Niha Masih’s, series ‘Heart of Darkness’ was one of the two winners of the 2013 edition of the TFA Photography prize, sponsored by Tasveer. To find out more about the TFA, and the wonderful job they’re doing to recognize and support young creative talent in India, you can visit their website here: http://totofundsthearts.
In July of last year, the 4 districts of lower Assam known as Bodoland witnessed one of the worst cycles of violence in recent memory, between the Bodo and Muslim communities. With over a 100 killed, 250 villages burnt and more than 5 lakh displaced, (of whom thousands have still to return home), this has been the single largest exodus in the country, prompted by riots.
The series was shot in the aftermath of the riots when violence was beginning to peter out but the situation was still volatile. The work tries to look at identity and displacement in a post-riot situation to go beyond the immediate characterization of the riots as communal and instead look at the interplay of issues of land, local politics and power underlying the violence.
While a slew of allegations get thrown by the warring sides on what prompted and later sustained the cycle of violence, this is not the first time the area has witnessed violence. A long history of violent clashes between Bodos and non-Bodos (Muslims, other Adivasis) of the area predates this. At the heart of it is land which after the Bodoland Territorial Accord came into being in 2003 only Bodos could buy/own. For many Muslims in relief camps, the nightmare continues as the ruling regime of Bodoland is insisting that only people with land documents will be allowed to resettle. This, the Muslims claim, only strengthens their argument that the political leadership of Bodoland was complicit in the riots to evict them from their land and villages. On the other hand, the Bodos claim that they too have been attacked, their homes burnt and villages destroyed (albeit in smaller numbers), which they say is proof of a deluge of illegal Bangladeshi migrants who are encroaching into the Bodo ‘homeland’. Given the lack of political will of the State Government to tackle the issue heads on has only compounded the resentment.
The work attempts to capture the many complexities by traversing a landscape of devastation, where relief camps and ghost villages are abutted by lush paddy fields. Some motifs recur in the images, only to show the similarity of destruction and ultimately grief. Making this series into diptychs, juxtaposing images of dislocation with the stunning landscape of Lower Assam, is meant to further a nuanced understanding of the violence and the human tragedy it caused.
– Niha Masih
Niha Masih, specialised in Photojournalism from the Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC), Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, after a degree in Literature from Lady Shriram College. She has edited the photo essay section for The Sunday Guardian. Her work has been published in Tehelka, Time Out and The Sunday Guardian. Her exhibited works include a series of exhibitions at Sarai Media Lab, as part of their ‘City as Studio’ project. She currently works on NDTV’s ground reportage and investigative show, Truth vs Hype, which has involved extensive travel across the country, covering a wide range of socio-economic and political stories. Her photographic works focuses on under-reported stories and movements whose histories are often quietly buried.