This evening (Monday 18th) I went to the press view for Marcus Perkins' work on the 'Being Untouchable', a caste in India known as Dalits who have been subjected to injustice for generations purely because of their place in society.
The work is represented by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) which aims to tackle the issue of oppression and exploitation within this group. They are targeting all religious communities throughout India and the World in efforts to change the way years of tradition has shaped and maimed these people. Marcus Perkins along with his team including his friend and representative of CSW David Griffiths, travelled throughout India to photograph and shine light on a issue so desperate of attention. I was able to talk to Marcus about the part his exhibition will play in the bigger picture and he described the photographic element of this project as a mere drop in the ocean compared to the vast intricacy of the issue. That these images were a 'hook in' to a much deeper scene that wants the viewer to have an opinion on.
Anti-caste writer S. Anand spoke at the opening on how every person who see's these photos and learns of this issue can no longer go home without having being moved or having some sort of an opinion on them. The images have been beautifully printed with a particular protective resin which enables viewers to touch the prints. A quality which I have never seen and one which opens up the topic how these people are seen and approached.
In India Dalits are never seen or touched, in fact it was thought that your body would be polluted if in the presence of one. So to see their photographs on the wall, explored and as intimate as they are drums in the fact that these people are the same as every other caste in India albeit working conditions, profession and health (which are purely in relation to the generations of oppression by higher castes who force them to under take such jobs etc). This point is something which I think will be felt ten fold when exhibited in India which is what Marcus plans to do.
The whole reason I went to this exhibition is because my final degree project will be about the issue of the caste system within Britain. Obviously, its presence is not as bad in Britain as it is in India but it does still exist.
My theory (which is being shaped by the many knowledgeable people I have met tonight) is that parents who have moved into a western society project rules of traditions ten fold because they are away from the home land. Thus, they feel as though they must teach and discipline future generations in such a way to preserve their identity. Caste is one of those elements. As a third generation Indian living in Britain I see that traditions such as caste have remained intact because the now generation has confused it with culture. Culture which is so intertwined with religion in India has been infiltrated by these segregations of sub- cultures within sub- cultures, causing prejudice and a type of 'survival of the fittest'. To change the way British- Asians think of the caste system is one major step closer to encouraging India to shift its views.
Segregation has been one of the keys to the preservation of the caste system and it is true that one law cannot change this. It needs to come from the peoples opinion, a world wide effort to alter new generations of thinking.
Meena Kandasamy, a Dalit poet and scholar read a poem from her book which emotionally brought the photographs to life, giving them a voice. Both her and S. Anand are extremely passionate about their work and I urge you to look them up.
The exhibition is on for a week at Host until it moves elsewhere. See it if you can, ask questions, touch the prints and get a sense of the story most editors deemed to be too un-news worthy.
Find more info here at the foto8 site.