I first visited Mahan forest in March 2013 to document the ongoing protests of indigenous people against acquisition of forest land for coal mining. Once there, I felt a need for a longer engagement with people and started working with local organisation in order to understand relationship these indigenous communities share with their forests. In last two years, I extensively interacted and interviewed these communities and their individual members and got to know about the deep seated corruption, exploitation and insidious administrative policies that threaten the livelihood of people in at least 54 villages surrounding the forest.
The Portraits, I made in Mahan, document the dignity of a way of life and celebrate the legacy of individual, who sustains that environment and culture. By capturing these Individuals members at this critical time when the people of Mahan are facing significant social and economic changes, these portraits, chronicle the changing face of these communities. Their struggle is not just for basic rights but also to an attempt to assert their identity and gain respect and acknowledgement for it, to preserve a forest that defines who they are and where they belong.
Text and Photograph by Vinit Gupta