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Under the Thar Desert

‘Under the Thar Desert’

Shot on B&W Ilford HP5+ 100 35mm film

Rajasthan 2006

Located in north-west India, the great Thar Desert is annually neglected as the monsoon rains flood other areas of India. Of the last hundred seasons only 30 have brought rains, which bless the struggling farmland of Rajasthan and turn the dusty orange landscape to a lush green. The photographs of Under the Thar Desert were taken at the end of another dry year.

Throughout India children with disabilities are often treated as outcasts, not only by society, but also by their own families. To the parents of these children, there may seem little use for them beyond begging. This position is reinforced by the prevailing social hierarchy known as the Caste System, which provides theological and historical justification for the exclusion of these ‘untouchables’ from wider society. In the more populous cities, it is not uncommon for parents to purposefully maim their children at birth – accepting social defeat – by granting them early careers as street beggars.

In Sucheta Kriplani Shiksha Niketan (SKSN), a residential school for disabled children in rural Rajasthan, the effects of this neglected upbringing are often more visible through the younger children. The teachers at the school work to build on an often non-existent level of self-confidence amongst their students. There is a great emphasis on physical activity and sports within the school, and through the learning of acrobatics the students (suffering primarily from polio) realise their true physical capabilities and develop something they and others can be proud of. This, of course, has a great impact on their self-esteem and level of confidence.

SKSN is financially supported by both the Indian government and by funds raised from overseas visits, to countries including the UK. Some past students have gone on to start up their own businesses with the skills they have acquired from their education, and regularly send money back to the school from the larger cities.

By fostering these children, the primary aim of the organisation is to give each student the opportunity to be recognised by society as being an individual; allowing them to avoid the social prejudices which brand them ‘untouchable’.

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