Excerpts from the curatorial note of "Workers and Farmers",
In our current enquiry, we focus on two movements, namely the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and the Maruti Workers Movement. These two movements are quite distinct and emerged in very different circumstances. The NBA or ‘Save Narmada Movement’ began in 1989; it brought together rural farmers, forest-dwelling Adivasis, Dalits, and various other people who depended on the river Narmada and its valley for their livelihood, environmentalists, scientists, as well as researchers. They opposed the environmental damage, large-scale displacement of people and the subsequent human rights violations that occurred in the region. This movement was also able to successfully expose the inflated costs involved in the construction of large dams and their inefficiency and put forward economically viable, sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to provide energy and water.
On the other hand, the Maruti Workers Movement began nearly a decade later in the late 1990s, at a time when the neo-liberal 'economic reforms' were well underway. In Special Economic Zones created for large-scale industries, a series of workers movements took place in Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal against meagre wages, excessive workload, mistreatment of labourers, non-regularisation of contractual workers, and adverse working conditions. In 1999-2000 the workers’ attempts to unionise demanding better hours and safer working conditions, increased wages, pension, holidays, residential facilities, education allowances for the children and regularisation of contractual jobs were crushed by the management. Though a union was formed in 2012, it was not recognised by the management and the government. A violent confrontation occurred between the workers and the management on July 18, 2012, following which 546 permanent and 1800 contract workers were laid off without any proper procedure. Many of these workers were arrested and handed long jail terms. The new forms of militant organization by creating wider networks of solidarity especially with movements across the country has become a landmark in the history of Indian trade union movements.
The issues of displacement and exploitation of labour raised by the NBA and the Maruti Workers Movement are symptomatic of the larger socio-economic violence caused by capitalist machinations. These movements are two examples of the resistance to Global Capitalism and its exploitation of people and resources across the globe. Both these movements challenge the consumerist hunger as well as the silence of the neo-liberal ‘dreaming collective’, an apolitical middle class, which according to Walter Benjamin has no sense of history or politics. While in the Narmada Valley people were forced to leave their homes making room for a hydro-electric dam to satisfy the energy needs of a pre-dominantly industrial and urban population, the workers in Haryana were required to subsidise automobiles by their labour for the neo-rich class of Indians. We attempt to engage with these movements through the archives of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and through a close interaction with various people involved in the Maruti Workers Movement. We already have an archive created by Narmada Bachao Andolan which contains an extensive number of photographs, videos, reports, etc., to engage with. Nevertheless, we have to collectively create an archive for the Maruti Workers Movement in order to understand equally, the commonalities and as well as the particularities of these two movements. In the course of this edition, through a series of events, we propose to record testimonies, produce fact-finding reports, surveys, etc., to generate further discussion on these two movements and draw both inspiration and lessons. In order to achieve our aims, we would like to raise the following seminal questions which we hold seminal to our practice-
In what ways can art contribute to the theory and practice of the changing nature of citizenship and in order to strengthen it?
Can Indian contemporary art contribute to a more progressive and inclusive community? Is there any space for art beyond the current art world and the white cube space?
What are the pertinent questions related to citizenship, activism, and socio-political disparities which the artists would like to address?
Can the contemporary art practice involve the public which is outside the spheres of cultural production and consumption? Can it transform the dreaming collective and force an apolitical middle class to understand the rising crisis that its consumption creates?
What are the potentials and limitations of working with communities? What are the ethics involved in a socially informed curatorial practice?"