‘In the matter Re: Rights of Nature. A Staged Hearing,’ 2023 Khoj and Zuleikha Chaudari

Life is complex and fragile with bodies and ecologies interwoven with each other in their vulnerabilities. But when life is understood only as human, in its narrowest definition, how can we reinvent the terms of what and who counts?

In the matter Re: Rights of Nature is the fourth iteration of Khoj’s 3-year-long project, “Does the Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities” which explores the troubled, toxic ecologies of Delhi’s air. 

In the matter Re: Rights of Nature takes the form of a semi-scripted, fictional National Green Tribunal (NGT) hearing exploring the relationships between air pollution in the Delhi / National Capital Region (NCR) and the stubble burning phenomena which occurs annually in the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana.

The project foregrounded Rights Of Nature as an expansion of Right to Life as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Following on from an earlier project titled Landscape As Evidence: Artist As Witness, this project employs the format of the NGT, in order to explore the “principles of natural justice” in the context of environmental justice.

The fictional case, filed by Khoj International Artists’ Association, Zuleikha Chaudhari and Maya Anandan, represented by her Legal Guardian (mother), Ms. Radhika Chopra, New Delhi, indicts the Union of India through the Ministry of Environment, the respective State stakeholders, and a fictitious Farmer’s Union for their inability to stop stubble-burning in areas of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi. The hearing staged the arguments put forth by the three parties considering fundamental issues that place both the human and non-human in polluted ecosystems. 

The performance included practicing lawyers Manmohan Lal Sarin, Mannat Anand, and Harish Mehla; subject expert witnesses Kahan Singh Pannu, Manish Shrivastava, and Tarini Mehta; retired judges Justice Rajive Bhalla, Justice Kamaljit Singh Garewal, and Justice K Kannan,as well as artists Shweta Bhattad, Thukral and Tagra, and Randeep Maddoke. It followed the protocols, procedures, and laws of the NGT. The project was grounded in current environmental laws in India which exist within major central legislations. The hearing therefore entailed opening and closing statements by the lawyers, examination and cross examination of witness testimonies, artworks as evidence, and a final verdict in the matter.

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14/07 2023
Khoj and Zuleikha Chaudhari
‘In the matter Re: Rights of Nature. A Staged Hearing,’ 2023
‘Does the Blue Sky Lie: Episode Four’
Single-channel video, color, sound
36 min 01 sec
Produced by Khoj in association with Elsewhere, with the support of TBA21 Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Fonds: Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, Normandy Chair For Peace, Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation, Chandigarh Tourism, and Commonweal (Omega Resilience Awards), for TBA21 on st_age

Direction and dramaturgy: Zuleikha Chaudhari | Lawyers: Manmohan Lal Sarin, Harish Mehla, and Mannat Anand | Artist Witnesses: Shweta Bhattad, Thukral and Tagra, and Randeep Maddoke | Expert Witnesses: Kahan Singh Pannu, Tarini Mehta, Manish Shrivastava | Judges / Principal Bench: Justice Kamaljit Singh Garewal (Retd.), Justice Rajive Bhalla (Retd.), Justice K. Kannan (Retd.)

Video Production: Harkat Studios | Video Edit: Annette Jacob | Production and Scenography: Scenografia Sumant

Cover image: Alina Tiphagne
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