As a woman photographer, criss crossing the country, these questions and many others have haunted me for long. While the urban, educated women like me are a privileged lot (and rightly so) the rural women have mostly been left far behind. During my numerous travels to the rural hinterland of India, I have been moved by their plight, their despair. This photo story is an honest attempt to document the life of the rural women in India, from her early life as a child, growing up in a largely male dominated society, getting married and beginning a new life forging new relations, the cultures and traditions that are part of her everyday life. Then one day laughter and colour is snatched out of her life as she loses the man of the house, becomes a widow. Life becomes a series of dull, repetitive, monochrome moments. I have tried to encapsulate her journey through a whole gamut of emotions, from moments of joy, affection, exhilaration, love to those of grief, despair, sorrow and isolation.
Religion is ingrained into the life of a girl child at a very tender age. From this moment onwards, all she does is dictated by her religious belief.
The life of a young girl is usually full of colour and laughter…. and innocence. They know not what awaits them, if fate so decides.
For a teenage girl in rural India, while the thought of impending marriage is never too far away, she is still enjoying her moments of festivities with her friends and family. Life is still kind to them.. but for how long?
For a young girl in male dominated rural India, life is not a bed of roses. There is danger lurking at the corner as some of the recent news stories have brought to light. She’s still smiling .. but for how long?
Marriage in rural India is a life changing event for a young girl. The journey to her husbands home cannot be measured in terms of distance covered. It usually means being uprooted from ones own family and adjusting into a new one. For some, the transition is smooth and pain free while some others need to compromise and adjust in the new household.
The journey of the Indian woman, just married, continues into the house of her husband, getting to know the in-laws, forming new equations and learning to constantly adjust to the new household. Married life typically means introduction to religious rituals, mostly with the women folk in the family as the husband is usually conspicuous by his absence.
Diya or the earthen light is an integral part of an Indian woman’s religious rituals.
As one settles down in her married life, building relationship and understanding with the in-laws is the key to a happy existence in what is still an essentially a joint family.
While public display of affection is still largely a taboo in the rural hinterland, that does not mean that the husbands do not care. A rare tender moment in a couples life.
Her religious upbringing from a tender age comes handy in the new arrangement as she prays for her family.
The largely colourless life of the Indian rural women becomes a riot of colour whenever a festival comes along, specially if it is Holi. For once, the spirit is up and the guard is down. They know not what lies ahead but for this day everything else can wait.
The topsy turvy life of the quintessential Indian woman almost comes to a screeching halt when she loses her husband. In our society, specially in the rural areas, widow is still a dirty word and becoming one is a double misfortune - losing the man of the house and becoming a social pariah. All the colour is soaked out of her life, quite literally so. A journey has come to an end and a new journey awaits.
As the fire burns on the pyre, the bed for the woman will never be the same again. As per the Hindu tradition, the bed has a special symbolic presence in a death.
Becoming a widow is still a curse in the rural Indian society. It is as if, the light and the laughter has been snatched from her life, overnight she becomes a social pariah. Her once colourful existence is suddenly devoid of colour. Even today, many Hindu women, no matter how young or old they are, leave a secluded colourless life in the dark alleys of Mathura, Vrindavan and Varanasi. They dress in white, cut their hair short and stay away from all social and religious activities.
Amidst all the despair and the gloom, perhaps all in not lost. There are still good samaritans who have in recent years tried to brighten at least one day in their dull life by bringing many of them together to celebrate the festival of colour - Holi. I was fortunate enough to be a witness to one such celebration, where the widows throw themselves with unrestrained vigour at the colours being sprayed all around. For a few hours they forget who they are, how they have lived a confined life for years but soak in the festivities all around. Life comes a full circle for them.