Campaign on Forest Rights
MLF’s first documentary in 1989 was Because of Our Rights, a documentary on a struggle of forest dwellers to re-establish their lost traditional rights over Minor Forest Produce. The documentary raised the critical issue of rights of forest dwellers on forest resources. It proved conclusively that the people who live in and around forest are a part of the ecology and they protect the forest from harm. The video attempted to articulate the collective voice of the struggle, that there was a need to take the locals in confidence while framing policies related to forest management and conservation.
The documentary was widely screened in the local area, Ghad, as well as outside. The movement in Ghad was very strong. There were many people in the area who were deeply involved in the struggle. But there were also many villages and families who were not completely convinced about it. According to some of the leading activists of the struggle, the film helped to convince many of those in the fringes to join wholeheartedly in the movement. Since the film projected a strong presence of women, many women, who otherwise could not, or were not allowed to, join such a collective action, also joined the struggle.
Outside Ghad, NGOs and mass organisations were the primary audiences and the documentary helped to raise a national debate on the rights of forest dwellers on forest resources and their role in forest management. In addition, the documentary was screened to policy makers and bureaucrats. Many donor organisations, who worked with issues related to Forestry in India, and a large number of Institutions that were involved with research, management and administration purchased copies of the film and used the film extensively.
The forest dwellers of Ghad did get back some of their traditional rights. The movement in Ghad moved on to raise more serious debates on joint forest management and attempts of the state to conserve forests by declaring forest areas as national parks and sanctuaries.
Campaign on Rights of Construction Workers
MLF’s following campaign was around the rights of construction workers. In India, over 20 million people work in the construction industry, which is second only to agriculture in terms of employment provided. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the work itself where the labourers move from site to site, they are not covered under any existing law of the country meant for protection of labour. The contractors and builders took advantage of the mobile nature of the workers to exploit them. In 1985, some independent trade unions took the initiative to prepare a legislation that would protect and provide basic facilities to construction workers. The Bill was introduced in the Parliament in 1986. Immediately, the builder’s lobby introduced another Bill that was in their interest. Both the Bills were debated at the parliament, but the builders had stronger publicity and clout. In 1991 the National Campaign Committee of the Construction Labour for Central Legislation (NCCCL-CL) approached MLF for making a documentary on the issue.
The documentary, called Ballad of Builders, presented the situation of construction workers and explained the workers Bill in detail. The NCCCL-CL used the documentary extensively to campaign for the Bill with other trade unions and workers. NCCCL-CL also used the documentary to explain the Bill to the construction workers.
MLF did a parallel campaign. The documentary was screened to all political parties. Series of screenings were held for party members at centre, state and district level. The primary targets were the Left and Socialist parties because although they were sympathetic to the condition of the workers, they were carrying misconceptions about the Bill.
The builders of India had vowed to never allow the Bill to pass, some of them had even said so on the camera, but the Bill was passed in Tamil Nadu in October 1996. We cannot really claim that the film was responsible for the change in legislation. It is the long drawn struggle of the workers that precipitated such a change. But we are happy that the film played a small part in such a historic turnaround.
In 1998 we made a film Of Hosts and Hostages, on the disasterous impact of large scale tourism on the hosts. The film, shot in Goa, was extensively used by the tourism action groups of Goa in a campaign within the state and other tourism areas such as Kerala and Maharashtra.
While Of Hosts and Hostages was useful for a campaign in rural areas, audiences in urban areas were complaining of its length. So we made a shorter version of the film in 1999 called Goa Under Siege. This version drew immense national and international attention to the issue and contributed significantly to the local campaign.
Goa Under Siege was taken up by groups working on tourism issues in UK, Germany and several other European countries. In India, Goa Under Siege was repeatedly screened in Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Bangalore, Madras, Madurai and throughout Kerala. Film Festivals from all across the world, wrote to us and requested us to enter the film for competition. While we do not, under normal circumstances, enter for festivals, we have made an exception in this case, again to provide visibility to the issue. The North-Sud Media Festival 2000 held in Geneva selected the film for competition and requested the director to lead a discussion. The Ökomedia, Germany, wrote to us to send them a copy even though the last date for the submission was over. The Doubletake Documentary Film Festival, (US), the Chingari (US), the Human Rights Festival (Canada) also sent us requests for the film. It was also screened at the Film South Asia held at Kathmandu. Even though none of us could attend the festival, the film reportedly generated a lot of debate.
In Kerala, Nottam, a travelling festival of documentaries has screened it in 23 towns and cities. The film was also entered for the Mumbai International Film Festival, where it was selected as the opening film for the video section of the festival. Although the film did not win any award, it was extensively reported by the media. At a special press conference on it, we were able to successfully shift the discussion, from the merits and de-meits of the film to the issues raised by it. The press reporting following the festival, was very sympathetic to the issue, especially the local press in Maharashtra and Goa.