Each still merge with the other to remind one of the ancient Vedic prayer “Karagre vasate Lakshmi karmadhye Saraswati karamoole sada Gauri prathakaale kardarshanam shubam” — at the fingers of the hand resides goddess of wealth, at the centre goddess of knowledge and at the root the Shakti. Good luck is bestowed on those who at dawn glance at their hands and use them fruitfully.

The stills, displayed at the recent exhibition, “Hands of Hope” at New Delhi’s Japan Foundation, beautifully testified how women workers experience life through their toiling hands. The camera of Sanjay Kumar brought out this very essence in his subjects portraying the confidence arising out of economic independence and security amongst women workers in the unorganised sector across the country. All the photos revolve around the central theme illustrating the different forms of labour and income generating activities of the well-known organisation SEWA (Self Employed Women Association).

Nudged by Renana Jhabwala, chairperson, SEWA , Kumar turned his childhood passion for photography to catalogue the lives of SEWA members in their daily struggle for self sustenance. Be it the beedi roller, craft worker, silk weaver, leaf plate maker, incense roller, papad maker, feriwaali, each found a place in the exhibition. A typical picture was that of a woman leaf plate maker. With a child in her lap, she was seen working, making one think that if people use these traditional plates there would be conservation of water and also other environmental benefits leading to forestation. Kumar, who has been associated with SEWA for about nine years now, successfully used the medium to express his passion for the organisation’s pioneering work. Kumar said the exhibition, which ended this past Monday, has been mounted at various national and international forums earlier. Their captions explained each activity and the short excerpts highlighted the life stories of its members showcasing individual and collective struggle, diminishing natural resources and economic opportunities.

He said the women featured in the photographs were pleased to see their aspirations showcased. “They have many stories to tell but no listener,” he added. “The photos are a testimony of hope of working homemakers balancing the double burden of seeking livelihood and doing household activities, an illustration of struggle for self sufficiency and uplift of their families by providing educational opportunities to the future generation,” summed up Kumar.