An exhibit about the tragic fate of tribal people in India

It’s not always a good news when your land contains a large reserve of mineral wealth, at least not in India. In “A Disappearing World”, Photographer Robert Wallis reveals how India’s most ancestral tribe struggles against both the state and big corporations to stay alive.

I lived in India for 6 months and traveled around the country quite a lot. I’ve lived within Indian families enough that they have considered me one of their own. In fact, I’ve immersed myself in the culture in a way few Europeans dare to.

As a journalist, I have also followed Indian news attentively. After all, they affect my friends, some of the people I’m closest to. Yet I’ve missed out on what constitutes the fate of 26 million people in a province I was never really told about: Jarkhand.

Work based on image:India Jharkhand locator map.svg. Made by User:Haros based on map created by w:user:Nichalp & w:user:Planemad.

Jarkhand – A rich Indian state not to be proud about

Jarkhand is rich yet filled with misery. It isn’t a state the usual Indian would proudly boast about. I discovered why in a photography exhibit at SOAS in London. As usual, I like to write to share what I’ve learned.

The source of Jarkhand’s wealth and misery lies in its soil. According to the Department of Forest and Environment of Jarkhand, “40% of the total minerals of the country are available in the state. The state is the sole producer of cooking coal, Uranium and Pyrite. It also ranks first in the production of coal, mica, Kyanite and copper in India.”

Hence, with the well-known unprecedented economic boost India is experiencing, mining corporations are taking over Jarkhand’s lands to extract its raw materials at an ever-increasing rate. But at what cost?

See the consequences of Jarkhand’s wealth at Brunei Gallery

Through his exhibit, Robert Wallis shows that Jarkhand is also home to “non-Hindu tribal groups, known as Adivasi, [who] have traditionally worshiped nature and maintained spiritual connections to ancestral territory where they have lived for thousands of years.”

Residing in the state’s dense forests, they draw all their basic necessities from a nature that is now disappearing. Wallis titled his series of photographs “A Disappearing World” justifiably. In fact, the Adivasis’ lifestyle and traditions are disappearing along with them.

Wallis’ powerful photographs show how today’s reality in Jarkhand contrasts with the tribes’ ancestral lifestyle. Jarkhand’s prolific natural resources is now the object of our modern capitalistic world’s needs. Exploitation of the country’s natural resources is condemning the fate of a culture that has lived in harmony with their land for centuries.

When: April 15th – June 25th 2011

Where: Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London.

Start challenging perceptions

To find out more about this issue and what you can do to help, I recommend visiting:

For more photos from Robert Wallis, please take a look at:

Robert Wallis – Panos Pictures – Dark Side of the Boom

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2012: why not think positive?

2012 is approaching. Visions of the end of the world, catastrophic events, or the apocalyptic doom may immediatly come to your mind when the year 2012 is mentionned. But 2012: A time for change is a documentary that will give you a different vision of the year that is coming.

Nostradamus, the Mayan prophecy, the Free Masons, and a number of infamous astrologers all point to 2012 as a defining moment of change. If the 90’s were characterized by a rising fear of the year 2000, the world has witnessed a rising fear of the date of December 21st, 2012. With the help of the “doomsday theories”, the media has been quite successful at dramatizing our future.

2012 – the hype about how the end is near?

Early in 2007, an article titled “Does Maya calendar predict 2012 apocalypse?” was published in USA Today. In it G. Jeffrey MacDonald wrote: “Since November, at least three new books on 2012 have arrived in mainstream bookstores. A fourth is due this fall.” Not only many websites have been created for the occasion but a great many videos on Youtube have been dedicated to these quite pessimistic predictions. Many movies have also been inspired by the theories. 2012 and I am Legend are just a couple of famous examples. Documentary series on The History Channel as well as on Discovery Channel have given a focus on this same issue: Decoding the Past (2005), End of days (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and  2012 Apocalypse (2009) [click on the links to view parts of these documentaries].

In reaction to this phenomenon and to calm people down, articles have been written about how largely over hyped the whole issue has been [read this MSNBC article for example]. However, as journalist Benjamin Radford wrote in an article published on, “while many authors and 2012 ‘experts’ are playing up the doomsday scenario, others believe that the year will bring not disaster but a new era of global harmon”.

