k i s k a J i s m / w h o s e b o d y?

Being introduced to Himmat

Himmat is a collective made mostly of women who were widowed in the genocide of 2002 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. They came together loosely in the early part 2004 with the help of Monica Wahi, a volunteer and film-maker.

They produce garments, both of their own design, as well as under orders. When I started the project in 2005 at the Faculty, I met Vasudha Thozhur with whom I had made contact in Bangalore when she wanted to do an art project with the victims of the riots and was looking to see if the Muslim community there would fund her work. Her project came together through a grant by India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore.

It was in February 2005 that I first came into contact with this group when Monica called me (Vasudha had given her my contact) in order to help with their exhibition in Bangalore. I volunteered with the initiative in bringing people to the show, helping personally with sales and designed a flier for them.

I met them again in November 2005 at their center in Vatwa, Ahmedabad. Labels had been conceptualized roughly as a project that would look at and bring about issues of identity through clothes and create a new identity based brand at the Fine Arts Fair of the Faculty of Fine Art. I was enrolled as a Master’s student at the Art History Department of the Fine Arts Faculty, MS University and I was able to execute the work with collaboration from the department and its students. I contacted Vasudha and she brought us in touch with the group. I remember the day when we went to see the group. On Vasudha’s suggestion, I wanted to explore the possibility of the women making our line of clothing. But the students of the faculty didn’t take to the idea. It would just consume more time than we were allotted. Looking back, I think that the immediacy of the whole genocide for the people from this region really made them wary of going in to the ‘other’ side and working with victims.

From then to now a whole host of perceptions and prejudices comes back to my memory. From the time of its inception I have seen, dealt with and been a prey of bias. Anyway, keeping the past apart(for now), the first part of this project was over in a month’s time at the Faculty, despite the whole department’s opinions to the contrary.

And once I was out of the Faculty I decided that I would pursue this project further with Himmat, because I wanted to work with a group which made clothing and because of the specific experiences that these women have had in their lives.

The issue of identity needs to be disentangled here. I’m not from this region. I don’t have the same local history. But the personal is my entry point in this project, because of the nature of this whole carnage, because it had a great impact on my psyche as a young Indian Muslim.

Would I have been less affected if it was another community? The scale and heniousness of the crimes against humanity would leave any human being horrified. As a woman I cannot fathom what it must have been like to be raped and burnt alive.To me all this is comes together in the specific socio-political situation that we’re seeing in Gujarat, in India and in the world at large not simplistically, but with a graveness that makes me feel an urgency that these issues need to be dealt with.

The personal has a history and a contemporariness that is political. And drenched in violence. So what I go through in my everyday here in Gujarat or in my home in Bangalore is not cut off from the lives of these women. There is a difference of privilege and education, but my pain is not different from theirs. It’s what is making me seek strength in them.

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