These girls want no rok-tok

What could a pop-up photo booth at a Bangalore municipal school possibly reveal? Body image issues, ambition and stories of wanting to break out, finds documentary photographer Gayatri Ganju

Prior to the recent workshop she conducted with girls at a Shivaji Nagar school in Bangalore, 25-year-old Gayatri Ganju admits to having had an open mind, though one not entirely free of preconceived ideas. The workshop, No Rok-Tok Please, was part of the Fearless Collective, a 2012 initiative started after the gang rape of the physiotherapist in Delhi, and involves people to contribute art and life-affirming messages online. “I expected inspiring stories. Yet, when I began working with the girls, I imagined restricted lives,” she says.

Ensuing conversations and photographs, however, made Ganju see how similar all their lives were. The girls, who were encouraged to talk about a day in their life, candidly spoke of stealing cigarettes from their fathers and the coughing fits. Others spoke of sneaking away to the movies on the sly. The common thread to their stories was the ubiquitous ‘rok-tok’ and the wish to break away from it.

During the workshop, No Rok-Tok Please, students posed in ways they wanted to see themselves — as confident women. Pics/Gayatri Ganju

Ganju focusses on women’s issues and closely works with children and public art projects. “The workshop with the girls was aimed at understanding what their lives are like.” Over many a conversation, the girls opened up about body-image issues, ambition, the challenges and advantages of being a girl. Some stories were shocking (a girl admitted that her father had murdered her mother) while others spoke about how their brothers were favoured over them, or how early marriage loomed over their lives. “Most girls came from conservative families. Yet, I noticed that most families were persistent that their daughters receive at least high school education, even if college was a distant dream. That’s reassuring,” says Ganju.

The above drawing reveals a girl’s wish to dress up for a wedding without inviting marriage proposals

The girls had no qualms letting their hair down for Ganju’s camera. “They posed as people they would like to be — a famous dancer, a policewoman, or just someone who could wear a nice dress to a wedding without inviting marriage proposals. “Don’t we all want a life without rok-tok?” asks Ganju.

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