DC Photo Week – Connecting Cultures

This photo is by ‘Emerging Photographer’ winner Sumit Dayal from Kashmir. This picture tells of a place that has natural beauty, yet a distinct civil discourse. When India became independent in 1947, the Kashmir dispute began soon after. It was Indian forces versus Pashtun who were fighting for Pakistan. This disagreement of land has become one of the longest conflicts to date. People are killing, abducting and stealing all over a small strip of land. “I feel the need to unfold my past and be able to associate with the culture and history of my ancestors. I hope that ‘On Going Home’ will lead me in the direction of finding my true identity,” stated Dayal about his compilation of photos. In the picture, taken in 1970, you see students all in the same dress marching during the noncooperation movement. They all look very serious and focused. The most striking thing about this photo is all the students in uniform position holding large rifles. It is especially shocking because many think of India as zen-like and peaceful. The piece is in black and white to be less distracting and to allow the viewer to focus on the content. The photo is taken during the day, but the lack of color makes it seem as if they sun is not out, and may never come out. It gives it a dismal effect, creating a sad or sullen tone. Dayal shows depth by allowing the viewer to see just how long the line of marching students is, shocking and both saddening. Lines diverge as they come together in the back, although it appears the crowd just keeps going. The lines play an extremely important role, showing uncertainty. When will it end?

Dayal’s work speaks about the concept of war. Who is actually fighting and what are they fighting for? Is there a purpose or do soldiers act as robots, performing every order, duty and beckon of their commanders? The girls do not even appear to be looking. Do they want to be there? War is a painful thing. If you think about it too much, you may turn back and this photo makes it appear that many of the girls are simply trying to distract themselves with other thoughts. The composition of this picture also makes it appear that the women are leading the men and protecting them. This is very ironic since in today’s time, women in Kashmir are beaten, raped, tortured and maimed. The conflict in Kashmir is still going on. This picture is still relevant and who knows how long it will be in the future. One of the worst parts of the conflict in Kashmir is that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. Recently, army members have been accused of being sexually ┬áviolent towards women. That horrible reality makes this photo more striking as the women are directly taking on their oppressors. Here the women are the fighters. They are standing up. They will not be submissive. This picture doesn’t just apply to Kashmir. It represents women’s rights everywhere. Women should not stand for second-class treatment. Equality is still a problem in several respects here in the United States, but gender equality is often overlooked with other pressing problems. This photo also evokes cultural discrepencies. The recent controversy of France’s outlawing the burqa is a good example of cultures not being understood and women being prevented from making their own choices. When I look at this picture, I feel a mixture of disturbance, a calming peace and some level of sterility since everyone is in all white. There’s a lack of individuality to some extent, but then I notice the women in front on the far left. She has the same complacent expression, but her beautiful shirt stands out from the crowd. I think the photographer was very conscious of the decisions he was making. He wanted to expose the truth about Kashmir, oppressed women, the inability to make your own choices. Dayal uses this piece as a means of education.

This piece definitely has worth. At first, I was confused about how the title of the exhibit applied to this photo, “Connecting Cultures,” but I soon realized that this picture addresses issues people all over the world are facing. This is not just a conflict in a far off land, it’s something we as humanity are facing together. The United States is in two wars and just like the endless line of women, no one knows if the end is near. You think it is, but then it just keeps coming. This work effectively communicates and draws awareness to the specific conflict in Kashmir. Many people are unfamiliar with the circumstances in this country. Every detail in this photo, from the composition, to the expressions on the women’s faces makes it truly distinct. It lets people know that things are happening everywhere, all over the world. This issue and the photo describing it reminds us of every conflict, including our own.



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