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Posted by Preema Dhurve, Menka Damor, Manju Rajput, Kalpana Jain, Drishti Agarwal

This article has been inspired by the existing understanding of the concept of time and leisure as feminist concepts. Who gets to work, whose time is valued and who gets to rest are important political questions which have deep bearings in caste, class, gender and power relations. The present article attempts to take this understanding a little further, by treating the simple acts of women’s leisure, as political acts of resistance. 

It has been argued by Susan M. Shaw that leisure, if taken simply, might have severe political implications which can reinforce dominant power relations, ideologies and discriminatory beliefs and practices because the opportunities of leisure are determined by one’s privilege. However, applying the framework of resistance to women’s acts of leisure, allows for leisure to be seen as not a mere act of self-expression and freedom but also brings attention to its positive political repercussions. It lets one see how leisure and laughter as resistance can help achieve individual empowerment, fulfillment in intimate relationships and reach equality within these personal relationships. In the context of women’s mobilisation, these acts of resistance can also bring a social change based on equity, respect for differences and solidarity. 

This photo essay brings forward moments of leisure, laughter and resistance as shared by members of Ujala Sangathan — a grassroots collective of 12,000 Adivasi women workers from South Rajasthan, individually, and with each other.

This photo essay brings forward moments of leisure, laughter and resistance as shared by members of Ujala Sangathan — a grassroots collective of 12,000 Adivasi women workers from South Rajasthan, individually, and with each other. The photos attempt to document and understand the Ujala women’s acts of leisure within their personal spaces, in their villages and during the samooh meetings as acts of defiance towards traditional feminine roles and behaviors, patriarchy, the ever present male gaze and the dominant power structures. 

These photos attempt to bring together a repository of how women and young girls in rural parts of the country have been using their leisure time to deploy their personal power. They have been doing this by informing oneself, supporting each other, claiming public spaces, playing unconventional sports, and by simply using humour to subvert gendered stereotypes. 

Also read: Feminist Laughter: A Form Of Resistance

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Ranging from imagery of taking out time for self-care, playing, chatting, relaxing, laughing and sharing, this photo essay attempts to cover a range of female expressions, predominantly laughter, and situate them in the gender politics as radical acts, often used by women of Ujala Samoohs to challenge the structures of power, empower others and bring an end to systemic inequities.

Ranging from imagery of taking out time for self-care, playing, chatting, relaxing, laughing and sharing, this photo essay attempts to cover a range of female expressions, predominantly laughter, and situate them in the gender politics as radical acts, often used by women to challenge the structures of power, empower others and bring an end to systemic inequities. It further tries to portray, how inclusive and safe spaces like Ujala Samoohs can be created within villages, in areas easily accessible by women which can provide opportunities for individual as well as collective social change. These individual acts have collective implications, beyond personal gains. 

Also read: Women At Leisure: Photo Essay On Pastime As A Feminist Issue

At a NREGA site in Sayra, Udaipur, Mirki Bai- the local Ujala Sangathan leader, while taking some time off with her friends and dancing to their favorite Mewari song. There are momentous overlaps between women’s paid and unpaid work in these remote rural areas. Mirki Bai and her friends, quickly finished their lunch- in the one hour break at NREGA site- only to collect firewood in the time they saved.  (Photo by Drishti)

Gangu Bai, from Salumbar, Udaipur, dressing up after her morning ablutions. She only gets to look after herself in the afternoon, after finishing majority of her house work. (Photo by Noel)
Kamla Bai, a local and fiery Ujala Sangathan leader in Baroliya, Salumbar (Udaipur), swinging on a makeshift swing in her village. Having a family of five members and being a Sangathan leader does not leave Kamla much time in a day, to play and be carefree. (Photo by Menka Damor)
When Leela and Badami- local leaders of the Ujala Sangathan in Ghatol- were asked to smile for a photograph, they couldn’t stop laughing at a joke cracked by a fellow samooh member. Both Leela and Badami have been active in improving the implementation of village level schemes like- NREGA and PDS in their areas. They have also been rallying against gender-based violence in their village. (Photo by Drishti)

During women’s day celebration in Bedawal village (Salumbar, Udaipur) Ujala sangathan women took to the streets to embark on a rally, displaying their collective power. Many did not shy away from leading the rally and dancing to their favourite songs- an uncommon sight in these highly casteist and patriarchal villages of South Rajasthan. (Photo by Preema Dhurve). 

Kamla, Ujala Sangthan leader in Kherwada (Udaipur), sharing some relaxed time with Lakshmi (Ujala Samgathan member) during an afternoon. Lakshmi and her daughter had just finished their house work and sat down for some chit-chat with their friend and neighbor, Kamla. (Photo by Noel). 
Pushpa, an Ujala Sangathan leader in Kherwada, Udaipur, relaxing after everyone in her family ate. She smiled subtly when told that she was looking beautiful. (Photo by Noel). 

Doli (left), laughed while describing the Sarpanch’s reaction when she talked back to him, while he was trying to humiliate her. Her description cracked up other members of the group. Small acts of resistance in their everyday lives, inspire and empower these Ujala Sangathan women. (From left to right: Doli, Kamla, Suraj, Kanya, Sita Bai). (Photo by Drishti)
Here, a group of Kishoris are playing catch and throw in a school campus in Tekla village, Sabla, (Dungarpur) while also challenging masculine hegemony in sports and in the public spaces. Kishori Shramiks in Sabla, Dungarpur, start working in the local labour market by the age of 14. Since, many have dropped out of schools, they do not get anytime to play. (Photo by Kalpana Jain). 

Varsha, sitting in her farm and enjoying the winter sun. After sustaining an abusive marriage for four years, Varsha says that her engagement with Ujala Sangathan has helped her grow as a person and respect herself more. She has now been able to alter her intimate personal relationships at home and with her husband and in laws by allowing mutual respect and love to grow. (Photo by Menka Damor).
Ujala Sangathan leaders from Salumbar block of Udaipur district, pose for a photograph, displaying their strong bond of friendship and solidarity. All of them have been bravely working towards rectifying problems with government schemes, holding their political representatives accountable and more importantly building Ujala women’s voice and agency. (left to right: Kanya, Varsha, Suraj, Manju, Narni, Pushpa). (Photo by Preema Dhurve)
Kanya (center), and other Ujala members during a Sangathan meeting in Bhabhrana, Jhallara. (Photo by Kamlesh Sharma).

Aajeevika Bureau has been facilitating the formation of the women solidarity groups- Ujala Sangathan- under its Family Empowerment Programme. In the past 9 years, over 12000 women have been mobilized in 6 blocks of 4 districts of Udaipur, Dungarpur, Banswara and Rajsamand. These women have been relentlessly making claims over their public entitlements. Around 25 women from these solidarity groups have also won prominent positions in the local elections. You can reach the organisation on Twitter and Facebook.

This essay is a collaborative effort of a team of 20 grassroots members, who closely work with the Ujala Sangathan. Drishti Agarwal is a part of this team. The article is based on her experience of closely working with Ujala Sangathan. You can reach her on Twitter and Instagram.  

You can also find Aajeevika Bureau, Ujala Sangathan’s supporting organisation, on Twitter and Instagram.

All photos as shared by the authors.

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