people who shed their sweat to build those cities. This shows that we as a society have failed. How many of those helpless workers reached their homes in rural India, how they are facing this continued displacement, and what solutions are put forth in future emergencies such as this, are questions that remain unanswered. News and information in this regard continue to be blocked or misrepresented. The farmers of our land have raised their voice of discontent for some time now. On average, more than 10 farmers in the country commit suicide in a day. There are many reasons – drought or heavy rainfall or reduced market demand or lack of resources and agro-scientific knowledge and so on. But, it all boils down to policy and governance. In 2017, farmers from Tamil Nadu protested at the Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, for 22 days. They were symbolically holding skulls in memory of the lives lost to suicide, and reminding the potential danger they were faced with. They vowed to drink their urine, to raise the issue of lack of water in the Deccan. They also announced that they would be eating feces as a representation of their prolonged hunger. It attracted the attention of other countries. Their loans were waived by the TN government. But, why should the people of this land have to go to this extreme to demand justice?
Once again, the farmers are forced against a dead wall, and right at this moment, they are trying to enter Delhi – some have managed to enter, while many others are blocked at the inter-state borders of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The power center that applies its iron fist on people without mercy or consideration continues to remain silent. Are we not facing a health emergency at the moment? Is a timely response too much to ask for? The farmers are ready for a long haul despite the odds — the ice-cold weather, the discomforts of the road, the pain and agony of displacement, and even the risk of coronavirus which is on an infectious march in Delhi — and nothing is comparable to them in front of the possible effects of the farm laws.
The success of this movement is crucial to defining who we are and what our priorities are as a nation. What is required is a collective recognition of every citizen’s political and social rights. Photographers are chroniclers of our time and history. Every photograph is an epigraph. It will live to tell stories, like mirrors that reflect the contradictory and complementary narratives of our society. A photographer stands apart in what stories he/she chooses to tell, how that story is being expressed and most importantly why he/she decides to tell that story.
Vinit Gupta is a promising young photographer who is sure of his convictions. He chooses his stories and tells that with utmost respect and reverence. His recent work titled IQRA was about the school that was demolished during the Delhi Riots (2019). None of the victims or perpetrators was included in this series – but from the broken building pieces, empty chairs, unclaimed drawings, and so on, one is left to imagine what had transpired in that space. The nonexisting faces of the victims and perpetrators flash before us… the unacknowledged role of those in power makes us shiver in silence.
Here, Vinit chooses to travel 40kms and on certain days, walk 16kms or hitch-hike (as vehicles are blocked by police) to chronicle the protesting farmers, in solidarity. Unknowingly, we too feel a sense of pride warm up inside us. In the determination and sacrifice of the farmers, a new history is being made.