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In an evolving India, there remains a dichotomy between tradition and modernity, individuality and conditioning, projection and perception, ambition and expectation. Four women photographers interpret the dual personality of the modern Indian woman. These photo essays capture her struggle to carve an identity in a society that insists on stereotyping her.

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'I want you to be madly loved'

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paroma mukherjee

o me, women are like waves – resilient, rebellious, calm and yet confined to the sea of their lives. In the past few years of photographing, observing the women in India has always humbled me. Privileged or not, each person has their own struggles and triumphs. I have travelled to the small villages and to big cities in the country to only find how strength and perseverance come so naturally to women. India is a complex country to understand, especially

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given the parallel worlds it houses for different people. Even while travelling through big cities, one finds that they’re nothing like each other. I’ve lived in Delhi, Bombay and Ahmedabad and have grown to love them equally. And that too for completely different reasons. The works that are part of this collage are a tiny reflection of the kinds of women that live and work in India today. In some cases, they are completely unaware of each other. 1. Young models after the finale of a fashion week in Mumbai. 2. In Ahwa, Gujarat, Indira Gandhi is still revered as a political figure, and is a source of inspiration to the older women in the village. 3. A bar dancer gets ready to take the stage in Kandivali after the Bombay High Court lifted a previously state-imposed ban on dance bars, saying that the ban was discriminatory and violated the right to equality. 4. Caretaker, daughter and grandmother at home in Jaipur, Rajasthan. 5. Friends at a house-party in Bandra.

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A delicate machismo

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tanvi madkaiker

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and domineering facets of their personas, matching their male counterparts; they make no effort to conceal the soft, perceptive, and intuitive aspects of their feminity.They are able to effortlessly flow between intellect and instinct, analysis and creativity, function and aesthetics, logic and passion and there-in lies the secret. In a highly-nuanced, rapidlyevolving India, maybe the men should take a leaf out of our rose-scented book, and add a little femme to their butch.

n an evolving India that straddles a restrained past and an unfettered future, what kind of outlook should Indian women adopt to succeed professionally? How should we behave? As a female photographer in India, I have often asked myself these questions. Ironically, I found the answer through my work itself. I have had the privilege of photographing women from diverse professional backgrounds. In them, I’ve observed a wonderful dichotomy – while they maintain the rational, assertive

1. The Jain Sadhvis of Bhinmal, Rajasthan, travel barefoot for hundreds of miles, sacrificing comfort in the pursuit of a higher spiritual quest. 2. Drummer Sapna Desai, a powerful female presence in a male-dominated industry. 3. Minimum wage workers, a regular sight on any interstate expressway, travel miles for work. 4. A woman serves water to tourists and locals as her only source of income. 5. Backstage with Nidhi Sunil, a successful duskyskinned fashion model in a world obsessed with fair skin.

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This series of photographs titled ‘Forbidden Fruit’ intends to provoke a dialogue that invites a deeper examination of what is considered beautiful. The archetypal objects in these images symbolise values associated with women such as purity, fertility, sensuality, temptation, sin and chastity. The paradox of portraying an older woman in a veil, surrounded by symbolic objects often associated with a more nubile, young and wanton woman, questions the constrictive nature of beauty.

Forbidden fruit

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natasha hemrajani

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he paradox of the Indian woman lies in the duality of her sexual existence: women are always torn between typecast as being either the Madonna or the Whore. They are perceived as objects of lust and temptation inciting the baser instincts of men. This is reinforced by the item girls and heroines of Bollywood whom an enslaved male public is taught to fantasise about in private, while at home, mothers, sisters and wives must be the embodiment of purity and virtue. The actual sexual self of the Indian woman is fraught with

this duality, the desire to be wanted is mixed with guilt and shame because longing to be sexually attractive or beautiful means losing a level of respect that only the appearance of pseudovirginity carries. In this mixed arena of beauty warring with guilt, these images of my Muslim aunt are part of an on-going visual experiment that explores concepts of beauty and sexuality. Beyond the veil of female virtue lies an elderly woman’s desire to be thought of as beautiful, in a world where only the young are beautiful.

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Brave new girl

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mansi midha

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here is a divide between rural and urban India that refuses to be bridged. How is it that in a country that elected Indira Gandhi as it’s first woman prime minister in the 1960s; currently has Sonia Gandhi and 13 women chief minsiters at the helm of affairs, treats its women as second-rate citizens. Proof of this fact is the low female literacy rate, existence of female foeticide and child marriage and widespread

1. Shabnam, 13, dropped out of school when she was married a year ago. She will continue to live in her parents’ home, spending her days doing household chores, until she unites with her husband at the age of 15. Though she would like to study more, she is resigned to the fate of not having the right to decide. 2. First-ever women recruits of the Border Security Force get ready to patrol the India-Pakistan border. 3. The Global Press Institute is an organisation that empowers women journalists’ the world over. I worked with a group of senior reporters in Srinagar to enable them to photograph stories that they, as locals and as women, have great access to. 4. A girl at the Rajkiye Madhyanand Vidyalaya, in Alwar, Rajasthan. With less-than-sanctioned teacher strength, the pass percentage at this school remains zero.

sexual harassment of women. While you and I are familiar with the changing culture in our cities, that come swith the dangers of street crime but also the advantages of professional and personal opportunities, it is in our hinterlands that the girl child struggles to survive. These pictures hope to focus on the brave face of that girl who has been fighting, often failing, to keep her identity.


A photo feature in Marie Claire