Western Ghat tribals most exploited: Sunanda

PTI, PANAJI | 28 March 2013 23:31 IST

A documentary film titled 'Have You seen the Arana?' made by filmmaker Sunanda Bhat throws light on the exploitation and struggle of tribals in Wayanad in Kerala, part of the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot rich in plant and animal species.

"I realised that the ones most affected were the labourers, mainly adivasis (tribals). A period of intense research on their written and oral history largely revealed stories of exploitation and struggle," Bhat, whose five years of research on the subject has resulted into the film, told medai on Thursday. 

A woman's concern over the disappearance of medicinal plants from the forest, a farmer's commitment to growing traditional varieties of rice organically and a cash crop cultivator's struggle to survive amidst farmers' suicide makes the core of  this documentary that was shot over 35 days. 

The film was screened at a few film festivals, including the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of  India last year and has been drawing appreciation by concerned intellectuals.

The filmmaker now hopes that her effort would draw attention of the policy makers towards the problems faced by tribals in the region. "I would like to show it (the documentary) to the policy makers; but it is a big task," Bhat says. 

According to her there are many stories to be told about the Western Ghats.

"It is rich in bio-diversity and minerals and does attract a lot of vested interests. How does this affect the people who live there is important to understand and discuss. So that people-sensitive policies can be framed and implemented," she adds.

However, she says that the documentary does not relate to Wayanad alone, as it represents a multitude of places that once enjoyed this kind of diversity.

"Most documentary filmmakers often get very little financial support. Once the film gets ready we have to find ways to distribute and screen the film. It's an enormous task and would help if there was support from other areas," she said. 

The film is being screened at premier institutes like Azim Premji University, Bangalore, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, besides other places like the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and at AACORD, a NGO that works with adivasis in Gudalur in Tamil Nadu, she said. 

The filmmaker is in touch with the Kerala State Biodiversity Board to explore avenues to screen the film to local communities in Kerala and hold discussions around the issues highlighted in the film.

"A number of people from Kerala who live in Goa came for the screening. The title of the film 'Have you seen the Arana?' is intriguing. Lots of people are curious about 'Arana," she said.

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