Touch Has A Memory (Odisha)
It has been in my heart since I was in my mother’s womb.
When I say that sentence, I really mean it. When my mom was pregnant, she loved to watch Ramayana series which was aired in television in the early 90s. When I was born, it seemed that she had no other interest but giving me last name Shinta, just like the name of the character in the Ramayana story. Sometimes I questioned this to my self why I loved Bollywood so much, and stop asking when I found out about the story behind my last name.
I remember five years ago I watched a documentary entitled Untouchable: Children of God. This film was one of a few films that moved me to be brave to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Five years later, through my friendship with indigenous activists from Odisha, I get deeper understanding of this word untouchable. The struggles of indigenous people against capitalism and supremacy power created by caste in society are so real.
1st International Indigenous Film Festival (Bhubaneswar, Puri)
February 16th 2019.
It’s a long way to go from Kalimantan to Odisha. We took four flights in total. Palangka Raya – Jakarta, Jakarta – Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur – Kolkata, Kolkata – Bhubaneswar. Thanks God I was bulletproof! I set my feet in Kolkata, a city in India which really got my attention since I read about Mother Theresa’s humanitarian works.
We were excited for its first international indigenous film festival. Our friends from Video Republic had worked so hard to prepare everything. I heard other indigenous women leaders were also coming. During the flights, I kept thinking about how this event would be a historic moment for indigenous communities in India.
Sometimes, it can be a very long way toward the victory.
Somehow, everyone should find his or her role in this story.
Somewhere, angels will be coming your way.
And we will overcome, someday.
I started to realize about the issues faced by my community was just five years ago. Till today, it still feels like someone slap me on face then I wake up from deep sleep. It propels me to go forward and keep moving to advocate, educate and to create the changes that we long to see. Sometimes I still regret why I did not understand this while I was in the college.
It's very different to the situation happen to our friends, Adivasi students of Niyamgiri who study in Bhubaneswar. While study they also fight against injustice and violation done by Vedanta who destroy their hill, forest, river, home. Like they said in their appeal, "We are the first generation of students from Niyamgiri who are pursuing education and post-graduation so we cannot afford to neglect the responsibility of being educated for our society." Yet they still do the best to protect their people and their home.
On February 24th we went to Niyamgiri with other fellow activists and filmmakers. There were fifteen of us. It took twelve hours drive by bus. As that was my first experience getting in Indian bus, I was a bit hesitant to take the space which they called ‘sleeper’. It’s a space where you can lay down. Later I found out that Indian public transportation like bus or train always has this system. I was not sure that I would be able to lay horizontally in the moving vehicle without vomiting so I decided to take the seat instead. On February 25th, we arrived in Niyamgiri and stayed with Dongria Kondh community for three days.
Sometimes what's real is something we cannot see.
Love is real. Fear is also real. But surely, one of them never pays you back.
Heart break and misery can be so painful till them make us forget how to smile. But love always gives joy, even in the tears. At least that's what I experienced when I met these amazing souls from Dongria Kondh community. I cried a lot. But I smiled even more. By then I decided not to give up in humanity.
Now I really dislike the common term that people use to define Adivasi and Dalit communities. “The untouchable,” people said. It does not make sense to me. They are touchable. By touching and hugging them, I create a precious memory that will remain for the lifetime.
And now I feel the urgency in my heart, it's important for us to stand with indigenous communities in India who have been treated in injustice for a long time; tortured, jailed, beaten, even murdered. Yet they are still fighting bravely for their children, for their young generation, for their land and forest, for their dignity as human being. My visit to Odisha, especially Niyamgiri, makes me realize there is a lot of works need to be done. Education and health care are very important. We cannot help all people, we are not superheroes. But here is what we carry since we start to stand: We are only ordinary people who refuse to stay and do nothing. We need to act and do something. Even the smallest can change the world.
This trip is more than just attending a film festival. It's also more than an act of activists’ solidarity. It's a life sharing moment where we are able to unite our hearts and spirits to look for, and create better future.