We have tried to document one of the worst droughts that hit Bolangir in the year 2000 and its aftermath, says Ms Rupashree Nanda. Director of HARVEST OF HUNGER, the documentary that has been held to be the Best Investigative Film in the non-fiction category bagging for her the Rajat Kamal in the 52nd National Film Awards, this year.
Producer Actionaid India will also be awarded with Rajat Kamal over and above the cash prize it carries. Editor of the film, Mr. Prashant Nayak is also adjudged the Best Editor.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, when Prime Minister, had used a pampered journal to reject reports of starvation deaths in that side of the State. In these pages, we had shown how he was wrong. Rupashree has now irrefutably exposed the wrong done to our people.
It is sad to see the game of one upmanship among politicians and bureaucrats on display at the expense of one of the most oppressed communities, that battle hunger, succumb to starvation and sell off children to survive, she says.
The film has exposed the ruin of Orissas skilled workers who migrate to neighboring States providing profuse profit to agents of brick kilns where to they mostly go. The labor market in Bolangir is worth Rs 40-50 crore and comprises about 2 lakhs people; one third of which belong to the group of under-aged children, the documentary has established.
Ignored by administration and kept bereft of benefits promised in various projects, they go to the labor contractors seeking loans under compulsion of immediate living and then, to repay these loans, migrate as bonded laborers to the brick kilns mostly in neighboring Andhra Pradesh.
Says Rupashree, They are subjected to one of the worst forms of exploitation, working almost 18 hours a day in the brick kilns and subsisting on a diet of broken rice called Kanki, basically a chicken feed, for a period of 8 months. When monsoon comes, they return empty handed hoping good luck shall come and they will never to have to migrate again. But, despite a good monsoon, spending all the crops they yield in repaying the loans they owe to local agents and money lenders, they get on their ways to the kilns again.
Exposing this was not without any difficulty. The owners and managers of the brick kilns were vehemently against documentation. Rupashree notes, the migrant women even in their wretched despair, were extending her full cooperation and protection. Some of them saw me as a sister, some as a friend. They gave me food and shelter when necessary. Though vulnerable themselves, they protected me in the brick kilns whenever the Seths or Munshis threatened or abused. They trusted me and shared their lives with me. If I could dedicate this film to anyone, it would to those dignified people. Our efforts would be truly rewarded if the film brings about a change in the lives of these people.
A resident of Bapuji Nagar, she got initial interest in people of Bolangir during her visits to her mother who was then the Principal of Government Womens College there. She watched and observed their condition closely and deeply. Then came the Actionaid India project.
She has done her Masters in English from the Utkal University and specialization in Mass Communication from Jamia Millia Islamia. Her next venture is slated to be on Right to Information.