The Arts

In Sketches, Migrant Labourers' Long, Long Journey Home

'I have not been able to hold myself back because the exploitation of my people has not ended.'

New Delhi: True to his skill, well-known artist, poet and academic Sunil Abhiman Awachar, has been giving artistic expression to the plight of migrant labourers since the 21-day national lockdown began. His work has highlighted their long march home, across hundreds of kilometres – something necessitated due to the non-availability of any other means of transportation.

Several media reports have documented migrant workers’ heart-wrenching condition due to the three-week lockdown, which has eaten up their means of livelihood and shelter in many cases.

The prolific poet-artist from the Dalit community, Awachar is a professor of Marathi at Mumbai University. A Marathi poet par excellence, with several collections to his name, he has, so far, rolled out 60 black and white sketches on the condition of such people. 

Sunil Abhiman Awachar

“I took to it from the day the lockdown had begun on March 24 and have not stopped since. I have been reading news reports about the condition of these broken people on the road, who have had no arrangement made for them by the authorities who have planned the long lockdown and have instead been humiliating them with police action for trying to reach home somehow. The more I am reading, more I am in pain and producing art. There will be some more such sketches in the coming days,” Mumbai-based Awachar told The Wire.

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He has also begun writing verses on the subject. “I have not been able to hold myself back because the exploitation of my people has not ended. I grew up in a slum and rose to the position of a teacher in the Mumbai University, and yet mistreatment towards us, a nonchalant attitude to our sufferings, has not ceased to exist. What has happened during the lockdown is one example of it. At a time when so many of my people are suffering, the least I can do is to become their voice, artistically,” he said. 

For Awachar, who has always been portraying the lives of the ‘broken people,’ the travails of the migrant labourers is a natural progression of his work.

As and when he is done with a sketch, Awachar uploads work on his Facebook and Instagram pages. “As of now, posting them on social media platforms is the only way out but in coming times, I will surely exhibit them in a gallery,” he said. 

The artist then said, “Some have asked me why have I picked this subject; considering that it is so depressing and hopeless at a time when negativity has engulfed the world already due to coronavirus. But I have told them, I know no other art than portraying what is the stark reality.”  

Here is a peek at some of Awachar’s sketches.