Representing the Ruination of Indigenous Lands on the Bangladesh-India Border
In an ongoing fictional story comprised of staged otherworldly black and white photographs, Aishwarya Arumbakkam draws on mythology and mysticism to portray the destructive impact of mining near a Khasi community in Lama Punji, Bangladesh.
ka Dingiei is a story about the human environment, conflict, and Indigenous issues.
What happens when land is lost? When a community loses land, there is a visible loss of property and livelihood. But there are also deeper, intangible losses that are arguably more valuable. The loss of culture, mythology, knowledge systems and identity.
This is what’s happening at Lama Punji, a small Khasi village of 40 families located at the border of India and Bangladesh. Like any indigenous community, there is a close association between the Khasi identity, their way of life and their land. However, since 1998, the area surrounding Lama Punji has been subject to large-scale destruction because of stone and sand mining, and stone crushing. This destruction is felt not just in the physical and socio-economic landscape, but also in the community’s mythical and cultural landscape. As a minority, Khasi's don’t have adequate rights or power to fight this encroachment. Discriminatory government policies, politically backed corporations, legal loopholes, and the lure of development ensure the mines keep running.
While being relevant locally to the Khasi community, there is a sad universality to this tale. Indigenous communities around the world are being subject to the removal of lands, denial of culture, marginalisation and discrimination. ka Dingiei is a reflection of the current plight of Lama Punji while also functioning as an archive of and for it.
Words and Pictures by Aishwarya Arumbakkam.
Aishwarya Arumbakkam is an Indian photographer and filmmaker. Her primary areas of interest are mythology, cultural narratives, portraiture and bookmaking. She is currently working on ongoing projects based in India and Bangladesh. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.