First witnesses is a phrase that carries a variety of connotations. In the realm of the ancient and the spiritual, it refers to the select few who witnessed the birth of a new faith with its slain founder rising from the dead, filling them with renewed hope. In the realm of the present and the material, it has come to denote those present at the scene of a crime. Their testimony – sometimes the only hope in the subsequent battle for justice.
In some ways, the people appearing in this photography exhibition by Vijay S. Jodha at the Kamaldevi Complex of India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi, represent all of the above scenarios. Each woman, a first-hand witness to a personal tragedy involving her own husband or sometimes her father. She is thus a victim as well as the closest observer in a large-scale and ongoing agrarian crisis in India that has claimed over 300,000 lives by way of farmer suicides since 1995. A failure to arrest this trend ensures that the number of such first witnesses grows by the day. Yet few seek them out, much less ensure justice for them.
The presence of these women in these photo panels is a small attempt at highlighting such anomalies. A shared desire to have their grievances heard. Maybe in some roundabout way, putting faces to the numbers will eventually help ensure that even the weakest member of India's farming community is not left without means or dignity. In that sense, their participation here is also an act of renewed hope.
Vijay is a writer, photographer and filmmaker based in Gurgaon. He has produced five books and his projects have been showcased in galleries, museums and film festivals worldwide. He studied filmmaking at New York University and has worked with directors Ang Lee and Mira Nair.
Vijay's projects have received over seventy honours in 24 countries including grants from premier cinematic institutions. Two of his books and three of his films have been selected for archiving in the U.S. Library of Congress. Indian Confederation of Non-Government Organisations has honoured Vijay with Media Citizen Award for using media to facilitate social change.
This exhibition is sponsored by IIC, in collaboration with UNESCO. You can catch the first glimpse of all the first witnesses on March 7 at 6:30 pm sharp and relive the experience till March 18.