International Women's Day: When Photographs Chronicled The Sacred Transformation Of Acid Attack Survivors
On this International Women's Day, News18.com brings to you a captivating and powerful photographic journey of acid attack survivors, straight from the photographer's den.
A protest at Jantar Mantar in 2014 saw the presence of various acid attack survivors and that’s when the Delhi-based photographer Niraj Gera decided to do something more than just sympathising with them and bring to canvas a photo series as captivating and powerful as the Sacred Transformations.
Probably, a first-of-its-kind series, Sacred Transformations aims to bring about a change in the society by bringing to limelight the emotional journey and alteration of the survivors. “It is a pictorial representation of their holistic transformation and is dedicated to salute the heroic valour and the determination with which they strive at transforming their lives for better against all odds."
The series also aims to bring forth the element of gender discrimination and social conditioning, which according to Niraj, have made women a more vulnerable target for such evils. The photographs unfold life stories of brave hearts including that of Laxmi, the face of the Stop Acid Attacks campaign. She was attacked at the age of 15, by a man of 32, the plight of Geeta and her daughter Neetu, who were attacked by Geeta’s husband and Rupali, who had to bear the brunt of a stranger’s jealousy.
Recalling his first meeting with these women, he refers to his decision of working with them an instinctive call. “They needed to be taken seriously, and accepted in the society with the much required sensitivity," he says while speaking to News18.com.
He calls it a fortunate stroke of luck that human emotions are so universal that most can relate to it. It neither requires words nor language – but just a mere glance and one know the extent of scuffle. From being devastated by someone else to becoming the reason for one’s own happiness – the story of acid attack survivors’ is ever inspiring. Niraj credits them for their undying spirit of never giving up and the people around for their continuous support. “The transformation could never have come, had they not held on to it. There may have been people who brought them down and robbed them of their self-confidence, but there were also people who pushed them to realize their potential and live a life of dignity. Any support from outside is an aid in realizing their inner strength and power.”
They withstood the test of time, pain and torture and went on to become the most-heroic figures but does that make them any different from others in the society? “Absolutely not. There was nothing unusual about them at all. They were just as normal as any other woman can be. But what is sad is that the society does not see it.”
“They do not realise that they are just the same - they have same joy, same sorrow, same highs and same lows. But this, the masses fail to consider and that is where the insensitivity grows and that in turn affects the survivors. It causes discomfort. We need to definitely work on that, and understand that they are just like you and me, then why treat them differently & make them uncomfortable.”
Considering that the entire gamut of emotions have been brought to a photographic still in the series, was it difficult for Niraj to make them open up? “I had a vision of what I wanted, and getting that was not easy. I wanted to do justice with something which was in a way meant to represent them. I could not give up at any cost. It is important to feel what you want others to understand, and only then could I express it through my work. So, it was a little exhausting but worth the effort.”
“We have had some lovely as well as some emotional moments during the shoot and otherwise too. They have become my family now. I had some 12 to 13 sessions of photography with them in a span of 28 months.”
He highlights the fact that an acid attack is a life-altering event not just physically but emotionally too. “It is one the most life changing events for them, the attack not only caused disfigurement but have also impacted them emotionally and caused them great hardships - which brought along a lot of disadvantages in terms of job opportunities, social ties, marriages. They have become victims to stigmatization by people around, which at times also include their own family members.”
While it’s an unexplainable emotional turmoil for a woman to get back to the daily grind, it’s the society and its beauty standards that keeps reminding them of the heinous crime they’ve been subjected to. “There people out there who believe and condition others to believe that, if you are not fair, you are not are beautiful. It’s such a shame, that because of these constructs, we often ignore and even go to the extent of shaming people for being themselves.”
Even though he agrees that the idea of outwardly beauty is pretty relative, he wants his photographs to make people understand that these standards are superfluous and ever-changing and that in the end, it’s the inner beauty that prevails. “I believe that visuals are easily perceived and at the same time they leave a longer and stronger impression in mind. So, as a photographer, I believe that such norms can definitely be deconstructed. What’s important is that it should be able to move the conscience of the people, and I'm sure these photographs are powerful enough to do it.”
Despite the increasing awareness about the life-threatening impact of acid attacks, the numbers have only gone up over the years and to this, the photographs is pretty clear on what needs to be done. He firmly believes that a lot of work has to be done on increasing the conviction rate by creating a society which doesn't shame the survivors, instead assists in bringing the culprit to book. He further highlights the importance of the holistic growth of every individual and believes that it’ll make all the difference.
He calls this initiative one of the most important projects of his life and intends to raise funds for the rehabilitation and empowerment of these survivors. He’s also encouraging people to come up with whatever skills they have and that they shall channelize it accordingly. “This exhibition is not only an attempt to spread awareness and sensitize the society towards the survivors, but also a step to ensure that people not only know about them, but also embrace and acknowledge their being in the mainstream.”
His only message to people on the occasion of International Women’s Day is to not let humanity perish. “As men and women, we are capable of creating a beautiful society with all our diversity. One day is not enough to celebrate womanhood & I think we should respect women and celebrate their existence each & every day.”
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