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The Great Migration

While exploring his home state of Madhya Pradesh,city-based Antariksh Jain found inspiration for a photo essay on the changing lives of tribals

Written by Debjani Paul | Published: July 24, 2013 2:59 am

Antariksh Jain was a child of cosmopolitan India,shuttling between big cities such as Delhi,Mumbai and Pune. The annual visits to his hometown in Madhya Pradesh,and the Nimadi dialect that his grandmother spoke at home were Jain’s last ties to his origins. But last year,when he finished his course in Communication Design from Symbiosis Institute of Design,he felt that it was time to explore his native state,particularly the tribal regions. “I didn’t know anything about the tribals; my interest was in new stories. I wanted to ask the tribes about their own stories — their families and their lives,” says Jain.

In the six months that he spent with tribals from different communities,Jain found what he wanted — stories that were simple and beautiful,and others that were full of hardship and sorrow. What struck him was the irony — he had gone all the way there to learn more about their lives,while,in an exact reversal,he found the tribals leaving their jungle homes for cities. This was the first inspiration and theme for his photo essay,Jal Jangal Zameen,which was recently exhibited at the Open Show in Pune. “With all the stories I got from the tribals,I built a narrative about them wanting to go to cities. At the same time,my photo essay is also about the big gap between what they really need and what the government is giving them,” he says.

His photos are mostly metaphorical snapshots,each with its own hidden layer depicting how tribal life is changing. One picture shows three characters — a child,a woman,and a young man in the background. “If you look closely,the woman in front has traditional tribal tattoos on her arms and forehead. But the man behind her is wearing a T-shirt that says Gucci. I found this infiltration of modern elements into tribal culture interesting,” says Jain.

He points out how the lives of tribals are already quite different from what they used to be traditionally. “These were nomadic tribes who would move from one place to another until the British government decided they must be allotted one place,” he says. From that first instance of government intervention to this date,however,the government seems ill-equipped to help the tribals.

“The government has built a colony of 20 -30 cemented houses with asbestos roofing at Baiga vas and asked the tribals to move in. But the tribals said the cement houses would become unbearably hot in the summer months. Their own traditional houses,made of wood and clay bricks,were very cool inside. The fact that those who built the houses didn’t realise this,shows that there is a problem,” he says.

The job card scheme is another sore topic with the people there,says Jain. “I heard so many of them say that what they needed most were jobs,not houses,”

he says.

Jain discovered that many of the tribals began migrating to look for work since it brought in more money. “But migration is not just about where they are going and what they will find. It’s also about what they’re leaving behind,” he says.

This was the thought behind another of his pictures — of a man sitting on the gnarled roots of an old tree. He says,“The man sits there so naturally,his arms and legs almost in sync with the lines of the roots. He is one with the tree and the jungle,he belongs there. These people,when they migrate to cities,they’re leaving behind their families as well as the jungle they consider their universal mother.”

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