Climate Crisis and Women’s Rights in South Asia: The Art of Anu Das

Anu Das is an Indian-born American artist whose works, though varied in form, are always aesthetically rewarding and thought-provoking, Her talent gives rise to the visual representation of deeply felt perceptions of a range of the issues that inform peace education, providing provocative examples of the significance of art to the development of the capacities for observation and reflection, so essential to peacemaking.

Among her most beautiful works are pieces of jewelry that arise from and carry forward introspection into particular issues that demand our attention and action. The necklaces shown here are inspired by the climate crisis as it impacts the beauty and sustainability of the natural world, and women’s deep connection to and sense of responsibility for our living Earth. Thank you, Anu, for these works and the learning they engender. (BAR, July 16, 2022)

Daughters of Champaran

Title: “Daughters of Champaran”, 2021; Materials: Fabric remnants, threads, glass beads, fabric paints and found objects

Description

“A diara, from the word diya (earthen oil lamp), is an area where the diya is never lit. Here it symbolizes villages located inside the embankments of the floodplains of the Gandak River in Bihar”.  -excerpt from ‘Gendered vulnerabilities in the Diaras’; Struggles with floods in the Gandak River Basin in Bihar, India by Pranita Bhushan Udas, Anjal Prakash and Chanda Gurung Goodrich (from the book, “Engendering Climate Change: Learnings from South Asia” edited by Asha Hans, Nitya Rao, Anjal Prakash & Amrita Patel).

I created this necklace in response to the effects of climate change in the West Champaran district of Bihar.

During the time of British colonization, a caste-based hierarchy system “Zamindari” persisted in Indigo plantations. Although abolished when the Land Ceiling Act came into effect after independence, deep rooted social disparities still exist. Furthermore, gender biases continue within this division of castes, resulting in a “lower proportion of women landowners”.

The West Champaran district of Bihar is one of the regions where the changing climate has only made socio-economic inequalities for women even more pronounced.

They bear most of the burden. The dowry practices in households with daughters along with the pressure of bearing sons make these women vulnerable.

Not only do they have to cope with societal inequalities but the impact of extreme climate in the already flood prone ‘diara’.

Brahma Kamal

Title: Brahma Kamal

Description

Since I have been making jewelry depicting climate change, I often envision myself in landscapes ravaged by disasters and their effects on vulnerable communities. These feelings translate into the pieces I create.

These 2 necklaces are about the Himalayan state, Uttarakhand in India. Often referred to as ‘Devabhumi’ or ‘Land of Gods’, it has references to prehistoric times. Now, it is a climate change “hot spot”!

I did not have much of an opportunity to explore Uttarakhand while I was at school in Dehradun, the state capital.  We only went on day trips to the nearby town of Mussoorie, the Malsi deer park and Tiger Falls.

When I think about it, I remember only seeing the breathtaking landscape in Bollywood moviesJ

-The glacial lakes, snow packed mountains, stteams which converge into the mighty rivers like Ganga and Yamuna and the deep luscious valleys filled with wild roses, rhododendrons and the Brahma Kamal!

But, more importantly, I remember how the women of Uttarakhand inspired the entire nation with the famous Chipko Movement!  When widespread  deforestation occurred in the ‘70s, women from all across the region of Kumaon came together to  hug trees, refusing to let them be cut for logging!  Women in this region have been contributing for generations through their roles as agricultural laborers and cultivators. These fearless, hardworking and resilient women and girls are the backbone of Uttarakhand. Now, as this Himalayan region is being devastated by the effects of climate change, the women and girls are particularly vulnerable as deep rooted social disparities continue to exist.

“Floods, cloud-bursts, flash floods, glacial lake floods, hailstorms, water scarcity, drought, rockfalls, landslides, mud flows and forest fires are frequently reported in one or the other part of the state”.  (‘Gender dynamics and climate variability: Mapping the linkages in the Upper Ganga Basin in Uttarkhand, India;  Vani Rijhwani, Divya Sharma, Neha Khandekar, Roshan Radhod and Mini Govindan: From the book, “Engendering Climate Change: Learnings from South Asia”).

I dedicate these necklaces to the women and girls of Uttarakhand.

Anu Das, June 2022

Echoes of Gandhara

“Echoes of Gandhara”, 2022 (front); Materials used: fabrics, glass beads, felt bead and recycled jewelry parts

Description

Making this necklace was very emotional for me for several reasons. I was addressing the effects of climate change on the most impacted communities in the Indus basin, particularly in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On reading about this region in “Vulnerabilities and resilience of local women towards climate change in the Indus basin”, (Saqib Shakeel Abbasi et al.) an article published in “Engendering Climate Change: Lessons from South Asia” – I learned that it was previously called the North West Frontier Province, where my ancestors were from!

Images of my mother and grandmother immediately floated in my mind. I have very few memories of my mother and only a handful of my paternal grandmother handed down to me from my father and sister. I had heard of their survival in a harsh landscape and their struggles of survival. But, I also heard of the enchanting memories – ‘of streets and bazaars filled with distinct aromas of pine cones, figs, apricots and peaches’ from my sister.

This necklace for me is in part, a travel back in time of then the North West Frontier Province. But, most importantly, a dedication to the women who live in these regions called the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now, I read of the extreme changing climate and inequities they are confronted with in these already impoverished lands. But, I also read of their resilience!

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