The verdict is out. Our pan-India photography contest evoked sympathy and astonishment in equal measure, say the judges.

The Working Elderly, a national photography contest, was conducted in July by The Hindu in association with Birkbeck, University of London, and the Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, Chennai. For the judges — Aruna Roy, Rajiv Menon and I, with Lata Ganapathy (Internet, The Hindu) who anchored the contest — the challenge lay in rejection rather than the selection of pictures. Almost every one of the 2,873 images received clamoured for attention.

How could one reject the photograph of an 80-plus woman involved in hard agricultural labour? Or that of a septuagenarian carrying a heavy sack of rice on his back? Should selection be on the basis of age, or the intensity of the labour involved?

The judges had to rely on intuition and, since it was a photography contest, marks were awarded for composition and lighting. One couldn’t be too critical about photographic skills, due to the open nature of the contest that also included entries shot with mobile phones.

Entries came from almost every region in India, with the Northeast leading the list. Pictures of men and women — all in their late 70s and 80s — showed them toiling, despite their advanced age and frail health. The oldest subject photographed was a woman over 90 years of age.

This was a contest that evoked sympathy on the one hand. On the other, it was astonishing to note the pure joy and genuine happiness in their toothless smiles — emotions perhaps derived from feeling useful, despite their being invisible in Indian society.

I thank Penny Vera-Sanso, Birkbeck, University of London, for having worked with The Hindu on this valuable project. I also thank our distinguished judges Aruna Roy and Rajiv Menon for their enthusiastic and committed participation.

- D. Krishnan, Photo Editor, The Hindu

Visual images need no literacy, and go beyond the confines of language. For people with limited literacy, the spoken word and the visual image have been important ways of communication. These powerful and sensitive images have captured the unseen suffering, and the persistent struggle of these amazing people. The elderly poor are blighted twice over; first by need and then infirmity of age and consequent ill health. They are overlooked increasingly by the ruthless inroad of investment and profit which sees them as an expendable commodity. In the narrowing social concerns of the ‘nuclear’ — connoting inevitable destruction — family unit, the elderly have lost their traditional security and dignity.

These photographs have captured this complexity through the magnetism of a visual. Every photograph was remarkable and it was an effort to choose. Thanks for strengthening the struggle of the elderly for pensions and justice.

- Aruna Roy, Pension Parishad (social activist)

Mick Jagger performs at 70 in Hyde Park to sell-out crowds. He may be a maverick rocker, but there are many Jaggers in your neighbourhood, fixing doors, transplanting rice, mending fishing nets, basically contributing actively well into their old age.

We have tried to look beyond stereotypes of destitution, loneliness and physical hardship and look for pictures that have both photographic values of composition, clarity of thought and above all capturing the soul of an ageing supermodel.

- Rajiv Menon, Filmmaker and cinematographer

The following have been chosen as the top seven:

1st Prize of Rs. 20,000 - Ashok Kumar - Life is not so easy!' from Chennai, Tamil Nadu

2nd Prize of Rs. 10,000 - Sourav Karmakar - Mashir Hotel from Kolkata, West Bengal

3rd Prize of Rs. 5,000 - Nitin Khatri - A camel herder from Indore, Madhya Pradesh

Note: The cash prize of Rs. 5,000/- for the most-voted picture has been withdrawn as The Hindu's IT department found strong evidence of some participants having resorted to unfair voting practices. As a result, four, and not three, judges' commendations have been announced, and each contestant wins Rs. 1,250.

The judges' commendations are:

Mouhamed Moustapha - Pillars of the nation. from Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu

Rahuldev Balagopal - Mohammed, a carpenter from Bangalore, Karnataka

Dinesh I - The salt pan from Marakkanam, Tamil Nadu

Busho Rajkumar - I am an artisan from Manipur

For a slideshow, visit http://thne.ws/elderly-finalists

To view all the entries, visit www.thehindushutterbug.com

Note: The cash prize of Rs. 5,000/- for the most-voted picture has been withdrawn as The Hindu's IT department found strong evidence of some participants having resorted to unfair voting practices. Four and not three judges' commendations have been announced instead and these contestants win Rs 1,250 each.