A version of The Sovereign Forest is on permanent display at the Samadrusti campus in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, where it opened on 15 August 2012. Visitors are invited to add to the growing body of ‘evidence’ collected. A selection of this archive of evidence is represented here. It includes photographs, lists of residents, land records and tax receipts, proofs of occupancy, maps of acquired villages, documents and a booklet of poems by a local singer called the crazy poet.
A photograph of a pre colonial document showing a financial transaction between a landowner and the royal state which established proof of ownership as well as duration of ownership and presence on the land, in Dhinkia, Odisha, the epicenter of the anti-POSCO struggle. A villager wanting to take it out of the region hid it inside a students file as he apprehended it being stolen by the local police or by pro company mafia.
The Seed Book presents a selection of images that show Natabar Sarangi in his rice fields growing and experimenting with seed varieties and an indexed archive listing each seed and its specific properties and uses.
The second small book, In Memory Of seeks to preserve the memory of farmers who have committed suicide in recent years in Odisha due to debt and bondage. The book is an unfinished memorial to the farmers who took their own lives as they were unable to resist the strategic violence of multinational agricultural corporations, the trap of high-yielding and high-investment agriculture, market fluctuations, real estate mafias, and moneylenders.
Many events have occurred during local resistances in villages that have been forgotten as time passes. In the last few years local news networks and amateur photographers, using a variety of small cameras, have documented evidence of a crime or the resistance to it even as it unfolds.The third small book acknowledges the work of local photographers in preserving thememory of important historical events. Photo Album 1: The Lying Down Protest reveals a collection of images about a remarkable protest on June 11, 2001, by the villagers of Dhinkia, Gadkujang, Govindpur, and Nuagaon in Odisha, against the forcible acquisition of their land by local police on behalf of the Korean steel company POSCO and the government of Odisha.
Photo Album 2: Kalinganagar (2012) is the fourth small book in The Sovereign Forest. It bears witness to the killing of fourteen tribals by the police in Kalinganagar Industrial Area, Odisha, while they were protesting the forcible acquisition of their lands by the Tata Iron and Steel Company. The album is presented along with eight contributed and collected images of the funeral. Framed and displayed, these images continue to tell the story begun in the album even as they resonate with the memorial stones in the film The Scene of Crime.
The fifth small book, titled Time, collates the unseen details of everyday events in an epic resistance. A timeline of an ongoing struggle from 2005 to 2013, the book, researched by Samadrusti, offers detailed insight into the moves and countermoves of the local resistance against the Korean steel company POSCO and the government of Odisha. Juxtaposed with a photograph of an old land record from the same area, a preserved and hidden document proving the duration of landownership, the book completes an ensemble of evidence that opens many ways of comprehending the multiple dimensions of loss, resistance, and unfolding violence.
The sixth small book Referendum tells the story of the historical referendum in 2013, when 12 tribal village councils voted against mining in their Niyamgiri hill ranges.
Placed in the heart of the exhibition space, the seeds with their individual names form a protected fluid core representing the wisdom and expertise of local food sovereignty. Found at “the scene of crime” and under threat of permanent disappearance, the seeds are the vocabulary of an extensive knowledge system that has been shared, experimented with, and developed over decades.
When Natabar Sarangi, a former schoolteacher recently turned rice farmer and seed activist, started cultivating rice a decade ago, he found only a handful of different seeds still in use in Odisha. He remembered all the various species of rice from his childhood, along with their shapes, tastes, and natural qualities. To preserve this rich heritage and to bring it back into the natural cycles of cultivation, he set out to collect, grow, harvest, disseminate, and archive the seeds. In The Sovereign Forest, 272 individual species of rice are represented, with each type of seed displayed in a handmade container, labeled, and archived with great care.
Accompanying the seeds are six small books that compile texts and photographic evidence. They recount the manifold levels of resistance, not only against political and corporate violations but also against the loss of memory of the dead and disappeared and of the passage of time in the struggle to preserve, resist, and survive.
The Prediction foretells the assassination of Shankar Guha Niyogi, the leader of probably the largest democratic mass movement of workers, peasants and tribals in post Independent India. Niyogi predicts his own murder, which occurred on 28th September 1991. Leading industrialists were convicted of the crime but the Supreme Court of India overturned the rulings in 2005.
The three large handmade books, each with their own films, are The Counting Sisters, The Prediction and The Constitution. Visitors are invited to turn the pages and read all the books. The Counting Sisters is a fascinating collection of stories with evidence that is embedded inside the paper such as a fishing net, a cloth garment, rice seeds, a betel leaf and a newspaper. The six Counting Sisters are mourners who count the dead, the disappeared and many more things and The One Alone counts the living.