Think again, what if 2012 wasn’t what you’re always being told?

Indeed, behind this big wave of gloomy narratives being presented to us, hides a few who are trying to convey a more optimistic message. This was the subject of a book by author Daniel Pinchbeck who wrote  2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, published in spring 2006. Pinchbeck then collaborated with New york-based director João Amorim to turn this book into a Documentary Film titled 2012: A Time for Change, which is due to be released in festivals and selected venues throughout 2011.

I don’t mean to advocate that the views expressed in 2012: A Time for Change are completely original. As movie critic John Hartl wrote in The Seattle Times, it is indeed “a thought-provoking examination of some of the same issues explored in ‘Avatar’, ‘Crude’ and Hollywood’s bigger-budget 2009 disaster epic, ‘2012’. But while the negative theories about 2012  have largely populated our screens, 2012: A Time for Change does offer a refreshing take on what may (or may not) be coming to us.

Instead of scaring its audience, in his review of the film, Sander Hicks explains how 2012: A Time for Change offers “a vision that asserts that human creativity, scientific innovation and a new vision of spirituality are powerful forces creating a huge paradigm shift,  here and now, taking us off the path of death, into new life.” Emmy-award nominee João Amorim provides his audience with a lot of optimism for 2012.

Why not think positive for a change?

Neil Genzlinger gave a rather negative review of the film, which he published in the New York Times. He accused it of being naive and proclaimed that the interviewees, which included celebrities like Sting and David Lynch, don’t “seem to acknowledge that the planet has almost seven billion people on it or have room in their worldview for annoying facts of life like brutal dictators, ethnic hatred, entrenched poverty and plain old greed”.

I don’t totally disagree with this view but it seems to me that, in our modern societies, we are confronted with these “facts of life” in our everyday life through the news and other media that I have mentionned above. Instead of pointing out to all the problems in the world, 2012: A Time for Change offers a different perspective that provides a window to the viewer that is overwhelmed with doom.

See the trailer here. If you want to host a screening, buy the DVD or  see when the film is going to be screened in a theatre near you, go to the 2012: A Time for Change website.

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From the war on Vietnam’s protests to today’s anti-war protests, has anything changed?

This photograph was taken in the U.S during a protest against the war in Vietnam about 40 years ago.

What do you think about this slogan in relation to the evolution of the political and military situation of the United States?

Sri Lanka faces an immediate humanitarian crisis.

Severe rainfall has displaced more than a million people in Sri Lanka over the past few days. More than 30 people are dead and the UN fears an outbreak of diseases that could threaten hundreds of thousands.

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, General Secretary of Sarvodaya, said that infrastructure damages caused by the floods could be equivalent to those caused by the Tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004. Emergency disaster relief teams are now working around the clock and trucks have been sent to distribute aid packages along with food supplies in Eastern Sri Lanka.

Sarvodaya is the largest people’s organisation in Sri Lanka

Present in over 15, 000 villages. Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement, has received hundreds of international awards including the Gandhi Peace prize and he was nominated more than five times for the Nobel Prize. Several reconstruction and development programmes were put in place by Sarvodaya not only for victims of the tsunami but also for all the internally displaced by thirty years of civil war.

Now more efforts will be needed for those regions hit by the floods but the Sri Lankan government doesn’t have the same ressources as the Australian government to tackle such an immediate humanitarian crisis. Yet news about the australian floods are attracting much more international media attention than Sri Lanka.

What’s nothing to you may mean the world to them.

5 (or less than $10) are enough feed a family of five for two days in Sri Lanka. Sarvodaya needs cash to purchase needs locally (food, clothing and blankets; medical supplies; sanitary items; and tents or other forms of temporary shelter). They do this to bolster local economies rather than hurt them with imported supplies.

A few bucks can go a long way, so here is the link if you’d be able to make donations:

If you can’t donate, you can still help. Tag International Developement will be donating 50p to Savodaya every time someone “likes” or “tweets” this blog post:


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Pakistan’s muted cry for help

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that the disaster in Pakistan is like “few the world has ever seen, requiring a response to match.” But compared to all recent major disasters, Pakistan’s flood aid is coming at a much slower pace. Is the West letting Pakistan down?

