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Climate change is one of the most important challenges of our time. Environmental toxicity arising out of chemical agriculture in the state of Punjab in India inspired me to meet with organic farmers, wildlife conservationists and tribal artists, and share their story with the world. Each of them speak the same truth: “Earth is a living consciousness.” Organic farmers want insects, birds, and snakes to be protected, wildlife conservationists want forests and natural ecosystems to flourish, and tribal painters bring these aspirations together by creating beautiful Tree of Life paintings. This is what my documentary Bhoomitra (Friends of Earth) is about.
In 2011, I discovered that there were river dolphins in the River Beas, which is 30 kms from my hometown of Tarn Taran in Punjab. I had lived there for 30 years and never known about them. That’s when I realized how little knowledge I had about the biodiversity of my region.
I quickly decided to contribute to working for their conservation and started organizing school trips with children to the River Beas, and working with non-governmental organizations in the Punjab region to bring attention to the public about the relationship between river dolphins and humans. River dolphins are keystone species; their presence is a sign that the river, and thus its water, is healthy. The river Satluj, which joins the river Beas downstream, has no river dolphins because of the high level of water pollution.
Working with NGOs like Kheti Virasat Mission, Ecosikh, Dilbir Foundation, and The Anad Foundation, we developed awareness programs, ultimately leading to the creation of a green political front which was effective in bringing about awareness and public policy changes. One of the most important demands of the front was to assess the incidence of cancer in Punjab, which led to the first statewide cancer survey in 2012. Cancer in Punjab has grown with water pollution and hence the conservation of river dolphins has to be encouraged as it helps bring focus on water conservation. Further organic farming policy was created, River Beas was declared as a conservation reserve, many pesticides got banned, and pollution control measures were initiated. While changes are finally happening, progress is slow, and the Punjab region is still losing its groundwater and natural resources rapidly. In November 2017, the dense smog had paralyzed the entire region. To address this issue, and feature all the positive solutions that are already available in the region, I decided to write and produce Bhoomitra, a documentary film on this beloved part of the world and its inhabitants.
I have been inspired by the Tree of Life paintings of the gond tribe in Madhya Pradesh.
Meeting inspiring individuals from the region
Manbhavan Singh and Jagtar Singh are organic farmers working in different regions of Punjab. They are both united in ecosocialist ideology which believes that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war, and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism. For them organic farming is the best way to topple capitalist thought which is degrading the environment rapidly. Their farms are extremely beautiful places to visit with lots of trees, bird life, and a rich biodiversity, and also act as schools where children and other farmers come to learn about organic farming and its practices. Jagtar Singh has been crucial in the transformation of the Golden Temple free kitchen into a partly organic kitchen. Golden Temple is one the most important Sikh Temples in the world, and in 2016, started growing vegetables organically on its 14-acre farm. Organic farming also presents an alternative to farm fires in maintaining soil health, which provides a sanctuary for wildlife such as birds, reptiles, and small mammals.
This aids the environmental conservation efforts of Nikhil Sanger and Navdeep Sood in Punjab. Nikhil runs the Nawanshehar Conservation Society, working in the Hoshiarpur and Nawanshehar districts to preserve the last pristine forests of Punjab’s leopards, wolves, deer, and many bird species through wildlife rescue and educational workshops. Navdeep Sood, on the other hand, has been involved in wildlife conservation and education in Tarn Taran district. He is active in the Harike wildlife sanctuary, which is a Ramsar Wetland and the new Beas conservation reserve for River Dolphins and Gharials. Both agree organic farming plays a crucial for the conservation of Wildlife and Forests in Punjab.
Art is the best medium to inspire the current generation living in climate change to reconnect with nature. I have been inspired by the Tree of Life paintings of the Gond tribe in Madhya Pradesh. Tree of Life paintings are a reminder of our journey on this planet being dependent on the consciousness of the trees. Santosh Marawi is one of my favorite artists as he focuses his art on ecological restoration ideas. He dreams of a world where people, animals and trees live in harmony with each other.
Bhoomitra will be released later this year.
Sunny Sandhu is a researcher, interviewer, co-director, co-producer and musician.