Are you the first woman degree-holder in your family? You could celebrate the achievement by sending photographs and stories to the Prajnya Archives ‘First Graduate’ Project, which records and makes available the information on its website

Wearing a black gown and cap, holding a graduation scroll and standing ubiquitously in front of a background and smiling at a camera — what does a degree mean to a woman who is the first in her family to acquire one? Prajnya Archives’ ‘First Graduate’ project hopes to find out and record the stories of these women.

While, on the one hand, there are many who make a mark as successful career women, on the other, the right to education still remains elusive for girls in some parts of the country. To highlight this and provide families with an opportunity to rummage through their family albums, and acknowledge the contribution of women, the First Graduate project welcomes pictures and stories of the first women graduates in every family.

Why photographs?

“A woman's right to go to school and college is contingent on many factors, even today. Also, with the mushrooming of colleges and courses, a Bachelor's degree seems to have little value. The reason we picked this theme was to draw attention to the fact that going to college and staying the course for 3-4 years to get a degree is still something that many women cannot take for granted,” says Swarna Gopalan, founder, Prajnya. “We chose the photo format because images are powerful. We also wanted people to ask questions about women in their family and learn about their experiences.”

The pictures and stories that are collected will be available on the website so that visitors can access them. The project celebrates family history and the importance of recording it. “We believe family histories are important and serve as sources of learning across generations and women's stories are a vital part of these histories,” explains Swarna. “Getting an education has always been and continues to be an achievement to celebrate. That it is often achieved against great odds, whether in 1935 or 2000 — is a reason for celebration.”

The project has generatedconsiderable interest among families, says Swarna, and they have started asking questions like they never did before. “People are getting excited about sharing their stories. When they realise they don’t have great photos, it will make them wonder why their accomplishment was neither celebrated nor documented,” she adds.

Celebrating women

The project, in tune with Prajnya’s original areas of interest, also celebrates women and their achievements. “Prajnya’s interest lies in documentation of women's lives, especially their work and involvement in the public sphere, in policymaking, in politics. We know that many of the women in our families have done this work but they don't talk about it, and it's rarely celebrated. Our idea has been to capture and preserve those memories but as part of history and database projects,” says Swarna. Since it is a Prajnya Archives initiative, the intention is to keep it a public resource “like a museum” and also as a research archive.

You can send in your entries for the First Graduate project to archives.prajnya@gmail.com and visit www.prajnyaarchives.org for more information.