Her head carefully covered, the bindi and sindoor in place, Meena Bhati comes across as one of the numerous other women in Pali district in Rajasthan. One look at her, and she seems complacent in the confines of her home. But that is sheer appearance. The 43-year-old has never adhered to convention.
Considered a rebel for stepping out of home, she had doors slammed on her when she attempted to persuade parents to educate their daughters. “But when I negated this resistance by not giving in and continuing to move forward, many other women came forward to work,” recalls Bhati. She had the support of her husband, a teacher, who understood the importance of education and encouraged her to complete her post graduation after marriage.
The communications manager at the NGO Educate Girls, working in Sirohi, Pali and Jalore districts in Rajasthan, Bhati has not looked back since. Her success story is well chronicled. So it didn’t come as a surprise when she had a keen visitor from the US interested in documenting her work. American photographer Mick Minard called on her in Pali, where she followed Bhati for a day, accompanying her to home visits. “The fact that there was a woman there who had come from the community that she was serving and had risen through the ranks, who inspired not just women in the village but also girls to go to school, she could just say look what I have achieved because I was educated,” says Minard. The photographs will be part of her exhibition “The Poetry of Purpose: A Portrait of Women Leaders of India” that will take place in Delhi, March 25 onwards. Book of the same title, co-authored with Dr Shashi Gogate, a medical practitioner based in the US, will also be released.
“Often struggling in the face of their own social, political, familial and economic challenges, these women are scaling the heights of human spirit and improving lives of ordinary people in extraordinary ways…We selected women leaders who conveyed an honest and inspiring portrait of human potential — where body, mind and spirit, each have been awakened,” says Minard. The writer, photographer, and an experienced strategy consultant specialising in program design, marketing communications, and impact assessment, the 42-year-old serves as a representative to the United Nations on behalf of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) to advocate for the empowerment of women and girls through life-long education.
In a span of over two years, Minard and Gogate travelled from Mhaswad in Maharashtra, where the duo met Chetna Gala Sinha, founder of Mann Deshi Bank for women, to the small village of Maulya in Alwar district, where they photographed Lakshmi Jatwa, smallholder farmer and Krishi Sakhi (farmer’s friend). Their protagonists range from Anar Patel, daughter of Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel who has carved a niche as co-founder of Gramshree and Manav Sadhna, an organisation that works for the development of handicrafts and assists children from slums, to Jagmati Sangwan, general secretary of AIl India Democratic Women’s Association and a former volleyball player. “Our aim in shining a light on these women and their stories is to demonstrate one thing. Despite such difficult realities, there is cause for optimism,” adds Minard.
Curated by Alka Pande, the exhibition will be on at India Habitat Centre, from March 25 to March 3. Contact: 24682002