In June and July 2015, we conducted an oral history project to document the lived experiences of women leaders in Mahila Milan. As Mahila Milan inevitably faces change in its leadership, we focused, in particular, on the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation. Our project is, in a sense, its own transfer of knowledge; it aims to capture and pass on Mahila Milan’s legacy.
Jahyshree Mane excited to show
Malti Ambre her photograph.
Throughout the years, international agencies, academic institutions, and NGOs have come to Mumbai to learn from these women and to hear their stories. This, however, often results in a unilinear exchange of knowledge, in which the women contribute their professional experience and personal histories, but receive little in return. With that in mind, we decided to celebrate these women with a genuine, albeit small, tribute.
On Saturday, July 26, 2015, we held the “soft opening” of an exhibition, at which a few Indian Oil Nagar leaders were present. The exhibition consisted of portraits of women we interviewed and accompanying quotes that highlighted major themes, trends, and accomplishments in Mahila Milan’s trajectory. While we thought we had done a good job representing the women with their portraits and quotes, the response was more than what we could have envisioned. The smiles and excitement of the women finding their pictures were priceless.
What happened next was true to the ethos of the organization: as we unpacked the photos, women gathered and began to pass around and discuss the pieces. One unforeseen hiccup was insufficient wall space in the Mahila Milan office to hang the portraits, so we arranged the photos on the floor around the office along with the corresponding quotes. The women immediately voiced their thoughts on where each of the pieces should hang -- there was talk of each woman taking the ones that were more relevant to her story. To us, the excitement in those first few moments replaced any plan we had for how the exhibition should be displayed. It was then decided that we should hold another exhibition in the Dharavi office to enable women from all communities to attend the exhibition in a central location.
Meena Ramani explained that “both experience and education are necessary. They [the photographs and quotes] will show the current younger generation. This is how we have continued from generation to generation.”
Malti Ambre summed up the exhibit by saying, “A lot of people come to us and learn from us, we also go and teach others … There is always an exchange of knowledge going on. Many people call us, that this is the training center where we come and train ourselves. What you did, actually they also think that they got to learn how their generation is going ahead, how they are moving. That is also because of your exhibition that they came to know and they will want to continue this later in the future.”
This exhibition showcases the wisdom of key leaders we spoke with in Mahila Milan. This exhibition is intended as a genuine tribute to the personal sacrifice, perseverance, and dedication of Mahila Milan and the Federation’s women.
By Christopher Green, Chiara Passerini, Kate Segal, and Tanya Welsh