Through Her Lens: 5 Female Photographers To Follow This Women’s Day, Capturing The Plight Of Girls In India

Photo- Deepti Asthana

On Women’s day and in the current political and social climate in India and world over, it’s never been more critical for us to have a woman’s visual perspective.

While photojournalists world over have done pathbreaking work to raise the profile of social issues, here’s a handful of remarkable girls turned women using their visual might to shine light on injustices faced by millions of girls.

Meet the fearless, talented and soulful women whose visual narratives echo the voice of girls world over.

1. Poulomi Basu

Known for her series ‘Ritual Of Exiles’, a project that portrays the discrimination faced by menstruating women and girls in villages and the plight of child widows, Poulomi Basu is a storyteller, artist and activist whose keen eye, insight and soul reflect in every frame she captures. Co-Founder of Just Another Photo Festival, member of the VII Photo Mentor Program and incubator of The Rape In India Project, Basu’s work expresses a bent towards ordinary people who quietly challenge the prevailing orthodoxies of the world in which they live: from rural women in armed conflict, a mother’s pain for a son lost to ISIS, to the wonder of a near blind child reaching for the light.

I want to bring home the idea of how women are silenced and made subservient all around the world using religion, traditions and customs,” said Basu in an article by the New York Times. Poulomi prefers the path less trodden, seeking to explore the lives of ordinary women and girls who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. And to bring violence against women and girls out into the light, exposing the deep, insidious roots of the systems we all live by, in ways that last beyond a news cycle.

2. Smita Sharma 

Smita Sharma is an independent human rights photojournalist who focuses her lens on gender violence. Having been molested by her professor in school, she spoke out against it, only to be shamed and ostracised by her teachers and peers… a common experience across India and other countries. Ever since, Smita has dedicated countless hours and film rolls to chronicling the lives of rape victims in India – from spending hundreds of hours outside courtrooms and government hospitals, reading books while waiting for victims and their families to pass by, to disguising herself as a pregnant women to protect herself as she travels to remote villages to speak with survivors.

Sexism exists in every country, but the levels are different. If you want to make a change, you have to change the mindset of both men and women. Start by treating sons and daughters equally.” said Sharma, who portrays fellow survivors as heroes in her work. Collecting their horrifying stories, which include gang rapes of children and young teenagers, murder, police indifference and victims being forced to marry their attackers, Smita has begun work on human trafficking in South Asia where she is documenting flesh trade, domestic slavery and how it operates in the region. Her work reflects her grit to narrate real stories, her ability to pass on courage to those she encounters and finally draw honest experiences from rape survivors only to provide a window to break the silence that pervades their lives.

Smita’s long term project ‘It’s Not my Shame’ started in 2014 is an attempt to give expression to survivors of rape, who are often shamed and ostracised for the rest of their life, giving back dignity and respect to all those young girls and women who have been subject to a culture of victim-bashing.

Junaki, 13, was raped in a cow-shed by a 63-year-old retired school teacher in Uttar Pradesh, India in June 2016. The man is a habitual sexual offender and has committed many sexual offences but no one from the community has come forward to file any official reports against him. Power and money goes a long way in subjugating and oppressing people from receiving justice. Outtake from my project “It’s Not My Shame” which will be exhibited tomorrow at the United Nation’s CSW parallel event tomorrow with @sayfty from 4.30-6pm at the Chapel of the Community Church of New York. There will also be a panel discussion on “Survivor Rehabilitation and Empowement” moderated by @shruticlicks. Please do come if you are in New York. @unwomen #sexualviolenceawareness #vaw

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3. Saumya Khandelwal

Recipient of National Foundation of India Award 2017 and the Getty Images Instagram Grant 2017 for ‘Child Brides of Shravasti‘, Saumya Khandelwal has worked with VII Agency photographers, Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock, and currently works with Thomson Reuters before her stint at Hindustan Times. Saumya spends her time on multimedia projects and indulges in story telling, while juggling between photography, video making and writing.

It almost feels like a girl is born to be married here. They don’t know that there is an alternative way of life. I think, primarily, what they need to know is that they have options in life. They should have the ability to dream.” While Saumya documents the vivacious, jubilant and colourful scenes in celebration of marriage, her images are reflective of the daily lives of young girls in a part of Uttar Pradesh, India who are forced into early marriages. Illustrating their harsh realities, Saumya uses Instagram to depict how the lives of these young girls dramatically change after marriage.

This young photographer brings human centric stories to the spotlight using new age media like instagram, inspiring others like herself to use their lenses just as boldly as she does. Her acclaimed work for Child Brides of Sarasvati brought to life the realities and repercussions of early marriage, and the deprived childhoods and dreams of many adolescent girls in India.

Nirma at 16 years of age is a child bride. A student of class 11th, she has been married to Rakesh who studies in 12th grade in another village. The news of her marriage, which she wasn’t consulted for, made Nirma very nervous. She knew one has to work a lot after marriage and she did not think she would be able to do it. But ever since she has learnt how to take care of the house. Her Gauna is yet to happen so she still stays with her parents, but talks to Rakesh on phone. Rakesh has also been nice and he lets her study. Nirma wants to be a doctor but did not know that one needs science in order to pursue it. But hopes to also work after marriage. ‘Child Brides of Shravasti’ looks at how the life of girls changes after child marriage. This project is supported by National Foundation of India. #childbrides #childmarriage #reportagespotlight #opensocietyfoundations #natgeo #girlsnotbrides #instagram #photojournalism #uttarpradesh #shravasti #saumyakhandelwalphotos

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4. Deepti Asthana

Deepti Asthana is a documentary photographer who has been covering gender issues in rural India under her umbrella project ‘Women of India.’ Deepti brings to the fore, not just her story, but the story of many young girls and women like herself. She seeks to find and tell those stories that have been overshadowed for too long, bringing attention to stories of women and girls in rural India. Her stories reflect not only the constant struggle for girls to survive but also their celebration of life and culture, despite everyday adversities and their strength to persevere in the most dire circumstances.

While documenting stories of women across India, I saw the dichotomy of these two Indias. The contrast is astonishing. While baby girls are given away, sold, or even killed in parts of rural India, urban women are gradually seizing power and asking for their rights. While things are changing in bigger cities, rural India is still far behind, where discrimination against women is largely whitewashed using the label of ‘Indian culture’. When it comes to modernization of thought and freedom of choice and speech, there is little progress,” she says.

Deepti believes that photography can impact social change, building her faith in humanity as she encounters different girls and women through her numerous journeys into their lives. She shares these stories to build understanding and empathy for those less privileged than herself in an attempt to bridge the gender gap that is so intrinsic in the lives of girls in India.

5. Ruhani Kaur

16 years as a photojournalist, Ruhani Kaur has drawn attention to pressing issues like sex selection in Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Rajasthan, gang rape survivors of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh, child victims of Extra Judicial Killings in Manipur, school drop outs and child labour in Garol village, and menstrual hygiene in a tribal hamlet in Kherwada, amongst others.

Co-Founder at the Far Valley, a collective of Photojournalists, Writers, Filmmakers and digital artists bringing together years of field reportage experience in the narrative non-fiction genre, Ruhani’s work on India’s Invisible Women illustrates the lives of 350 million women and girls in India, many of whom are killed in the womb, others acting as fertility machines, and others filling the deficit of the skewed sex ratio by being trafficked or married off.

Ruhani’s work continues to be used for awareness and advocacy initiatives, adding a layer to the strong voices that are needed to push the agenda for adolescent girls and young women.

Photo Credits : Deepti Asthana

Words By : Leher

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