Co-Written by Wenceslaus Mendes and Anupam Chakravarty
Torrential rains, this monsoon like every other has worsened the flood situation in Assam. This year already around 1.1 million people have been affected in 23 districts and the fatalities due to flood this year has gone up to 24 and counting. While the state administration is doing its best to tackle the situation, locals of villages near the rivers are being moved to safer places as their villages are being inundated by flood waters. Soon the public cry will be about the ineffectual bureaucracy and aid programs on the ground as lakhs of rupees will be once again spent and pocketed.
māti is a short documentary film (22 minutes) that attempts to understand this annual cycle. This film is in Assamese and English (with subtitles in English) and remains institutionally unfunded, made in partnership with the local communities by the river.
Kaziranga is home to several ancient riverine communities of Assam and the one-horned rhinoceroses. Therefore this national park receives maximum protection under the Indian law for wildlife conservation. One such ‘effort’ is the construction of globally funded, embankment building to protect villages and the demise of several species during the annual floods. “māti” is Assamese for land.
Local communities resist these attempts stating, these efforts do not yield any results and consume vast tracts of their agricultural land. In addition, the sanctuary extends deep into the Karbi hills, being mined for various minerals. A highway now runs through the park altering the geography of the area whereby animals drown during the flood, crossing over to higher planes, now occupied by hotels and tea gardens.
The geo-spatial architecture, food, clothing (ethno-technologies) and even crops (environ) revolve around the floods. This seasonal flood brings with it several schools of freshwater fish that lay their eggs. Local fishing communities thereby also find sustenance through this environmental cycle until the winter, by when the cropping season arrives. This annual flushing of the lakes inside the park also clears various kinds of debris, which eventually makes it beneficial for various animals enabling the continuity of food webs. Communities fear that they lose their own riverine habitat as previous experience of dealing with embankments lead to unemployment and displacement devaluing traditional skills and knowledge for many.
This film has been made through a process of ‘co-labour-abling’. While we began a process of documentation and construction of an archive, we began this initiative through a sharing of skills between the ‘filmmakers’ and communities. We strongly believe collaboration is a process of meaning creation and generation, through a call for action, addressing a shared concern through various stakeholders, communities and partners constructing multiple alternatives through an evaluative process, building a collective knowing – ‘Knowledge’. A rendering proposed is working together with the other in cooperation (bringing into action/contact), against the constructed norm – ‘co-labor’ and ‘co-labor-ableing’. ‘Co-labor-ableing’ thus may construct and build an empowering and enabling “commune” from within, one that owns the means of production and controls the modes of dissemination through a constant negotiation between the co-laborers and a ‘commune’ ownership of the production thereby no longer on constructing a communication/message/code derived from and only speaking back to a particular class and caste. Importantly, this process allows for sharing and reciprocation of knowledge, allowing for all (from a community) to contribute, each to their own personal means, time, purpose and commitments. It is in this process of co-laboring that we believe, māti and its dissemination also lies within the domain of the commons (Creative Commons, attribution, share alike, non-commercial, 2020).
LINK to Photo Documentation:
Wenceslaus Mendes and Anupam Chakravarty : Anupam Chakravartty is an independent journalist based out of Guwahati. Wency Mendes is an independent filmmaker based in Goa.