Published on The Hindu Businessline, Oct, 13, 2006, by Aparna Pallavi.
She is one of the best-known media photographers in Nagpur, India and has a host of awards. She also runs her own photography business, and is a fiery activist working to better the lot of slum women.
She says: “My life would have been no different from that of other rural girls had it not been for my mother, a Gandhian and Marxist, who had a very different vision of life”.
She says also: “In my years in the slum, I saw much up close. Goons, alcohol, violence, the works. A goon once stubbed his cigarette on my arm. Another time, I reasoned with a goon who walked into our hut with a knife and sent him back.
My mother’s relentless courage against such intimidation also gave me a different vision of my own life”. (All three on The Hindu Businessline).
Read: When a Woman Wields the Lens.
Sangeeta Mahajan – India
She works as the only female press photographer in the city of Nagpur.
And she adds: “If my work was not twice as good as anyone else’s, I was useless. And if my work was good, the bosses used it to taunt my male colleagues, who became, if anything, more insecure and resentful”.
Exerpts: … When she was about 10, her mother moved from the rural interiors of Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region to a slum in Nagpur city, taking her children with her. Then began the daily battle for survival — against the elements, against hostile authorities, against an insecure, foreboding atmosphere, crime and violence …
Even in the midst of all this hardship, her mother began a women’s group called Jagriti Mahila Mandal to work for the self-employment of the slum women. After completing her schooling, Sangeeta did a course in photography and then joined Lady Amritabai Daga (LAD) girls’ college in Nagpur. In her shabby clothes and her `slummy’ language, she was out of place among the affluent girls there.
But not easily cowed down, she not only initiated reforms but also got elected as college president.
there was no drinking water, there were no newspapers in the library and little equipment in the laboratories, and the principal was never around,” she recalls. She adds — not without some pride, “They said only girls who owned cars could win elections at LAD, and I used to ride to college on a bicycle!”
(Later) Sangeeta borrowed a camera and started working as a freelance photographer. After much struggle and a couple of small jobs, she finally landed a job with a national daily in 1994. Being the first woman press photographer in the city, she found herself the target of much resentment from her male colleagues. Due to her activist background, she was even labelled a Naxalite and a troublemaker. These labels nearly cost her the job. But never one to give up, she went on to win the prestigious `Shot of the Day’ award for the 1996 Cricket World Cup match held at Nagpur, and a string of local awards.
Although she still keeps in touch with press photography through freelance work, disillusionment has set in. “Employers no longer want socially aware and active employees. They even dictate what angle to photograph from! And when it comes to photography, the gender bias continues to be as strong as ever.” To this day, Sangeeta remains the only female press photographer in the city — a scenario she believes will not change unless the social mindset changes. (Read all the long rest on The Hindu Businessline).