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Alliance Française de Delhi  organises a series of events on ‘Women and Womanhood’ to coincide with Women's Day

Anchito Bhadra - Photographing Clothes: Protected by the Burkha

The Indian Woman has proved she can overcome obstacles and play her role in society  says BB Nagpal

It is said that for a woman, it is a continual journey of change and struggle, whether it is in her personal relationships or seeking an equal status in society. The International Women’s Day is therefore a reminder that this battle for empowerment is far from over and the journey is still long and arduous.

But despite the ongoing battle, women in India have reached heights one could not expect when the nation gained freedom from British yoke. They can now be seen in all the corridors of power, and are helping to mould the destiny of the nation through their progressive and yet more humane outlook.

The Alliance Française de Delhi has this year planned a series of events on ‘Women and Womanhood’ to coincide with this Day, which falls on 8 March.

When caught in their myriad moods, women also reveal much more than the written word. Perhaps that is the inspiration behind the exhibition, ‘Another Me - Transformations from pain to power’, of photographs by the well known Achinto Bhadra. The preview will be held on 8 March at Gallery Romain Rolland at the Alliance Française de Delhi, 72 Lodi Estate, New Delhi 110003 and will continue till 13 March. 

In this unique project supported by the Terre des hommes Foundation (Lausanne, Switzerland), the documentary photographer Achinto Bhadra and counsellor Harleen Walia guided 126 girls and women through a healing journey of psychological transformation.

The girls and women in the photographs, aged between eight and 25, are survivors of trafficking, rape or abandonment, or are the children of sex workers. They have been in the care of Sanlaap, a non-governmental organization based in Kolkata, India. The photography sessions were conducted at Sanlaap's Sneha Girls Shelter.

Through the months of the project, the girls and women were assisted by the counsellor to narrate their personal histories, of disappointed childhood, abuse, betrayal, abduction and finally, slavery in the brothels.

The costumes and makeup were created by the girls and women with the artistic guidance of the photographer. As each girl and woman stood before the camera in the silent studio, she transformed into ‘another me'. The aggressive ones quieted down, the depressed raised their heads, tears of release flowed. For a moment, each felt the power within herself. And today, that brief transformation remains an inner source of confidence and strength for the girls and women in Sanlaap's care.

There will also be an interactive session on ‘The Making of Another Me’ on 10 March where the girls who courageously expressed themselves through the photographs will share their experiences.

The aim of the organizers is to raise awareness among the more fortunate youth and sensitize them on the complex and compelling issue of trafficking.    

This session will be moderated by Muna Basynat, the Regional Adviser for Terre des hommes (Tdh) Foundation Lausanne’s Anti-trafficking Initiatives and the Programme Coordinator of Tdh Nepal Delegation Anti-trafficking programmes, who was also one of the key persons involved in conceiving and making of “Another Me”.  

Later the same day, there will be a discussion on ‘Reintegration! Yet another challenge’ on the journey of this project. This will focus on integration of girls and women who have been withdrawn from situations of violence and exploitation.

But for those who have experienced abuse, betrayal, rejection, captivity, slavery and bondage, it is not an easy journey of transformation from victim to survivor. The “Another Me” initiative is an innovative effort in rebuilding lives through a healing process which has resulted also in an aesthetic and evocative presentation 

The panelists will include Indrani Sinha, an activist and the Executive Director of Sanlaap, Regional Programme Director of UNIFEM in South Asia Anne F. Stenhammer, and Ms Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, Co-Director of HAQ. The discussion will be moderated by Muna Basynat, the Regional Adviser for Terre des hommes (Tdh) Foundation Lausanne’s Anti-trafficking Initiatives and the Programme Coordinator of Tdh Nepal Delegation Anti-trafficking programmes.   

The events also include a panel discussion on the status of Women in Today’s India at the M L Bhartia auditorium based on French journalist Dominique Hoeglten’s recent book ‘Inde, la revolution les femme’.

It is a book about Indian women in today’s India. Dominique Hoeltgen, correspondent in Mumbai for L’Expansion, chose to meet the women for her book: artists, bankers, lawyers, business leaders, politicians, street vendors etc. Some of them are activists, working to mobilize the peasants without means, the pavement dwellers of Mumbai, or rollers of bidi.

The panelists include the book’s author Dominique Hoeglten, writer Urvashi Butalia who is founder and publisher of Zubaan, Ms Indra Jaising, an advocate who has risen to become the Additional Solicitor General of India, and author Chandrahas Choudhury.