Photographer Niraj Gera zooms in on acid attack survivors and chronicles their emotional journey.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words but each photograph clicked by Niraj Gera tells a huge saga of grit and determination. His upcoming exhibition titled “Sacred Transformations” will showcase images of women acid attack survivors and chronicle their emotional journey.
In the series of 36 photographs, which will be exhibited at Arpana Caur Gallery from Monday, Delhi-based Niraj has attempted to communicate the plight of the survivors and the idea of doing so, struck him when he went to a protest march in 2014 where he saw them asking for basic rights. “I had gone to the protest just to click few snaps. There I saw the survivors asking for basic rights like job opportunities and ban of sale of acid. I was so moved by their stories that I began to feel for their cause. I took up the project not just as a photographer but also as an activist. Over the years, they all have become like my family members,” says the 40-year-old. He continues, “I want to sensitise people that women are not objects and outer beauty is not everything. In fact, beauty is a relative term.”
But his bigger battle was to convince the survivors how beautiful they are. “Someone like Laxmi, who is also the face of the acid attack campaign — “Stop Acid Attacks”, is a strong woman. She can stand the strange looks and harsh comments people throw at her but not everyone, who has been through that trauma, is that strong. They suffer from acute depression and suicidal tendencies. It was important for them to understand that before changing the world, they had to change themselves,” says Niraj who is also an Art of Living teacher. He conducted a week-long workshop with the survivors where he taught them about spirituality, meditation and breathing techniques, which he says helped in killing the anxiety and self-doubt.
The whole series took about 28 months to complete. Talking about why it took so long, he says, “I am a businessman too, so I had other commitments as well. Also, all the girls were from different cities and I had to travel a lot to do the shoots. Lastly, most of the times, I was just not happy with the shot. If the emotion didn’t express the transformation, it didn’t work for me and the shoot had to be done again.”
In the course of the project, Niraj realised that all the girls had just wanted to feel normal. “None of them wants to be identified as a victim or a survivor. They want no special treatments. Their aspirations, dreams and fears are just like anyone else’s. They too feel shy when a boy compliments them. When someone treats them badly, their morale goes down. You will be shocked to know that some of their families haven’t accepted them. So, my series also aims to sensitise their families,” he says.
Niraj has shown the series to his guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and he has asked him to bring the girls to the ashram. The lensman is also getting a lot of good feedback from all around as he has been approached by social workers wanting to lend a helping hand to the noble cause. “I am going to keep a register at the exhibition and ask people to donate — not money but their skills to help the survivors become a part of the mainstream society,” he says before signing off.