Two Worlds: Visuals from the Farmers' Protest

Randeep Maddoke, Varinder Maddoke, Nav Rahi
Description by Sarvpriya

“Two Worlds,” Randeep titled one of his photographs from the farmers’ protest, arguably one of the largest protest demonstrations in the world. The “two worlds’’ he depicts are those of the landed farmers and the landless workers, of the jimidaars and the seeris, of those who own land as a hereditary privilege and that of the labourers who are destined to toil on this very land for meagre daily wages.

Randeep Maddoke is not new to the marginalised Dalit community’s struggle; having been born in this community, he has witnessed the oppression and discrimination. His social location and politics inform his work as a photographer. Both as an activist and visual artist, he has called to attention the plight of the labour class. His earlier project, a documentary film, ‘Landless’, raised important issues like unfair working hours and incommensurable wages that barely meet the daily requirement, social boycott, suicide, and exploitation of Dalit women.

Despite internal differences, the labour unions are very much a part of the ongoing farmers’ protest. Centering the massive resistance against a majoritarian government only around landed peasantry, devalues the enormous contribution of farm labourers in the agricultural economy. Through slogans and hashtags like KisaanMazdoorEkta, Dalits and landless cultivators wish to be seen and heard, for their work to get acknowledged, and their demands to be met. 

Two Worlds. Image by Randeep Maddoke

Randeep, along with his team, has been photo-documenting the ongoing farmers’ protest ever since its beginning. His engagement isn’t of a fleeting kind. He has been staying in a village, very close to the protest site that farmers from Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugarhan) have named Gadri Gulab Kaur Nagar. “The real revolution is happening in these villages,” he told me when I met him in Tikri late December last year, and quite rightly so. From collecting funds for the sitting protestors, to providing daily rations and basic amenities especially for the women, these villages provided the much needed buffer. He seemed optimistic about the movement, and through his camera hoped to reach as many people about what’s happening at the border of Indian capital.
 

This protest that has now been going on for about three months has transformed into somewhat of a microcosm. Randeep is more interested in capturing the everydayness of the movement, rather than focusing on individual leaders who intermittently came out in support and solidarity.

In an all encompassing visual portfolio of the protest, one can see the daily lives of the agitators; bathing, washing, cooking, reading. The role of women in sustaining this movement cannot be discounted. Hundreds of them have marched to Delhi- recounting stories of agrarian distress and debt-ridden sons and husbands who been lost  to suicide.

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Image by Randeep Maddoke

In the face of government indifference and apathy, the protestors have been subjected to living in unhygienic conditions. Living in tractor trolleys and braving the harsh cold weather of Northern plains has been especially hard on the older members of the agitation. The lack of timely medical attention has claimed many lives. Some have died by suicide leaving behind notes blaming the ‘kaale kanoon’ (Black Laws).

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Handwritten suicide note that begins with ‘Bhartiya Kisan Union Zindabad.’ Image by Nav Rahi.

The Republic Day Tractor Rally or ‘Kisaan Gantantra Parade’ was the biggest challenge to the Hindu majoritarian government in all of its years in power yet. Shortly after the events that took place on the 26th of January, the authorities resorted to internet shutdowns and power cuts at many protest sites in order to truncate the movement. Despite all odds, the protestors have demonstrated an unrelenting grit.

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 Farmers listening to the latest on radio amidst cutbacks on communication. Image by Nav Rahi

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A farmer stands tall in the dark during a power cut at Tikri Border. Image by Varinder Maddoke.

There are only in so many ways a particular image especially from conflict zones, protests and resistance movements, can be interpreted. It is not the common understanding of art such that ‘one is free to interpret as one likes.’ Randeep’s pictures leave little room for laissez-faire interpretations of his work. In protest environments, there isn’t much stress on camera positioning, perfect lighting, composition, or a perfectly still subject; there are events that are beyond a photographer’s control. It is not the aesthetic prowess that is art, here. The ‘art’ here is in the bond between the photographer and the photographed, it is in the framing that excludes no one, it is in the act of bearing witness to an event, it is in capturing resistance in ways that will not become mere grist for the sensational journalistic mill,  it is in history. Randeep is often heard recounting memories from his early years that informed his initiation into art- the vivid patterns of shadows that fell on his bedroom wall with the first light of the day. Parchhawein, as he calls them. Randeep as an artist manages to capture a little bit of 'him' through this picture below.

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Image by Randeep Maddoke. Greyscaled.

Randeep Maddoke is an activist turned concept photographer and documentary filmmaker, born and raised in the village Maddoke (Punjab). Varinder Maddoke and Nav Rahi are part of his team that is chronicling the everyday of the farmers’ protest.