A photographic documentation of the women who work at Sanatkada, a crafts shop in Lucknow, India. I met and taught them during my three-day photography workshop that I held in August of 2017 for the organization Sadbhavana Trust.
Here are the portraits I took of the incredible women I met, captured in each of their homes, along with a glimpse into their lives and stories.
22-year-old Nagma told her story for the very first time: "In my home, there were seven people- my mother, father, myself, two uncles, my aunt, and a cousin. My father was a very loving person; he never stopped me from doing anything I wanted- even from pursuing an education. He was the most empowering part of my childhood. He died in 2011, and I ended up dropping out of school shortly after- my heart and mind were no longer in my studies.
My mother passed away last year. I now live with my uncles, aunt, and cousin. I am very secretive; I have been at Sanatkada for 4 or 5 years and nobody knows my story. Everybody says that I am carefree and kiddish, and that it seems I have moved on, but I never tell anyone my internal feelings. I never say, "I miss my parents." When I get home, I let out all of my frustration and depression into a diary, which has helped my peace of mind very much. I have come to realize that only I really know myself; nobody in this world truly understands my internal battles."
Sanatkada opened up Saira's life to the world around her. As a member of the video unit, she has traveled around India and built her career on her feet- but her life before Sanatkada was entirely different. "Before I joined the Sanatkada leadership program, I had hardly ever left my house. I hadn't even been outside to the market. My grandfather and brother never wanted me to go out and do anything. Although my brother is younger than me, he always had much more say in the house. When it comes to me, at home, my desires do not matter- I've never been asked what I think or how I feel. I always wanted to study, write, just do something. I was dropped out of school after the fifth grade and I had no choice in the matter. I even filled out all the forms to continue my education, but my family told me I couldn't keep studying."
Visiting Saira's home was surreal, especially after she told me of the events that took place there before her time at Sanatkada. "I am so afraid of marriage. There are so many things that I have seen happen with my own eyes to other women- one of my close friends was married off to a family, and her parents could only offer one car in the dowry. Her husband's family, deciding she was no longer of use to them, killed her by burning her alive when she was 7 months pregnant.
Two years ago, there was a lot of pressure on me to get married. My family used to make me dress up, and every few weeks boys would line up at my home to look at me and decide if they want to marry me. I kept facing rejection upon rejection, and I felt so angry and alone. Am I some kind of showpiece? I was fed up, and I finally stood up to them. I said, "When I want to get married, I will." Now that I've joined Sanatkada, they have moved on to my younger sister."
Any day now, Yasmeen may have to leave Sanatkada for an arranged marriage. "I'm a capable person, but whenever I do any kind of work at home, I am overwhelmed with the fear of doing something wrong. Even when my father says "Make tea, make tea" I get scared just by hearing the sound of his voice. When I was in high school, my father kept trying to get me married, but my mother was the one who told him to wait. He only allowed me to work at Sanatkada under the condition that I will leave to get married as soon as he finds a match for me. I don't know when the marriage will be arranged... it could be tomorrow, and I would have to leave. For now, I love working here. I started wearing jeans. I even ride a motorcycle! And soon, I want to study mass communications in college."
At the beginning of the workshop, 18-year-old Masarrat was very hesitant to participate or to handle a camera. As I worked with her individually, she began to open up:
"I am afraid of everything. Before I do anything, I'm scared I'll mess up. I cry in the smallest situations. All I want to do is be strong enough to always make my mother happy- she supports me in everything. She's wonderful. I'm not close to my father at all, but my mother constantly encourages me to shape my own future, to be independent, and to only rely on myself. I'm my happiest when she's proud of me. To live out her dreams, I want to study very hard and be a capable and hard working person."
Aisha, one of the most prominent members of Sanatkada, spoke about the influence of education on her life. "In my home, education was given no importance. My father was absolutely against me going to school, but with a great deal of difficulty and my grandfather's help, I managed to get admission into school. I always came first in class and loved to learn, but after grade 8 when it was a question of continuing to high school, my father persisted in rejecting my education.
It was only because I was stubborn that I managed to study further. I had to fight for anything I wanted to do and achieve. Only after I graduated was my father proud of me- I am the only person to have graduated from their studies in my entire village community.
I made everything happen by myself: I studied computer skills, sewing, and practiced all the time. I joined Sanatkada in 2011 to continue learning about computers and technology, and my life has completely transformed. I changed my life from a locked up world, to one that is my own."
Despite the closed off world Aisha grew up in, the education she sought out for herself has allowed her insight and train of thought to branch out far past the ideals of her family. What I found most remarkable was how blatantly aware she was of the oppression many women in Lucknow face, despite growing up with no exposure to progressive thinking.
When I asked her about her perspective on gender inequality in India, she told me: "I have come to realize that there's a big difference between the way that boys think and the way that girls do. Women have advanced, and so has their thinking. Now, we have to work with men and their views have to change as well. If they don't change, how will women adapt in this oppressive culture? Sanatkada is its own world, but ultimately we are in Lucknow. We are making some changes in our own families with our brothers, but that's not enough- we have to make broader change in the reality of the world we live in."
The children in Aisha's village
The children in Aisha's village
The children in Aisha's village