Summoning Durga Through Photos Of Indian Widows: An Interview With Sharmistha Dutta

Summoning Durga Through Photos Of Indian Widows: An Interview With Sharmistha Dutta
India’s feminist fight is generally one of extremes. Oscillating between horrific brutalization and the placement of its ‘goddesses’ on pedestals, we’re not much closer to finding a bridge between the two to rest our battle-weary selves. But if there’s one thing we’ve seen an inspiring change in, it’s the number of artists bringing true attention to the realities. Among many such champions, this starkly monochrome photo story by Sharmistha Dutta moved us more than others, perhaps because of its choice to focus on a sub-sect of women who rarely receive the attention—-Indian widows.
“There are two distinct parts in the story. One, that establishes Durga as the common woman, and the rest, which focuses on the widows. For the initial build-up to the story, I travelled and photographed in Delhi, Kolkata and Varanasi. The hardcore research work led me to Vrindavan, where I photographed the widows,”
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We caught up with the photographer for a quick interview about her choice in subject and things that danced around it. Scroll on to view the project in its entirety, interspersed with snippets from the exchange.
I. Gender-based injustices are aplenty in India. What drew you towards the widow’s plight in particular?
II. It’s been over a year since you started this personal project. Tell us about a few key moments/ realisations you may have uncovered along the way.
III. You’ve mentioned that the Government of India has taken a few steps towards helping the widows in Vrindavan. Tell us a little bit about what these are and in your opinion, what more can/ should they do?
IV. Since you interacted with a lot of widows, what was a general sentiment that you found unified them regarding their status in society?
V. Most of your photo narrative focusses on elderly widows, do you think things are different for younger widows?
VI. Can you contextualise what Durga means to you, personally, in a few lines?
“It must be strange for a society, such as ours, that idolises Ma Durga and yet turns a blind eye to a million destitute mothers and wives, treating them with so much indifference and hostility. It makes us all look a tad hypocritical, don’t you think? A society that propagates respect to women only in relation to her status with a man! It is time we realised that there resides a DURGA in every woman, whether she is the well-educated lady from the upper echelons of society, the quintessential middle class working woman, the village simpleton or the old and bent widow in Vrindavan."

Image Credit: Sharmistha Dutta

[A 12 -year stint as an Designer and Art director in the Advertising Industry and then a few more years in the Publishing sector, established Sharmistha as a promising talent destined to reach appreciable heights in her career. But all this while a constant urge to do photography egged her on to take up the camera and when she did so, the transformation was dramatic. Before long, Sharmistha had embarked on her journey as a committed photographer. Her journey into photography started a couple of years back when India was going through a massive social turmoil and there was a sudden spurt in cases of violence against women, specially in the national capital. Somewhere it influenced her thought process immensely and forced her to look at the social status of Indian women in a critical way. Consequently she started working on her first ever photo project on gender bias and women’s rights in India. When not documenting social issues, she just loves to photograph landscapes, cityscapes and old architecture. And of course portraiture is also her passion. She has been successfully exhibiting her work with a lot of respectable galleries in India and abroad. Her work has been published in several national newspapers and magazines as well. You can contact her at]

Words: Mandovi Menon