Shefali scrambles through her day cooking and cleaning homes in Delhi. It’s backbreaking work that starts at the break of dawn and doesn’t end till well past sundown. But, she didn’t always live this life of a lowly paid, classless migrant worker struggling to make ends meet in a large confounding city. In fact, she and her husband owned land, a store and a fulfilling life in the Sundarbans. But one day, the hungry tide gobbled up their land – taking with it their home, their middle class life and worst of all – their dignity. Her heartbroken husband tried to find work in his beloved Sunderbans but was ultimately resigned to managing a tiny shop in a tiny scrap of land in the Sundarbans, despite the knowledge that this too shall be fodder for a now hostile sea.
But such is the magnetic draw of the Sundarbans, which I visited a few years ago. This unique region that is now ravenous for land is also great at stealing your heart. So profound is its tranquil beauty.
Shefali’s story of loss and displacement is just one out of numerous others who have been rendered homeless by the rising sea.
The Sundarbans Mangroves ecoregion on the coast is the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem, with 20,400 square kilometres (7,900 sq mi). Sundarban (সুন্দরবন) in Bengali means “beautiful forest”, named after the dominant mangrove species Heritiera fomes which is locally known as sundari (beautiful).
The Sundarbans are located in what used to be my beloved ancestral homeland of undivided Bengal that was partitioned into present day West Bengal and Bangladesh in 1947. Apart from having once been a sanctuary to the refugees of the bloody partition of India, the Sundarbans is a UNESCO world heritage site and home to the rare Royal Bengal Tigers, Gangetic and Irabati dolphins and other species unique to this region. But human development and climate change with its sea level and surface temperature rise, severe hurricanes and increased salinity could lead to the destruction of 75 percent of these mangroves as the sundari trees are exceptionally sensitive to salinity. This poses a threat not just for the survival of the indigenous flora and fauna but also for the protective biological shield the mangroves form against cyclones and tsunamis, putting the surrounding communities at a devastating risk. The submergence of land mass has already rendered up to 6,000 families homeless and around 70,000 people are now threatened with the same.
In an ironic twist of fate, the progeny of those who found refuge in this bucolic setting during the partition, are now becoming climate refugees with no place to call home. While we can’t stop the juggernaut of climate change from destroying life as we know it, policies within the GREEN NEW DEAL could potentially provide solutions to reduce the impact of climate change and restore a life of dignity for climate refugees.
The Compound Gallery is funding this Residency out of its own funding to help artist create art with traditional printmaking techniques (e.g., letterpress, silkscreen, etching, relief, photopolymer plates) and building a bridge between printmaking’s historic relationship to generating social/cultural/political awareness and contemporary social media/online forums. If you want to support what they do by either donating ink, paper, supplies, or monetary funds, you can do so by clicking HERE. They are fiscally sponsored via Fractured Atlas, a 501(c)(3) public charity. Contributions for the purposes of The Compound Gallery are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
* 30% of profits from sales will go towards supporting the project, 30% to HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy, and 40% to me.
And while we are at it, another nuanced article by Teju Cole from the New Yorker, about who we choose to mourn and why? Who we call terrorists and who we don’t, even when the casualties are innocent?
I am was going to post my thoughts on the distinctions between free speech and responsible speech, and Islamist extremism and Islamophobia, soon after the attacks happened. But, Joe Sacco and Teju Cole, made my life easier by saying everything I wanted to say, far more brilliantly, than I could have.
“France is in sorrow today, and will be for many weeks to come. We mourn with France. We ought to. But it is also true that violence from “our” side continues unabated. By this time next month, in all likelihood, many more “young men of military age” and many others, neither young nor male, will have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. If past strikes are anything to go by, many of these people will be innocent of wrongdoing. Their deaths will be considered as natural and incontestable as deaths like Menocchio’s, under the Inquisition. Those of us who are writers will not consider our pencils broken by such killings. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.” (-Teju Cole, January 9th, 2015)
I am posting this on a wider forum, because, when I expressed my thoughts on Facebook about using the massacre to dig deeper on the responsibilities that come with free speech, and to think about why the world is the way it is today, I was accused of justifying what happened, which, I am not.
The irony of the defenders of free speech asking me to shut up, wasn’t lost on me.
I hope that these articles will help form us a wider narrative of the world, every single day that the world is being polarized by our shameless media conglomerates, because the truth, is that a deeper understanding of our constantly, shifting and changing, and largely, gray world, will guarantee more security and safety for all of us – not calls for Jihad, nor the calls to bomb places “back to the stone age”, and certainly not by turning our backs on the atrocities perpetuated by our own governments on its people, and innocents elsewhere.