In a corner at the Rajiv Chowk metro station in Delhi, where droves of people rush in the corridors, stands a collection of photographs that appear frozen in time. The frames present a contrast to the hustle-bustle at the venue. If in one frame we see Sri Lankan women in Tamil Nadu sharing a moment of laughter while doing their daily chores, in another, a boy from Myanmar stands on a road in Delhi, holding a placard supporting the prevention of violence against women. The common thread that brings the 15 photographs on display together are the protagonists, all of whom are refugees who have come to India from different parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
Organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to commemorate World Refugee Day, which was on June 20, the exhibition comprises photographs by Delhi-based photographer Raghu Rai and the refugees themselves. “The aim is to foster understanding and generate public empathy towards refugees living in India,” says Shuchita Mehta, spokesperson, UNHCR India. The photos retell the stories of the refugees and their relentless struggle to piece together a shattered existence.
Rai, born in undivided India in Jhang (now in Pakistan) in 1942, is the most well-known from the group of photographers. Having spent years working with refugees in Delhi and Tamil Nadu, he says, “Documentation and reportage are important to me. I have a personal connection with the issue of migration.”
His photographs reflect that personal engagement. Each of his protagonists harbour hope — whether it is the weather-beaten Afghan refugee in Wazirabad, Delhi, or a young Tibetan boy lying on a carpeted floor in Majnu ka Tila, oblivious to the issues of origin and identity that will catch up with him when he grows up. A group of kids from Myanmar in a classroom, meanwhile, are preparing for the hard life ahead. They smile at the simple joys, compelling the viewers to do the same.