Born into a Dalit farmer’s family in Vidarbha, photojournalist Sudharak Olwe has been a witness to the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra, which, he says, has only worsened over the years.
“I come from a place where most of the farmers are dying and farming has declined. The farmers are in a very difficult situation. We must do something as citizens and artistes. As soon as I heard about the farmers’ march, I decided I must do something,” Olwe told indianexpress.com.
In his three-decade career, Olwe has always strived to highlight issues that are often overlooked by us, and is now the driving force behind the #PhotographersForFarmers initiative. He has urged everyone to be a part of this initiative. “All of us are photographers now with the advent of smartphone photography. Just go and meet them, talk to them and support them as they are the ones who give us food,” Olwe said.
“We have been overlooking so many issues, be it farmer suicides, domestic violence, malnourished children or conservancy workers. We overlook most of the time but its about time we actually do something about it,” he emphasised.
The Photographers For Farmers initiative invites all photographers to document the farmers’ march on November 29-30 or of any farmer and upload them using #PhotographerForFarmers on different social media platforms. Over one lakh farmers from across the country plan to assemble in the national capital on the two days to participate in a mega-march to protest against, what they have termed, the Centre’s “failure” to address their issues.
“This is not mine or your initiative, all of us have to work together to make this cause visible to a larger audience,” Olwe added.
This isn’t the first farmers’ march held this year but the movement has gained momentum this time with over 200 organisations supporting the Kisan Mukti March and the ‘Dilli Chalo’ movement. “It’s not about this march or that march, it’s about coming together to make a difference in the lives of these farmers. Our aim is to empower the farmers and making people aware of the agrarian crisis. We must support them”, Olwe emphasized.
Vidarbha region is majorly dependent on rain and there is a need to change the government policies keeping in mind the water scarcity, he says, adding that the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission is all the more important.
The initiative has been well-received by the photographer fraternity. Within the first week of posting details on Facebook, Olwe started getting calls and messages from across the country. Eminent photographers like Dinesh Khanna and Ram Rahman from Delhi and S Satish from Tamil Nadu have also expressed their wholehearted support for this move.
Dinesh Khanna, the co-founder of Delhi Photo festival, welcomed #PhotographerForFarmers initiative saying that he has always appreciated Olwe’s work. He further said that while a journalist or a photographer was always there to cover such movements, what is different now is the impact of social media. The reach of social media is huge and it certainly helps in reaching out to a larger audience, Khanna added.
DCP Expeditions, a Mumbai-based photography group, made a small film urging all photographers to be a part of the initiative as farmers march from across India to Delhi to demand a special session of Parliament on the agrarian crisis and passage of Kisan Mukti Bills.
For Olwe, the journey to becoming a photojournalist had been tough. Olwe had earlier told The Indian Express that caste discrimination was a reality. I knew it existed but never sensed it.”, he had said.
From capturing the lives of conservancy workers in Mumbai to atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat, Olwe has travelled the length and breadth of the nation to document heart-rending stories from around India.
Since 1988, Olwe has worked with some leading news organisations and has won several awards including the Padma Shri in 2016 for using photography as a tool for social change. His photoessay called ‘In Search Of Dignity And Justice: The Untold Story of Mumbai’s Conservancy Workers’, won him the ‘All Roads Photography Program Award’ from National Geographic in 2005.
“As an artist, one has to keep an eye around his surroundings, primarily things which affect the people and their upliftment. Keep working for causes and highlight pertinent issues through your work.” This is Olwe’s advice to budding photojournalists.
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