As a city-dweller, the name Rajasthan instantly brings to mind a city drenched in every hue in the color palette. A city where the women and men dressed in traditional attire take you far back to a forgotten era of royalty and resplendence. A city where the sand dunes are as beautiful and mysterious as its countless forts and palaces.
But what about the Rajasthan where its women, still considered in many ways as a second-class citizen, have the second-lowest literacy rate in the country? The Rajasthan where the caste system is so deeply entrenched that to defy it is asking for trouble? The harsh reality is that Rajasthan is one of the poorest and least-developed states of India.
Trying to change this is an NGO called Barefoot College with the help of which, the women of the state are leading what can only be called a rural revolution, challenging both the prejudices of the past that linger on and the country’s rush to modernize. Founded way back in 1972, Barefoot College is training rural men and women, irrespective of age or literacy levels, to work as day and night school teachers, doctors, dentists, solar engineers, water drillers, architects, artisans, designers, communicators and computer instructors to name a few. It is a remarkable initiative that is planned and implemented by a network of rural men and women – in keeping with the College’s belief that for any rural development activity to be successful and sustainable, it has to be managed and owned by those whom it serves.
In their own words, “With guidance, encouragement and space to grow and exhibit their talents and abilities, people who have been considered ‘very ordinary’ and written off by society, are doing extraordinary things that defy description.”
With these photographs, I have tried to capture the tremendous work being done by the numerous men and women who, if not for the Barefoot College, may have been relegated to a life of abject poverty, prejudices and ignorance.