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‘Walls and the Tiger’ documentary: Indian farmers’ struggle to defend their land

Farmer in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Southeast India (Credit: Sushma Kallam)

The destruction of rural people and their lands in the name of development is happening around the world. In an effort to bring understanding to the struggle faced by such communities, first-time director Sushma Kallam produced a documentary film to depict the Indian version of this increasingly global story.

“Walls and the Tiger” (2014), which premieres publicly in Seattle for the first time today, Friday, May 13 at the University of Washington, tells the story of a rural farming community in the Kona Forest region in South India struggling against the seizure and selling of their land. The Indian government and large corporations that have taken over the land intend to use it for the construction of coal-powered fuel plants and industrial parks in “special economic zones.”

The farmer-villagers have responded in protest, arguing that the corporations are the only ones who benefit from the project, while farmers and their communities become quickly impoverished. The documentary follows the activists in their campaign to protect and sustain their communities, demonstrating that when the “walls” of development begin to threaten them, “the tiger” strikes back.

Their documentary, moreover, shows the devastating effects of India’s efforts to capitalize on emerging foreign markets, echoing a similar struggle faced by communities around the world.

In order to tell this story, Kallam spent a lot of time in the Kona Forest community, over six years creating the film, to gain the trust of these activists.

“These are people who I have tremendous respect for, and I wanted to present that respect,” said Kallam in an interview with Humanosphere. “I wanted to show the underlying fabric of these communities.”

During the years she has spent as an IT consultant in the U.S., specializing in supply-chain management, Kallam began to understand the devastating impacts certain development policies have had on rural communities around the world.

“As both a corporate consultant and a descendant of farmers,” Sierra Club writes, “Kallam has a unique perspective in connecting these two disparate worlds by showing the effects of their interdependency to meet our consumer demands.”

By taking the audience into the heart of the Kona Forest villagers’ struggle, the documentary gives viewers the opportunity to understand a complicated global issue; and that understanding, Kallam said, makes a world of difference to the activists still trying to reclaim their land.

“When there is somebody who is not even related to them, who is not even from that country, and yet they pay attention to them. … That’s an incredible encouragement to their community,” Kallam said. “It gives them the strength to continue to fight for justice.”

Kallam hopes that the film’s impact will be twofold: to help the Kona Forest farmers realize and carry out more peaceful ways to fight for justice, and for Western audiences to be conscious of how their purchases and other actions often directly affect people in the developing world.

“In the West, I would like more awareness of the effect our actions have on other communities,” she said. “We are all connected to some extent. It’s about having mindfulness … and trying to see the invisible thread that connects us all.”

“Walls and the Tiger” film screening and panel discussion with Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant: Friday, May 13 from 6 – 8 p.m., Communications Building (CMU) at UW

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About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com