Monday, February 24, 2014

Girl + Refugee, Camp, Muzaffarnagar Violence, Uttar Pradesh, India, November 30, 2013

On November 30 of last year her portrait was made one early morning. She was living in a camp constructed for the refugees of the recent violence in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Her family had been uprooted from its home and forced to travel to a safer region where they have been given a plot of land to rebuild their lives.

The people in the camps reside in a various assortment of homes, from simple fabric tents to humble one-room homes made from mud and bricks. Anything more than this is truly a luxury. Some of the camps have a public bathroom and a water well, but many lack one or perhaps even both. The girls and women are forced to wait for the cover of darkness in order to relieve themselves, rather than risk the discomfort of doing so in public view.

When we arrived my eyes were overwhelmed by the number of children; they were everywhere and all so vibrant. Each face was as beautiful as the next, and held a reservoir of emotions unfit for any population and much less so for the youth. This was our last day in the camps and this was our last community to photograph. More than fifty or so girls waited an hour or more for their chance to be photographed, and I did my best to provide them with the chance to express themselves on film.

Four good men from the camp helped me out immensely, and cleared the area of most men and boys after both groups had been photographed of course. They were so gentle with the young girls and I remember this making such an impression on me. Then this young girl stepped up and my guide noticed a reaction on my face. He responded this way: 'you really like this one.'

She was so small, had the clearest of eyes in the crowd and produced this incredibly powerful stare. The sunlight did nothing to diminish this, and it made her even more exceptional. Going through the negatives I will also admit that all of the girls from these camps produced a profound level of respect in me, both for their strength in the midst of their hardships and for their abilities to share this with me through the lens.

There was no favorite regardless of my reaction… she just caught me off guard.

Foundations and non-governmental groups are helping this population regain a footing in society, but the work is extremely difficult. Without the support of the formal structures, these families fear going back to their villages and must make do with an environment which is already extremely hard for those established within it. Jobs were almost non-existent before their arrival, and now are up for grabs between many more hands.

However certain families from the surrounding villages have permanently given their lands away to this population, have provided building material and security under which to support their families. I was just as moved by their actions and hope to revisit this area next spring.

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