CONTAINS DISTURBING CONTENT
The headlights of my car shined in what seemed like a thousand twinkling, fearful eyes. I squinted to see clearer beyond my windshield that was covered with rain droplets; they were buffaloes lined up in a massive brown truck as though they were cigarettes in a pack. Tied up to the railings, it was as if they knew what was about to happen to them. In an instant, I knew what my next project was going to be.
In a Hindu dominated society were killing of the holy animals like cows and buffaloes is considered the epitome of disrespecting all things Godly, there I was walking right into the middle of the unthinkable.I was thinking how gripping yet uncomfortable an experience this was going tobe. Mistaken for an animal rights activist, I was refused access by a lot of shop owners to their slaughterhouses. After some research and networking I came across four ordinary townspeople who took up butchering as a part-time job during the weekends for some extra cash. It required some serious convincing,but I ended up photographing some of the most disturbing moments of my life.
It was pitch black, 3 in the morning and I was 30 miles away form my hometown when I pulled up my car to the backyard of a small raggedy house. It was emitting just enough light so I could make out the silhouettes of the men forcefully pulling a big buffalo into a shed behind the house. I followed the thin ream of light my flashlight provided and swiftly made it to the scene. I was tense, nervous and filled with a sense of unreasonable guilt.My insides were twisting and turning, as the animal was crying in pain. My camera is my witness..
And the slaughter comes to a halt – only to resume next weekend with another buffalo. Buying a live buffalo from the market is Rs.8000.Selling it in pieces is Rs.15000. And this is an alternate way of making extra money in South India. Cut and packaged, the meat passes through a middleman into the market.
India has 52% (98 million) of the world’s buffalo population. As per the latest census of 2003 there was a growth of 7.5% in buffalo livestock during the previous 5 years. Contrary to popular belief, India does display a preference for buffalo meat.
Unni is a photographer and multimedia Artist based in San Francisco, CA. He won The Best of Show 2010 Award and 1st Place in Documentary Portfolio for three consecutive years in Spring Show at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He won the Editorial Photography Educational Grand Runner-Up 2011. In October, he was selected for the Eddie Adams Workshop – an annual photography workshop that only 100 students and working professionals around the world get selected every year and also won the Eddie Adams Assignment Award with AARP – American Association of Retired Persons. Recently he has been working with Lonely Planet Magazine India. The most recent project was a special feature on the Mayan Civilization archeological sites, photographing the ruins in seven different cities in Mexico.
Family and friends call him Unni. Born in Pondicherry and raised in Cochin, South India. After receiving a diploma in Graphic Design and Advertising from Wigan and Leigh College in Mumbai, India, he found himself working as a 2D animator in Toonz Animation Private India Limited. In 2006, he decided to move to San Francisco to further expand his knowledge in 2D and introduce himself to 3D animation. Photography has been a serious hobby, after taking few elective classes in photography from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco he began to realize that his true passion is documentary photography. His story-based projects reveal the lives of fascinating people from both the United States and India. He has produced a series of remarkable photo essays that provide a unique glimpse into the part of the world few have an opportunity to witness.