Friday 3 May 2013

Joe Sacco

Chechnya has been in the spotlight recently after the Boston bombers (Tsarnaev brothers) were revealed to be of Chechen origin. How exactly did these two young men (Tamerlan, the elder was 26 and his younger brother, Dzhokhar was 19) get radicalised is something which will continue to be debated for some time. However, to get a very informative snapshot of what has been happening in Chechnya and the existing conditions there, I would recommend that you go through Joe Sacco’s latest collection –Journalism (Random house). Joe Sacco, an American of Maltese origin, is the leading proponent of what is known as comics journalism and has been reporting from conflict zones around the world (Palestine is perhaps his most well known work which exposes the inhuman conditions Palestinians have to face in their daily lives). Journalism consists of his reporting from travel to six locations around the world–The Hague (war crimes tribunal), Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Malta (Immigration issues from Africa) and India (Condition of dalits in Kushinagar –U.P, published in ‘Caravan’ earlier).
The story about Chechnya is based on Sacco’s interactions with Chechen refugees in refugee camps/centres in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia where they had fled after Boris Yelstin launched an all out war on Chechnya in 1994 to curb the insurgency. The refugees continue to stay in pitiable conditions even as the Russian forces coerce them to return to Chechnya (to show to the world that things have ‘normalised’ in this troubled part). The ground reality in Chechnya is still very different from what the Russians would like to project to the world.Inspite of presence of large no of Russian soldiers, frequent encounters with the rebels, suicide bombings, danger of landmines, imposition of curfew, power cuts etc have made the refugees averse to returning to Chechnya and they continue to stay put in these camps inspite of the lack of proper facilities/space. In fact one woman mistakes Joe (who is accompanied by a Russian bodyguard) as someone who has come to take her back to Chechnya and starts howling that she does not want to go back. Through interaction with another refugee woman we come to know that Chechens have been at the receiving end of the Russians since the eighteenth century and inspite of various brutal attacks on Chechens, Russians have never been able to successfully quell them.

This story along with the other five stories in this collection bring to forth atrocities humans are capable of inflicting on other humans be it for caste differences, religion, region or difference in colour of the skin. The art work by Joe Sacco is first class as usual and we can clearly see the anguish on the face of the victims. A brief note after each story helps to put the story in the right perspective. For those who have not read anything of Joe Sacco earlier, this collection would be a good one to make a beginning. If you like this collection, then I would recommend you immediately go for Palestine (also published by Random house and available at most leading book shops).

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