Ghoramara is an island located on a delta region in West Bengal. Due to climate change (melting ice in the Himalayas, specifically), the island is disappearing. In fact, since 1969, it is has shrunk to approximately half its past size.
Although the Indian census data (from 2001) claims that the island is home to 5,000 people, an actual visit there will tell you otherwise. By some estimates, two-thirds of the population have moved away from the island over the past few years.
And of the people still living on the island, those who are managing to scrape out a livelihood, a huge majority are farmers and fishermen. In other words, people who depend on the island’s dwindling physical existence for their livelihoods.
South Korean photographer Daesung Lee traveled to the island to 2012 to make these images. While there, he discovered a proud but increasingly desperate community. Within the community, he said: “I could see the traces of a heritage vanishing by the rising tides. Exposed roots of plants destroyed by the erosion serve to illustrate the absence of foundation in the lives of these people. The sea is swallowing up their past while their future remains unknown.”
From outside the community, the picture is not much better. For example, in conversations with an Indian civil servant, he learned that over the next two decades, the Indian government could very well abolish the island. In fact, it has already formulated a plan to evacuate villagers to another island—but this evacuation plan contains no assurances for financial support or compensation.
In the words of Lee, “the continually receding shore and vanishing vegetation leave behind a coast of sediment holding an ironic beauty of its own amid the increasingly barren shores. You could call it a tragic beauty caused by human hands.
“I situated villagers on the shore and took portraits of them in juxtaposition with the beauty of the vanishing island to make it look unrealistic. But it is a real situation of the people where they live. There will come a day when these people will have no choice but to move out of their homeland. One day, this island on which they were born will only exist in their memories—as an unreal place.”
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