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
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
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 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.
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.