A day with the ladies at Akshara

Akshara is a Mumbai based NGO that works for gender equality among women, girls and communities in the underprivileged neighborhoods of the city. The women have unfulfilled dreams of learning, education, jobs and self-confidence. Before I landed up at the event documented here, the organizers told me that most of the participants lack resources and feel trapped in their environments and that the young girls especially, lack parental encouragement besides suffering from gender bias in their own homes (some have had to forsake their meals so that their brothers could eat). Akshara had organised a get together around the festive season of Govinda, Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi. In an act of defiance the girls devised their own form of the popular Dahi handi act (normally reserved for only boys to participate) and generally celebrated their friendship over tea, laughter, jokes, skits and games.

Schoolgirls who had gate crashed into the party as I was told by the organizers. So happy were they no one wanted to reprimand them..

These two ladies were glad to leave their household woes for an afternoon of friendly banter and showmanship

I walked in late and the mood was somber inside this community center housed inside an old worn building in Lower Parel. As soon as the organizers made an announcement I could barely comprehend (in chaste marathi), the women who were seated in a circle around the four walls of the room, suddenly hurled themselves into the center, squealing at each other with delight.

The air was infectious as the girls thronged to tie their bands on each other.

A rapt audience watching the female version of Dahi handi

A rapt audience watching the female version of Dahi handi

The female version of dahi handi involves blindfolding contestants and getting them to break the pot kept on a stool in the centre of the room with a long stick.

This is the spunky slum dweller from a suburb in Mumbai who acted in the marathi version of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues.

This is the spunky Samata Jhadav, a slum dweller from a suburb in Mumbai who created a stir when she acted in the Marathi version of Eve Eisler’s Vagina Monologues. She was videotaping the function and as you can see was hugely popular with the participants. She is undoubtedly charismatic, bold and beautiful.

The boys who join the program such as this boy are not only learning about the issues related to gender bias but also learning from the talented young ladies. In this case he helps videotape the occasion to turn it into a YouTube video for sharing.

The Blindfold Govinda!

A girl prepares to smash a clay pot (handi) blindfolded. She has to be sure not to end up smashing someone in the audience!

A young college going slum kid recounts her story of rising above her circumstances and the benefits of pursuing higher education. She is passionate about women’s rights and a wonderfully confident speaker.

An expression of love. The venue offered an escape from the stifling atmosphere of a male dominated slum life.

The co director of Akshara Foundation Nandita Shah gets the lowdown on ‘the event’ from her organising team.


About shabnamphoto

I'm a graphic artist with a passion for photography. I like to tell a story with my pictures. Sometimes a picture may speak on its own and at other times it may need an explanation. I'm intrigued by the ordinariness of life and enjoy documenting my life in the light and shadow of what surrounds me. Be it people, landscape, flowers, architecture or birds, the camera helps me see what I wouldn't with my naked eye.
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16 Responses to A day with the ladies at Akshara

  1. Oh this was Bliss…shots after shots of joy and contenment to see so many cheerful faces..i loved those games…I want to play them too!!
    Lived in Navi mumbai for 4 years( in kharghar) used to teach in Vishwajyot kharghar…those were fun times..
    Mumbai inspite of all the bheed bhaddakka is far far better than Delhi where people are real snobs..
    Loved your post 🙂


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Hey thanks, am of the same opinion of Delhi, too much emphasis on gaadi, shor, sharaaba mumai is unbearable for all its chaos but has its own nashaa! So glad to meet u!


  2. Love the photos, love the subject. I would like to try the blindfolded clay pot smashing 🙂


    • shabnamphoto says:

      You must come to Mumbai in the monsoons :-))


      • I guess so… I will start practicing on different subjects here. When is the Mumbai monsoon?


      • shabnamphoto says:

        August 9 & 10 are the dates for the boys and its one big spectacle worth watching. Human boy pyramids on all the major streets of the city try and break an earthen pot full of yogurt in memory of lord Krishna (loved by moms and girls). He loved milk and all its bye products! Come and see the boy thing, its thrilling in the rain… its a sport sponsored by espn now!!!! The girl version depicted here is a first attempt can’t say if it will happen again!


      • The yogurt show definitely sounds like something I HAVE to see!


  3. Madhu says:

    Count two from now on 🙂


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Hello Madhu, thank you for your support. Hopefully with your help I will become a seasoned blogger like yourself! 🙂


      • Madhu says:

        Seasoned? Far from it! I started in mid Jan! My biggest regret is that I don’t have very many images of the places I lived in! Only took photographs when I started traveling. Blogging was far from my mind even then 🙂


  4. Anonymous says:

    Loved every picture- so beautifully captured! Miss my Akshara ladies!


  5. And me. Really, how little it takes to give another a hand …


  6. Suman Sirur says:

    Wonderful Shabnam !!


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