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In December 2014, Delhi-based photographer Neeraj Gera joined the indefinite hunger strike organised by the acid-attack survivors at Jantar Mantar, asking the government to regulate the open sale of acid. Nearly two years down the line, he has documented the inspiring stories of these survivors in a series of photographs that will be part of an upcoming exhibition here. Titled, "Sacred Transformations", the solo-exhibition will display the different emotional stages in the lives of women who have been victims of the dreaded form of violence but have emerged victorious in the battle by showcasing remarkable resilience. A collection of 36 photographs, which will be displayed at Arpana Caur Gallery from March 6 here, documents aggression, pain, love and struggle through the lives of Laxmi - the face of the 'Stop Acid Attacks' campaign, along with Rupali, and the mother-daughter duo Geeta and Neetu. "A majority of them share a common background in reference to the attacks. Most of them have been attacked either by friends or family or someone they had known. "My meeting with them was a start of a beautiful journey which has led to this exhibition. I have had around 12 to 13 sessions of photography with them at different chapters of 'Sheores'(a cafe run by the acid attack survivors), including Agra and Lucknow," says Gera. While Geeta and Neetu were attacked by the former's husband who poured acid on them, Rupali was attacked by a stranger for her growing popularity in regional cinema. "One of the survivors who was attacked by her own husband, continues to live with that man despite all the pain she has gone through, because of the society she lives in. But when you look at the positive side, you would know how courageous and brave these women are," he says. The artist who has been working closely with Chhanv Foundation, a non-profit organisation for rehabilitation of acid attack survivors, says "behavioural adjustment" was the biggest challenge during the project. "The challenges were more related to behavioural adjustment.
I tried to make sure that I do not hurt their sentiments or trigger any painful instances but at the same time I did not hold myself back from getting to know and understand them," he says.
One of the photographs titled "Flames of Injustice" shows flames emanating from the head of a survivor implying the 'aggression' within the victims in the face of the 'injustice' meted out to them by the system. Another picture -- "A struggle with myself" -- depicts a survivor's physical as well as emotional journey to strengthen them mentally. "There is more to it than just sympathising with them. A superficial acceptance hardly solves the problem. Realising this, I decided that I had to use my skills as a photographer to bring them out in the mainstream. "I introduced them to the path of spirituality, which has now brought more stability in their minds. Other motivational sessions also helped them overcome fear and self-doubt to a great extent," says Gera, who also works as a faculty at the Art of Living foundation. The artist also believes that one cannot lose hope and even the worst of tragedies must not deprive one of his or her happiness. "Through the exhibition, I intend to make their presence felt in the society. It is an attempt to raise awareness about the issue and make society more sensitive towards the survivors," he says. The exhibition is set to continue till March 12.