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Framed reality

A photo exhibition on Indian women mirrored the different facets of their lives

"EVERY IMAGE embodies a way of seeing" (John Berger) is the statement that ushers you into a world of images of women. The most poignant was the first, an image (photographer, Jay Ullal) of a woman lying on a bed with an aborted female foetus on a tray beside her. Around 20 photographs in black and white were on view at the Ravindra Bharati Mini Conference Hall. The exhibition, Point of View (What has Independence Meant for Women), was organised by Oxfam GB between December 10 and 12. The photographs are a collection compiled by the Mumbai based group of seven women photographers who started the project, Point of View, funded by the Ford Foundation, to give a platform for expression, in different media, engaging with contemporary issues of concern. These and some other photographs would be exhibited at the World Social Forum to be held in Mumbai from January 16, 2004.

The exhibition had pictures by both male and female photographers, depicting the varied images that come to mind when one thinks of women in India over the last 50 years. What has independence in fact meant for women? The increase in cases of violence against women - rape, female foeticide, sex determination to abort female foetus, sex trade - the situation is most acute in a country that claims to have touched an unprecedented economic `high'.

Girija, Programme Manager, Oxfam GB, informed that the exhibition was part of a larger campaign on violence against women and gender issues by the organisation, and the photographs would be exhibited in various colleges in the twin cities to sensitise women in that age group on the issue. Some of the statements displayed alongside the photographs added to the message that the images wished to convey. "Perhaps those who have never lived under the threat of physical violence, those who have never had to cringe and crawl and beg for the basic necessities of daily living, those who have never had their basic human dignity violated, would never understand what it means to be free from them" Flavia Agnes, My Story) highlights the photo-story of Satyarani outside the Supreme Court with files of 70 dowry cases, including one of her daughter's. Satyarani's was one of the more persistent, and vociferous campaigns to get justice for her daughter's dowry killing. Sheba Chhacchi's photographs reveal the strength of this amazing woman.

Not all photographs were about losses and victimisation. There is also the picture of one of the two women fighter pilots, Gauri Gill, from Uttar Pradesh, by Cheryl Datta, as also a beautiful one of a little girl (Achinta) swinging from a tree.

The freedom of the spirit in this picture tells a thousand tales of what life should ideally be like, for children - male or female.

Another hopeful image is that of women panchayat members in Maharashtra, with a statement that highlights how political participation is intrinsic to empowerment - "how can women in today's world say they have nothing to do with politics? Because, whether they like it or not, it will come to them."

But then this freedom is curtailed through age old oppressive practices such as child marriages - a picture titled doll's wedding - showing a little boy applying sindoor on his little bride's forehead. Performing for Arab tourists in Mumbai is another stark image that has the haunting quality. And the picture (by Rajnikant Yadav) that leaves you disturbed again is that of a gun toting landlord keeping `watch' over his `mistress' against rival landlords, - the woman in the background is one of the victims of displacement, caused by the Bargi dam. It would have made it easier for the exhibition to drive its point home if there were a thematic sequence in matters of displaying the photographs, which could be something to keep an eye for in their forthcoming exhibitions.


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