I am a young woman from a metropolitan area in India. As the urban elite of the nation, we are often more aware of Trump’s political manifesto and Brexit’s impact on Great Britain than about the country and the cities we live in. How often do we read stories from rural Rajasthan? How well do we know the urban slums that lie around the corner from us?
Even in this era of 24/7 media, when we are continuously bombarded with so much information over the internet, television, newspapers, we tend to live in our own cocoons, wrapped up in our own realities and identities. We remain blissfully unaware of the world immediately outside our immediate environs and feel secure with the knowledge that only we – the urban, English-speaking – know about the internet and its wonders.
This is what makes it difficult for us to deal with the shock of being rudely jerked into a reality we aren’t familiar with – and why we grapple with our mental image of a woman like Divya Sharma.
Divya lives in Katara, a quaint little village on the outskirts of Udaipur, in south Rajasthan. Katara is one of those villages that’s not connected to any form of public transport; where water scarcity is a way of life; where economic necessity has driven people to migrate as far as Bangalore to ply their trades. Yet amidst all this, Divya is an artist. And she’s a hardcore Instagrammer. Yes, you heard me right.
To be honest, it was a bit of a shock to me when I found out about Divya’s Instagram account – and when I saw Bob Marley on her wall, alongside images of Radha and Krishna. It just didn’t gel with my idea of a rural village in Rajasthan.
I am from Chennai and part of a 13-month long grassroots immersive fellowship called India Fellow that collaborates with non-profits across rural India. Young Indians like myself become part of the organisation’s work/projects and get exposed to the myriad social challenges of our country. And thus my life and work brought me to her house during the training.
I realised with a guilty start that my own biases had suddenly confronted me. All too often, popular imagery and media portray rural India as deprived, desperately poor, and in need of help. We’re almost brainwashed into accepting that image blindly as the only reality. And this doesn’t prepare us for what rural India is really like.
In her paintings, she occasionally explores topics like deforestation. Instagram is her medium of choice to share her work with the world. As of now, she has a total of 151 followers, including her newfound fan: me.
“Don’t think that village women just sit at home, cook and wash vessels, we have a life too” she says, as I go through her paintings, still recovering from the shock. And that’s the rub – my having an Instagram account isn’t as shocking as Divya having one. And that needs to change. I only know the image of Rajasthani women walking with pots on their heads in some Rajasthan Tourism ad. The smartphones those village women use with so much ease as I watch them are not part of the mental picture I have of them.
The more we know, the more we become closer to each other. The closer we become, the more sensitive we are to the issues that surround us. The more we share, the more it becomes clear that sometimes things are decidedly different from the way we thought they were.
About the author: Maithreyi Kamalanathan is an India Fellow of the 2016 cohort currently working with a grassroots communication for social change organisation in Faridabad called Ideosync. India Fellow is a 13-month long social leadership program that takes young Indians through an immersive and reflective leadership journey that sets them on the path to be socially conscious leaders of tomorrow, and thus bring about positive change in our society.