For a bureaucrat sitting in some obscure government office in New Delhi, Purulia, located in the eastern part of Chota Nagpur plateau is yet another backward place in India. The region, which was earlier known as Jungle Mahal district owing to its vast forest cover, saw a new district, Manbhum, being curved out of in 1833. In 1956 Manbhum district was partitioned between Bihar and West Bengal under the State Recognition Act and the Bihar and West Bengal (Transfer of Territories) Act, 1956, resulting the present district Purulia on 1st November, 1956. In 2006 the “Ministry of Panchayati Raj” named Purulia one of the country’s 250 most backward districts which has received funds from the “Backward Regions Grant Fund programme (BRGF)”. Intense Maoist insurgency from early 2000s has become a major hindrance to the socio-economic development in Purulia for a decade, worsen the situation more. Due to this, the entire district of Purulia still suffers the deprivation of economic, health and educational initiatives. As per 2011 census, 87.26% of total population are residing in rural areas here. In Purulia, 18.45% of the total population are tribal population which is 10.52% of the total tribal population of West Bengal (census 2011), mainly inhabit forest and hilly areas. The total forest cover in Purulia is 18,57,226 hectares which is 29.69 % of the total land.
Since 2009, I have been travelling to the interior parts of Purulia. During my several visits, I became overwhelmed by the diversity in its landscape, simple lifestyle of people and rich traditional culture. But for the average resident here, the sufferings in daily life are plenty. Earning a proper livelihood is a distant dream for many. With almost 50% of the population Below Poverty Line (BPL), the district has a high migration rate. The condition of education, health, electricity, transport and irrigation systems is not very encouraging, mainly in the rural areas. Till now, in most of the rural areas of Purulia, sending children to school is considered to be luxurious for the parents. They rather prefer to send their children to work to counter poverty by supporting their family. Besides agriculture, Purulia’s forest-dwelling indigenous communities have been utilized various biodiversity elements in forests to augment their livelihoods and fortify their nutritional security. Cultivation is predominantly mono-cropped here. Almost 60% of the total cultivated land is upland. Undulated topography, the pebbly nature of soil and lack of abundant rainfall makes agriculture very difficult here. Nearly 50% of the rainfall flows away as runoff. Out of total agricultural holding, around 73% belongs to small and marginal farmers having fragmented smallholding.
Per hectare production is also low here as the crops are mainly grown under rainfed condition with low fertilizer consumption. Nowadays, the district is rapidly losing much of its green cover to the unscrupulous timber merchants and the influential, greedy business men to facilitate illegal construction inside the forest areas. Indiscriminate deforestation is making the tribal and indigenous communities more vulnerable by not only snatching their land but also forcefully uproots them from their traditional culture and legacy.
My Purulia diary is not a personal diary in the truest sense. Rather than it aims to portray the sufferings of its deprived indigenous and tribal communities due to poor socio-economic status and problems to sustain their livelihood. In the age of development and globalization they still have to fight the problems of illiteracy, poverty, ill health, poor livelihood and low income which force them to survive in primitive conditions. In April, 2022 (the year of India’s 75th independence), a new paper by World Bank researchers estimates extreme poverty in India is higher than previously thought at 10.2% in 2019. This kind of harsh reality is a genuine stigma to the world’s fastest growing country (5th largest economy).
I was brought up in a lower middle-class family. The surroundings I grew up in had left a deep impact on my life. I have always been curious by the intimacy with nature and simple living. I have come to recognize as my ancestry. After completion of my schooling, I had to migrate from the leisurely outskirts of a town to the busy life of a city for higher studies. The city engulfed the large canvas of boundless sky, silent moments of my home, noisy wings of the pigeons, my innocence and dreamy nights. Since then, I have been trying to relate my inner world with the fast outer world. I believe that artists are responsible for unearthing the truth, illuminate the margins and make social awareness by their works for future betterment. As a practitioner of visual art from my schooldays, I have always found it more effective to express myself through photography or painting. While I am at home or visiting places, always in search of my own existence comparing to the outer world and discover myself in some new feelings. As a simple human being and visitor, sometimes I felt very feeble for not able to contribute any real help to the marginalized people of Purulia. Through my work, I want to be a voice for them, and this state of mind urges me to photograph my feelings and my experiences in Purulia.