VIDEO: No Malnutrition – The Tea Gardens of Bengal

 

When I was asked about my video, I initially wanted to talk about some of the theoretical aspects of the politics of pain that underlies such an act of protest – an act that the world would define as ‘performance’. But then, ‘performance’ is a word that I am very skeptical about. Rather, the basic question that has most disturbed me in the recent past has been the question of my identity. Who am I? Am I an artiste? Am I a performer? Am I an activist? To my mind, all of these words bear certain class connotations. Further, they become representative of certain classes. And hence, all of these identities have their own specific class politics.

Also, none of them are linear in nature. Hence there has to be a non-linearity in the process of what you call ‘performance’, or what I think is my ‘work’. I feel that the structure of this work is not at all linear. If one wants to think a little bit more, then the following question would arise: what is the class position of the character (meaning ‘I’) doing this work? Am I a person who just wants to drink tea, but who is being tied up and tortured because he has never acknowledged the problems of the tea gardens? In other words, is it the workers who are torturing me, in an invisible ‘counter-act’ (or should we say, like ‘Bibek’ in a jatra)? Or is it that I am becoming one with the workers’ resistance? This may well be so, because it is worth noting that the first time that I hum ‘Halla Bol’ in the video is preceded by the byte from the gentleman in the blue shirt – who is the one who addresses (for the first time) the respective positions of the workers and the management. ‘Halla Bol’ comes along with the cut in that shot. Then, is it the case that the ‘I’, who was being tortured for so long is slowly starting to be able to relate to the condition of the workers? Is he beginning to develop a kind of identification with the level of injustice and torture that the workers face? This pointer here is important. Because it is at this point that I take off my cap and you begin to see my face. In a sense, it is an attempt to express/reveal my identity.

But then again, look at the end: the place where Gautam Deb’s comments begin to be echoed. There, you will notice, at that moment, I am trying to drink tea, but I cannot. The tea does not reach my mouth. My tea-drinking never ends. It is never-ending. Does this not push me back towards my initial identity? Therefore, again, who am I? This confusion is crucial. What is, in the end, my class position? I want this question to remain. That is why I have edited the video in this way. It is apparently simple. But these thoughts are there.

In an interview to NDTV in 2014, Gautam Deb, a TMC Leader in North Bengal said, “Officially or unofficially there is no malnutrition”. Over the last decade, around 1200 workers in various tea gardens of North Bengal have died.

Of course, they just had their kidneys or livers damaged due to alcohol. Because, you know, there is no malnutrition. Out of these 1200, around 150 died this year in 2015. The daily wage of the workers being 132.5 INR, but of course, a thing such as ‘malnutrition’ cannot exist. So, here I pay a tribute to the words of the wise man, “No Malnutrition”.

-Tamoghna Halder, student


Translated by Trina Nileena Banerjee from Bengali
Edited by Manisha

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