Sunday, December 30, 2007

This project is about nomads or gypsies. Communities on the move, which set up home whenever and wherever they stop. I was first struck by their existence when I saw a few of them camping in a vacant plot of land behind a multiplex mall in Gurgaon in the year 2005. They have their own language, culture and unique social structure. It is also fairly well accepted that the gypsies found today all over Eastern Europe and the Balkans actually migrated from India centuries ago.

These nomads mostly lead a poor, uneducated, and yet a very colorful life.

Some of these tribes are famous world over for their dancing, singing and handicrafts skills.

Drawn by curiosity, I gradually got closer to them and was amazed to see that the winds of change (urbanization of rural areas) sweeping across the country have failed to cause any perceptible change in their Spartan lifestyle. This is vividly reflected in the way they have stuck to their age-old customs, conventions, rituals, social and cultural characteristics and sartorial sensibilities since time immemorial.

Theirs is an extremely tough life caught between the forces of nature: bad weather conditions, diseases, poverty, malnutrition and human forces like urban development and forest conservation. Nomads who have prospered for generations in hostile environments are now struggling to cope with outsiders’ conflicting interests. The mobility of these groups is an essential economic strategy central to the very nature of their existence. Now their livelihoods are threatened due to their centuries old migration routes being cut off by rapid urban development, no access through national parks and mines, and shortage of grazing lands for their cattle. The non-pastoral communities which have till now survived on dancing, singing and acrobatics, are now facing extinction because of threat from television, wildlife conservation laws, atrocities by mafia and police, and extreme apathy of government.

In India, roughly seven percent of the population is nomadic, yet despite their large numbers, most of the nomadic communities do not even have voting rights and have been largely ignored by policy makers. As a result of changing times and rejection by the society, the value of their occupation has gone down increasingly, forcing them to turn towards abusive, exploitive and overcrowded labor markets and construction sites for jobs. Incomplete education and access to modern means of communication renders the younger generation unfit for their ancestral jobs. It does not help them in assimilating the affluent urban lifestyle or cope with literate competition in the cities, leading them to indulge in criminal activities, drug and alcohol addiction and prostitution.

It overwhelms me to witness history and tradition alive amidst such strong forces of modernization and materialism. It also gives rise to deep respect in my heart, for the integrity of these people with which they protect their honor and pride. These experiences ignited in me a passion to bring before the world their existence as human beings by capturing the subtle nuisance of their lives in my camera. Through my pictures, I want to create awareness and an emotional connection with the world, to showcase a story, of a way of life that is being threatened. Of innocence and beauty that needs to be preserved.

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