A photographic exhibition that aims to celebrate the resourcefulness and organisation of ordinary Indian women. Women Changing India is currently up at Gallery 011 in Kramerville, Sandton, and aims to celebrate Indian women.
BNP Paribas, a multinational bank, was celebrating it’s 150th year in India and wanted a way to honour their social responsibility in the country - by of way of thanks for the support the Indian people have given it over the years.
This CSI (corporate social initiative) effort has, however, given rise to a book by the same title. It is a combination of imagery and text that celebrates Indian women in their various professions, as trailblazers in social settings, and honours them for their initiatives to make their own lives better.
The book is edited by Urvashi Butalia and Anita Roy, with the former being the leader of Zubaan, a feminist publishing house that works mostly in South Asia.
It explores the stories of women like radio DJ Safia Ally, of Mirchi FM in New Delhi, and tells of the success of female choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant in Bollywood, while also exploring the women’s self-help groups that have led to the establishment of communal banking systems and small businesses selling items such as milk to make a living.
The fields explored in the exhibition are Micro-credit and Women’s Self-Help Groups, Women Panchayats (village councils), Women in the Mumbai Film Industry, Generation Now ( women in aviation, information technology, law and politics) and Women Icons - leaders in the fields of health care, law, politics across the social castes, the banking sector, education and the arts.
Speaking to Tonight at the launch of the exhibition, Butalia explained that for them it is symbolic that the exhibition is in South Africa, given the similarities of the two countries from their shared history.
“What we did was we decided we’d focus on women’s positive achievements - which doesn’t mean we didn’t take note of the challenges, but we need to tell the good story. We drew up a list, talked among ourselves to detail these stories then contacted the women to see if they’d be willing to be written about.”
“We kept in mind the different parts of India, sectors, castes and classes. So the politician we have is a Dalit politician - from the bottom of the hierarchy - who started her own independent party. The writing in the book is the stories of these women but also essays that touch on similar subjects, in a broader perspective.”
Butalia said she hoped the exhibition would inspire South African women to get organised and to see that change is possible.
“I hope many things for this exhibition. Even though you can see the differences between South African women and Indian women culturally, there are many similarities.
"The struggles of the women are similar and we can see the parallels between our stories and South African stories. But I also hope you can see that change is possible, and that even if it may be small, it starts somewhere,” Butalia said.
* The exhibition is on until Thursday at Gallery 011 in Kramerville.