Remembering a Friend: Every Moment Mattered

Activist and co-founder of Pedestrian Pictures, and a friend of ALF, Uvaraj passed away recently. This piece, by Deepu, published in The Hindu, was written in his memory.

It was 1999 when I sat in Alternative Law Forum to attend a Narmada Solidarity Forum meeting. There was one person who stood out in the crowd. I felt an immediate connection with the energy, passion and confidence he exuded. That was the beginning of a friendship which has seen a decade and a half of supporting and challenging each other. Two years after we first met, together with a few friends, we began Pedestrian Pictures, a media activist organisation based in Bangalore.

Uvaraj had a ‘can do attitude’ that was infectious. To Uvaraj, an idea meant a project. He never let an idea go till something materialised. Many a time, I wondered how we managed so much with so little; productions, publications, protests and travelling around the state screening films. Even with no bank balance, Pedestrian Pictures has produced over 20 films. He was the driving force behind the reach of screening independent documentary films in colleges, villages and slums. Eight youngsters began their journeys as filmmakers with Pedestrian Pictures. It was not financial support, but Uvaraj’s belief that the documentaries were imperative to the people’s movements or progress of the society. He made sure that there was a support structure in the form of facilities and equipment for young people to use.

Uvaraj was synonymous with the struggle against communalism. When Bababudan Giri was named the Ayodhya of the South, each time he got wind of the Government or Hindutva forces creating communal tensions, he would find a friend and travel to Bababudangiri. When I visited Chikkamagalur recently, everyone asked me where and how he was. He was one of those who was the driving force behind the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum, a coalition of more than 100 organisations in Karnataka.

When the district magistrate in Nagapattinam refused to accept that Dalits were being discriminated against in the relief process, I remember Uvaraj said unequivocally that we had to work with the Dalit community for which he mobilised resources. That was when he co-directed ‘Outside Mercy’, and brought the issue nationwide attention. The Iraq war took the form of a calendar on the atrocities of the U.S. government through the years. He once told me, ‘We are living in troubled times’ and that ‘there is a need for literature that would shed light on the pressing political issues.’ He initiated a book on the Gujarat riots in a series called ‘Troubled Times’. Six other books followed in this series.

As compassionate as he was with people, his interests in reducing human impact on the environment were as passionate. Uvaraj’s biography exceeds the limits of an article. From the anti-dam to Adivasi movements, from women’s issues to sexuality movements, from dalit to farmers’ movements he was there on the forefront supporting everyone.

Being around Uvaraj meant living life to its fullest as he seized every moment and made the best of it. He passed away on August 17, 2014 at the age of 42. His energy and confidence will continue to inspire many of us and give us the strength to continue the work we do.