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New Delhi, India
Photography by Bharat Sikka
Since late November, the world’s largest collective effort against farmer discrimination has been taking place across the Indian subcontinent. In a time when the Western media has remained fixated upon the global concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic and the final days of the Trump administration, this mass cooperative action has been left largely unreported or under-reported in major news outlets, despite involving approximately 250 million people — a number that represents a significant percentage of India’s 1.4 billion people whilst dwarfing the entire populations of most other nations.
The strike centres on the right wing BJP government’s incoming farming legislation, with a law that is set to undercut minimum pricing on agricultural products across the country leaving millions of farmers in dire economic strife. Organised by trade unions and workers from diverse industries (from telecoms to mining, banking and transport), all have been keen to protest the government’s discriminatory practices that work against farmers to serve the rich ruling classes.
Born and raised in India, Parsons graduate Bharat Sikka photographed scenes from the general strike in and around Delhi in this exclusive portfolio for A Magazine Curated By.
By marrying his refined aesthetic with the harsh realities of the situation, our goal is not to glamourise the conditions of the striking citizens, but rather to draw attention to their plight through Sikka’s artistic practice turned documentary photography.
Read his thoughts below.
Where are you right now?
I am in my studio in New Delhi working on some new projects. It’s not far from the blocked border where the protest are happening.
How did it feel to be amongst the striking farmers in the past weeks?
It felt amazing and exhilarating. Protests are something that I don’t generally become involved with, but this one was rather compelling: It drew me in. The sheer scale of it is so massive and yet so calm and passive. It’s really special. It feels like a massive refuge or a settlement spread over many miles and the scale of it perhaps could only be experienced by flying over it from a distance. It is a massive unification for a cause during the time of Covid-19, and it makes you feel hopeful.
Have you experienced previous strikes?
Yes, but really small ones in comparison. Never anything at this scale, and not something so socially and politically relevant.
How did you approach this political and humanitarian crisis as an art photographer?
Although I am not a political person, my work does touch upon political issues, subtly and indirectly. My approach in this case would be the same: I looked for clues and details that reflect upon the story. In such a massive protest you have all the material you need to reflect upon, and in my case I curate images and photograph them to build a narrative around the protest. It usually takes years for me to complete a project but this one is more instinctive, photographed on an Iphone so that we could present this promptly, as a current issue. I cannot wait to develop the film images I took, and see the prints.
What do your images communicate about the plight of the farmers?
I stand in solidarity with the farmers. I see them with respect and with love. They are the heroes. There is also an image of an image of Bhagat Singh, a freedom fighter, to give a context of the current situation in the images. I saw this images being repeated in many different places, from being placed on a tractor to someone proudly holding it.
I took pictures details, portraits, moving homes, signs and of course the protest, to build the story with these images.
How do you feel about the lack of coverage of the strike in the Western media?
I was really disappointed to see no presence of any major media at the protest. I can understand the absence of the Western media, but the fact that no mainstream media from India was covering the protest is quite appalling. These farmers want be heard, and I feel they have been blocked out, just like the they have been blocked out of the city.
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