It is only after having acquired a sense of shame and coyness that a woman can adhere to the patriarchal narrative of womanhood. Such an innate tendency of succumbing to the patriarchal construct has haunted women for ages, not in the form of any coercion, but rather in the form of a willing submission. Therein lies the allure of a woman, as the patriarchy would have us believe.
The veil or the “ghoonghat”, an attire donned by Indian Hindu women in Rajasthan and surrounding states, serves this purpose. It is a part of their tradition to cover their faces with a veil in the presence of anyone outside their immediate family. Ankita Jain, hailing from Mumbai, shoots a photo story of a 23-year old woman named Dhanno from a village near Bikaner, Rajasthan, who has succumbed to the tradition of embracing the veil as her everyday attire. Ankita met Dhanno at a village near Bajju, which is about 100 km from Bikaner, through an N.G.O. called Urmul.
Dhanno spends most of her time within the four walls of her home, cooking and feeding her children, and the cows that they have kept for milk. Even though adequate water is available in the region, she cleans her utensils with the desert sand. She owns merely two pairs of clothes for daily wear. One is washed and hung in the sun to dry, while the other one is worn by Dhanno herself. She wakes up and oils her hair, after which she puts a streak of vermilion (sindoor) on her forehead. Then she covers her face with the veil, and gets ready for the day. Her actions are those of a hidden warrior putting up a brave front without anyone’s notice.
“The Invisible Me”, a photo story by Ankita Jain, is a series dedicated to all women who have embraced the “ghoonghat”. It can be looked upon as merely a tradition, or an intrusion into the individual rights of a woman who do not have the choice of consent.
We ask her some questions regarding her photo story.
Can you give me an idea regarding what your photo story is about?
Whenever I come across a woman from an urban area donning a veil, I wonder what it might be like for someone living in a rural area. I set out on this journey without much idea of where it would lead to. As fate would have it, I booked a ticket to Bikaner. Thereafter, I asked everyone I met whether they knew of a village where the practice of wearing a veil was adhered to. I reached an NGO called Urmul at Bajju, a place 100 kilometers from Bikaner. They led me to a surrounding village that would serve my purpose. That is where I met Dhanno.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations over the years of your artistic career?
Arko Datta, a former photojournalist with Reuters has been my greatest inspiration. He was the first to make me aware of the power a photograph holds. I admire works of Lu Nan, Ami Vitale, Raghubir Singh, A. Abbas.
Describe your creative process and the purpose with which you create.
Whenever I have an idea in mind, I go about it as and how I wish to, without following any pre-planned itinerary. I let the narrative take its own shape.This has always worked for me. It has opened me up to various kinds of people and the lives they live.
Are there any Indian contemporaries of yours whose work you admire?
Sandeep Dhopate (instagram - sandeep_dhopate)
What is the first piece of art that impacted you deeply and why?
Reading the book ‘Find a Way’ by Diana Nyad drove me into following my heart. The energy and unwavering focus that the book talks about was highly inspiring. Her book instigates you to be bold and do whatever you want to.
Is there anything you would want to collaborate on with the Indian government ?
I want to collaborate with the Indian Government to work on child labour, rural sports and rural education.
Which is your favourite piece of work of your own & why?
I like all of my work. I have had a great experience shooting them. It’s hard to pick. But if I had to pick one, I would say “Journey to Moksha” and “The Invisible Me”. I am also fond of “Shamboo Dada”.
One track you’re currently listening to?
“Casio” by Jungle
A project you wish you were a part of ?
Photographing Robyn Davidson during her journey to the Australian Desert
Your favourite midnight munchies?
Walnuts and figs
What’s your vice?
You can check out her work here.
You can check out her instagram here.
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