Radhaben Garva from the tiny Baraya village in Kutch, Gujarat, is a Dalit woman who draws with sketch pens and crayons. For the last 16 years, the 58-year-old has been documenting the victories and struggles of rural women’s movement in more than 2,000 illustrations. A member of the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), her illustrations tell of dowry deaths, female foeticide and domestic violence.
Two hundred of Garva’s works, many of which adorn the office of the Sangathan in her village, have been complied into a book, Picture This! Painting the Women’s Movement (Zubaan; Rs 1500), that was launched at India International Centre on Friday evening. The chief guest, veteran artist Anjolie Ela Menon joked, “I became a bit jealous after looking at her work. Her response to the environment and her village is eye-catching and I feel what I do is less. I have learnt a lot by looking at her sketches.”
The book chronicles the struggles and victories of the Sangathan, how they closed liquor dens in their village and got two officers suspended; on the Chipko movement; and of women in the village who bring out their group’s newsletter Ujjas, which was born in a literacy camp.
After joining KMVS in early ’90s, Garva began illustrating the lives of her colleagues and friends in Ujjas. She said, “Over 25 years ago, we were scared of stepping out of the house, like one would be of ghosts, wondering what would our fate be if anyone saw us outside. Now that has changed.”
Perhaps that is why she has also incorporated her personal experiences of her first ride in an elevator, her reluctance to attend a phone call inviting her for an international meeting abroad because of her fear of not being able to respond in English, and her journey in an aeroplane, which shows a confused self, looking out of the window.
Defying the myth that women’s movements are only limited to the big cities, her illustrations give a political perspective on their women’s programmes through vibrant portraits. In one illustration, a woman is seen confidently speaking on the mike with a mobile phone resting in her hand, as other women in colourful attire in the audience cheer her on. But the men look shocked and skeptical, deliberately drawn without the use of any colours. Seeing this work, Menon responded: “Artistically, this is a brilliant device to paint women in colours, excluding the men.”