Climate change-hit women in Sundarbans turn photographers
In the three blocks of Patharpratima, Namkhana and Kultali, a group of 80 women who work in the fields, collect honey or catch fish, were given cameras under a research project by Future Health Systems and IIHMR University.
All of these women, who had never used any digital device before in their lives, were trained in the basics of handling a camera to describe the challenges they face in maintaining their health due to various factors including climatic shocks.
This technique is known as "photo voice" as it allows individuals to reflect upon the strengths and concerns of their community through a community-led research initiative, says Prof Barun Kanjilal of IIHMR University.
The university has now come out with a series of photographs clicked by these women who have beautifully described issues relating to food security, malnutrition, livelihood, access to healthcare services, water, sanitation and hygiene.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Sundarbans is an archipelago comprising over 100 islands which are hit hard by constant land erosion and salinity due to rising sea levels.
Divided by a complex network of streams, rivers, tidal creeks and channels, the islands are home to 40 lakh people.
Kanjilal said that through this they were also trying to break the boundary of traditional research that entirely depends on the evidence generated by external researchers.
"The unique visual elements presented here reflect our intention to a unique mode of research, where a common village woman can also become a researcher or people's voice are mixed with scientific research evidence," he said.
The photos explore how the gaps in our health care system are seen from the bottom, which may not always be the same as the way the policy makers or external researchers like to see.
It also revealed that as members of the community, the women islanders are more imaginative and observant than even the most experienced photographers and photo-journalists.
Shibaji Bose, principal investigator of the project, said the visual documentation project is also becoming a tool for women folks to reach out to policymakers.
"They are engaging with decision makers in a series of panchayat and block level dialogues. The photos of evidence of the plight faced by them daily," he said.
The women were the randomly selected women Panchayat members, honey collectors, tiger widows, fisher women from the minority community, women who bear the challenges of the nature up front.