Whither Jhum Cultivation ? by PARVINDER SINGH

7th September 2008 1 By Nandini
India International Centre Diary

India International Centre Diary

FILM: Ambi Jiji’s Retirement by Nandini Bedi
Collaboration: Public Service Broadcasting
Trust, July 24

In this age of meta-discourses of the environment, even a neutral depiction of shifting or jhum cultivation can be condemned to preconceived judgements. After all, there is no dearth of mainstream academic notions of what is damaging to the environment, but Nandini Bedi?s short film, Ambi Jiji’s Retirement, is a heart-rending caution against a two-dimensional view of community-based social and economic systems that once thrived in varied ecological systems.

The film that bagged the top award at this year?s Jeevika Film Festival, captures the life of Ambi Jiji, an 80-year- old resident of the West Garo Hills in Meghalaya, as she witnesses, in the very act of her children and grandchildren buying food from the market, the death of a centuries-old tradition of claiming from cleared forest lands everything that was needed for a life of dignity.

The story details a shift from a community-run jhum cultivation to emergence of permanent plantation, which reduces availability of land for regeneration and multi-crop cultivation, in the very life span of the protagonist.

Some of Ambi Jiji?s descendents have accepted the market-driven change, while others are losing the independence and food security to become agricultural labourers. These changes are creating social ruptures in a close- knit community, and the old lady is shown trying to put up a fight to save the traditional notions of ownership that are being undermined by private registration of land.

There is no attempt to preach a solution, but there is a desire to draw home glimpses of a disintegrating community life that existed in harmony with nature, till it lost out on the definition of local versus global and ecologically sound versus bad.

As the director herself said, it poses a question: ?Are we witnessing more generally known global phenomena in a remote village in Meghalaya??


See page Ambi Jiji’s Retirement