A friend of mine who was coming to visit from France last weekend made this comment to me in the tube: “so many people trying to raise funds on the streets here for the victims of Pakistan’s flood. In Paris, I barely ever noticed anyone collecting anything for them since the catastrophy started.” In London, she felt it was different.

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I believe it is true that here in London efforts made for the Pakistanis can be seen. Young people collect money in the tubes and on street corners for charities in action back in Pakistan. Posters are everywhere and I even received a text from Orange today telling me to send a text back to help UNICEF‘s efforts.

What’s behind the West’s lack of support?

I started questioning why the reaction is not like that in France. In fact, the BBC indirectly questionned and explained that recently in an article titled: “Who cares about Pakistan?” written by Jude Sheerin. In this article, Mrs Sheerin gives 5 main reasons why people are feeling less concerned about the Pakistani flood:

– “Donor fatigues” – There has been a number of natural disasters over the past couple of years.
-“Corruption” – The international image of the Pakistani government.
– “Terrorism” – The Talibans’ presence there.
– “Timing” – This is happening right after Haiti’s earthquake and the financial crisis.
– “‘Wrong’ disaster” – It happened gradually with no sudden catastrophe, and the media is missing its drama there.

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I understand most of the reasons given are well-grounded. The seemingly increasing threat of global warming, the recession, the current international conflicts… It’s starting to be to much for the western man.

Is the lack of support from the West justifiable?

Dr Marie Lall, Pakistan expert at the Royal Institute of International Affair, when she says: “The [2004] Indian Ocean tsunami, the Burmese Cyclone [Nargis, 2008], the [2005] Pakistan earthquake, and [this year’s] Haiti earthquake. It is getting too much; we are in a recession and people are short of money.”

This is quite understandable. But are we so much in our bubble that we’d rather care for our next month’s salary than a child stuck on a roof with no food?

I understand people’s doubt about corruption based on the current state of the Pakistani government. Dr Marie Lall says: “People in Pakistan are sceptical the government will be transparent. But they are giving to philanthropic organisations. In the UK, I think people are sceptical of [non-governmental organisations’] overheads and costs.” But will we also reach a point where we will stop trusting non-governmental organisations?

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And terrorism… well what do I say about terrorism? Hasn’t it been the best excuse for all mistakes perpetrated by the west in the past few years? A BBC article 2 days ago was titled “Pakistan flood victims ‘have no concept of terrorism'”.

And have we become so terrorised by the Talibans that we would let a whole population down because of them? After all it’s not about helping the Talibans. It’s about helping people, human lives. Couldn’t that actually participate in giving the west a better image than the Talibans in Pakistan?

Pakistan’s disaster and the media

And finally, how can there ever be any “wrong” disaster? Professor Dean Karlan says: “Sudden events seem to generate more funds. A flood (and droughts) happen gradually and build. There isn’t any one single day in which news is huge. For the same reason, this pushes the story away from the media spotlight. But massive and sudden earthquakes or tsunamis draw our immediate attention and shock us.”

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I feel the media is simply not doing the best of jobs in reporting the issues. This disaster doesn’t seem dramatic enough, but ironicaly lives have been affected more than ever before. The UN reported 13.8 million people affected by the flood.

A UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) press release said, “this is a higher figure than those who were affected by the 2005 South Asia tsunami (five million), the 2005 South Asia earthquake (three million), or the 2010 Haiti earthquake (three million). The estimate of homes destroyed or seriously damaged — 290,000 — is almost the same as those destroyed in Haiti.” So what exactly is less dramatic for the news?

Pakistan’s muted cry.

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However much we see happening and hear around us in London concerning the catastrophe in Pakistan, they see even less in France. But what is happening in Pakistan might deserve more attention than is actually given anywhere in the West and we are not actually seeing everything that is going on there.

All Pakistan needs today is an ear to catch their cry muted below all world’s issues .

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To all 2010 graduates…

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The academic year is coming to an end and a lot of us are about to graduate and move on with work in lives.

Back in 2005, Steve Jobs delivered a speech to Stanford’s graduates. His very inspiring words are a call to move forward by confronting your most innermost fear and to connect the dots by looking backwards. I’d like to share his speech with you here…