Thoughts Sans Boundaries

Kalpesh Lathigra’s striking pictures

Posted in life, society by Aditya Moorthy on July 5, 2007

I am feeling better today after yesterday’s bout of sudden weariness. I still haven’t quite figured how to deal with an emotional side of myself if that was the reason for weariness. But as I said, I am a learner and I am sure I will learn eventually.

maintains a blog where he refers and writes about other photographers whose works affect him. Recently he wrote about Kalpesh Lathigra, a photographer from London and I was going through his project titled “Brides of Krishna” where he photographed the widows from India in the state of West Bengal. It immediately struck a chord in me about my own experience about meeting such people. In fact I remember one of my relative who became a widow when she was very young went through the same ordeal and lived all her like with a stigma that she is a widow and shunned by the society.

Brides of Krishna by Kalpesh Lathigra

I can come to terms with things that might seem ridiculous to the West about certain traditions and practices in the East which defies their logic. I have grown up here and I can empathise with the culture and tradition that old cultures have several practices which does not make sense in today’s context even though it defies logic because of the simple fact that everything is very very old. It is so old that couple hundred years ago would sound like just the previous generation to many simply because that several other things that are used in context as benchmarks are several hundred years old. Most Western people will find it hard to assimilate this simply because their “civilisation” is very young when compared to that of India and China. So to bring about change in an environment like in the East is not a simple task. If we start to make effort to change the minds of people and consistently persist, we would achieve some success in couple of generations. But if you take the West for example, a few years of persistence is enough to get the people to see the reason and change their attitudes and behaviour. USA did not let women to vote until the 1940s and once the legislation was passed for them to be eligible to vote, in 40-50 years we see a phenomenal amount of empowerment of women and the entire attitude of the populace has changed so completely that we see no trace of such behaviour that was in existence just 40 years ago. Such a change would be nearly impossible to achieve in the East due to the entrenchment of culture and tradition that goes back several hundred years and even more than couple of thousand years in many cases.

Having said that, the question of why widows were treated like that in the past – there can be no convincing answer which can seem reasonable today. What I could think of is, maybe the level of social security that we have today was not present in the past and the justice system was also questionable in a male dominated society. So in order to protect women’s modesty and from other forms of physical abuse especially if she is a single woman (widow in this case) it would be easier if she does not look attractive. So, shaving her head and making her wear unattractive clothing would deter malicious men from taking advantage of a weak, unprotected women. Also attaching the stigma that she has sinned and hence her husband has passed away will also deter such men who, afraid that her “unluckiness” would affect them as well, will not attempt to have any physical relationship or abuse her physically. There could have been several reason why this practice was initiated and allowed to evolve. None justifiable today.

What struck me is that such women spend their entire life in humiliation. I cannot even begin to fathom the level of mental agony a person would go through, who has been forced to shave the head, wear clothing that is not fit to be called clothing, undergo social stigma and stares and and horrible comments from public, in many cases beg for food and live in charitable institutions when they have a thriving family. The images by Kalpesh evoke a significant amount of such feelings in me and my own interactions with such people who have gone through this. He has captured their life in the most striking way that is possible through photography. People who have met such widows and interacted with them would be able to feel it much more than a casual observer of the photograph for whom it is just another social issue that needs to be brought into limelight.

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