I’m going to start writing this PDN Photo of the Day in the first person – which is a little out of the ordinary. But so is this work I think. I’ve also had the opportunity to watch it grow over several years. I first met Uma Bista, a – at first – silent, a very shy Nepalese photographer, at a Photo Kathmandu Festival in handful of years a go. She showed me a few dog-eared prints. It didn’t take much to be impressed. Over the past few years there have been some well documented cases of chaupati in Nepal (Where women are banished to shed during the week of their week of menstruation under generally horrible conditions). But Bista’s story here – Our Songs from the Forest – is about so much more than that.
I’m going to also leave you to her words:
“Our Songs from the Forest” is a tender solicitation by photographer Uma Bista into the hills of Achham, where we meet a chorus of young women coming of age in a fast-changing society. These young women are learning how to navigate severely oppressive cultural practices alongside new aspirations of equality. Little by little, they are beginning to ask questions and push boundaries.
Without a doubt, life in Achham is not easy, and the patriarchy unabashedly cruel. Women are considered impure while they menstruate, and are banished to a rudimentary shed – the infamous chhau-goth – for 7 whole days of every month. For 7 days of every month, these young women are deemed untouchable.
It is believed that the gods are angered if women break the rules of chhaupadi: Deuta risauchan. The women are then held responsible for all possible ills that might befall the family – especially the menfolk – including accidents, illnesses, deaths, poor harvests, failures in school exams: anything that may bring hardship, sorrow or shame to the family.
Despite new laws that criminalize these practices, fear runs deep: fear of angering the gods, fear of being labeled immoral, fear of being ostracized by the community, fear of change.
Can such fears be replaced by the fear of legal consequences? Will destroying the chhau-goth free us of the traditions associated with it? How to push for freedom from the everyday Chhaupadi?
Step into the forests around Oligaun, where our young friends seek freedom from the daily oppression. In the forest, the skies are open. In the forest, they feel no fear. In the forest, they sing and laugh as loudly as they wish.
May their fearless songs forever resonate louder.”
This work was just showed as a slideshow at the Indian Photo Festival
Otherwise see it and other work on Uma Bista’s website.