Photography & The India Memory Project

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday February 16, 2012


I had email this morning from Shahidul Alam, photographer and founder of the DrikNews photo agency, director of the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography, and founder of the Drik Picture Library, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

In his blog, SHAHIDULNEWS, a recent article by Sreenivasan Jain of Mumbai tells the story of his grandparents (above), both activists who were jailed during India’s independence movement. In this post, Mr. Jain tells of the risks they took to further democracy in the subcontinent.

This image was photographed in Delhi, shortly after my Paternal grandparents Chameli and Phool Chand, got married. She was 14 and he was 16. It was unusual for couples in our family to be photographed, especially holding hands, which turned out to be an indication of the unconventional direction their lives would take. They were both Gandhians and Freedom fighters.

The prestigious Chameli Devi  Jain award for Journalists was named after my grandmother.The only visible reminder of her brush with radical politics of the freedom movement was the milky cornea in her right eye, the result of an infection picked up in Lahore Jail where she had spent 4 months in 1943. Otherwise, she was Ammaji: gentle, almost luminous in her white saris, regular with her samaik (Jain prayer), someone who would take great pleasure, on our Sunday visits, to feed us dal chawal (rice and lentils) mixed with her own hands.

My grandmother grew up in a village called Bahadarpur in Alwar, about 4 hours south of Delhi, in a deeply conservative Jain family. The family was locally influential; they were traders in cotton turbans, woven by local Muslim weavers and sold in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. They also were moneylenders. As with much of rural Rajasthan, the women were in purdah. Within two years of their marriage, their first child, my father, L.C. Jain was born.

Ammaji moved with my grandfather into the family home in the teeming bylanes of Dariba in Chandni Chowk. But he had developed a growing interest in Gandhi and the nationalist movement and soon broke away from the family business to join the Delhi Congress. In 1929, soon after the call for Poorn Swaraj at the Lahore session , he was arrested for the first time. [Read the entire story]

The original article was posted by Mr. Jain in the India Memory Project, founded by photographer/archivist/book designer Anusha Yadav. The Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography is held in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Chobi Mela IV was covered by photojournalist/filmmaker Brian Palmer for DART.