Of darkness and light
Tarun Chhabra’s photos are simultaneously enlightening and disturbing.
No dampenerA photo by Tarun Chhabra from Warriors of Light .
A single phone call can help change a life. Tarun Chhabra’s photographs titled Warriors of Light prove this. Chhabra recounts that he once saw a lone boy at the New Delhi railway station. The boy didn’t know Hindi. But Chhabra learnt that he’d arrived from Madhya Pradesh the previous day in search of his sister. With no money or know-how the boy had been exploited on his arrival. Chhabra called Salaam Baalak trust. The boy was rescued. And soon reunited with his family.
While not all stories have such happy endings, Warriors of Light is Chhabra’s attempt at capturing both the abjectness and joy of street children. Having been involved with NGOs for 10 years, Chhabra has worked concertedly for the cause of street children — both as a photographer and as a volunteer. Curated by Damayanti Sharma and organised by Youthreach, these photos throw light on a world that we encounter but ignore. We see street children on railway platforms and at traffic lights but we are most often unaware of their lives. Chhabra’s photos unearth the horrors and illuminate the joys of these children.
Process of initiation
Separated from their parents, their peer group is their family. But like all sororities and fraternities there’s a process of initiation. On the streets, this initiation process is cruel and often inhuman. A photo shows a young boy hunched in pain and terror. His feet are tied. And a hand with a coiled lash stands over him. What is the boy being beaten for? For wearing stolen trousers. The protection that the younger children get from the group — comes at a cost.
But this same group is often their source of livelihood and companionship. An elder boy paints the face of a younger one blue, to make him look like Shiva. Dressed like this, he might earn up to Rs.100 a day, but most of his earnings will go to the elder boy. The system is one of both exploitation and protection. The photographs of companionship are beautiful and touching. Children frolic with absolute abandon in large puddles. A torn plastic sheet might give them little refuge, but their spirits aren’t dampened by the rain. In another telling photo, a younger boy nurses an even younger one through high fever.
These children are the easiest victims in a vicious society. A series of pictures depicting a policeman thrash a young boy make one cringe at the brutality of authority and at the indifference of the spectators. They also force the question — “What would I have done if I saw a policeman thrashing a young child?”
Mounted in the lobbies of IHC, Chhabra finds that many people have been moved to action by the photographs. They have volunteered to help in the various NGOs. With 1,00,000 children reported to be living on Delhi streets, this exhibition makes an impact by focusing on individual stories, which tell of a sad larger reality.
The exhibition will run till August 20.
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