How Poulomi Basu is Confronting Gender-based Violence

Poulomi Basu stands as a beacon of artistry and activism. Join us as we delve into her admirable work against gender-based violence.

How Poulomi Basu is Confronting Gender-based Violence - F

"I believe this work is more important now than ever."

Poulomi Basu is a force of multiplicity who intertwines art with activism.

She has devoted her career to taking a stand against gender-based violence with unique approaches and a resolute attitude.

Poulomi’s father passed away when she was 17 years old. After finishing her studies, Poulomi’s mother encouraged her to follow her dreams.

With a burning fire within her, Poulomi has spread hope through her influential works including Blood Speaks and Fireflies. 

But how exactly has the figure used her craft to shed a light on the gender-based violence spread across South Asian communities?

Join us as we explore and pay tribute to the indomitable spirit of Poulomi Basu.

Blood Speaks & Chaupadi

How Poulomi Basu is Confronting Gender-based Violence - Blood Speaks & Chaupadi

What is Chaupadi?

Poulomi Basu’s long-running Blood Speaks shines as a message of hope against gender-based violence.

Blood Speaks began in 2013 and aims to confront the injustice women face.

It “uses the power of art, storytelling, immersive media and photography to amplify the voices of women who are often dismissed as voiceless.”

The movement of Blood Speaks kicked off when Poulomi discovered a Nepalese practice known as ‘chaupadi’.

It involves the banishment of Hindu women and girls from their homes when they are menstruating.

The people who engage in ‘chaupadi’ often see menstruating women as impure. During their periods, they are consequently forced to stay in small outdoor sheds.

Women who bleed after childbirth are also sent to the sheds with their newborns for 15 days.

Poulomi Basu shares the disgust she feels about the practice. She says:

“I had never encountered anything so vile that treats women worse than animals and is so endemic and layered.

“I had to do something about it!”

The activist found that many women who are victims of ‘chaupadi’ die in the wilderness where they are sent.

Death can occur from snake bites or asphyxiation from smoke. They can also become victims of rape, kidnap and murder. Poulomi adds:

“Those that survive their repeated exiles must spend a lifetime battling with the devastating consequences of PTSD.”

Her Own Experiences

Poulomi Basu is not a stranger to the strict Indian customs that relate to menstruation.

Growing up, she was denied permission to enter the kitchen whenever she was on her period and was not allowed to join in during festivities. She divulges:

“I grew up in a home with all kinds of taboos, and it was an extremely violent, patriarchal and misogynistic environment.

“I saw how these things were related and became interested in exploring the complex web of patriarchy.”

“It was disturbing to see how menstruation – the only thing that moves the human species forward – forces women into exile.

“It was only by leaving home that I could be free from any patriarchal control and irrational practices and traditions.

“This is not an option for many women growing up in similar circumstances.”

“It’s important to rationalise the structures that create these circumstances so that we may look beyond traditions and practices to understand what they represent and what injustices are carried out under their guise.”

It was by sharing her own experiences that Poulomi had the trust of the brave women who opened up to her, explaining:

“I usually tell them directly what I am there for.

“Not only to observe the ritual but also as a woman I am aware of their difficulties during this time of social ostracisation.”

How does Blood Speaks work?

Blood Speaks is a mosaic of three VR films, photographs, projections, soundscapes and interviews.

They all seek to break the silence surrounding the taboo of misogyny and ‘chaupadi’.

The VR stories depict the experiences of: Tula who works as a porter while studying; Lakshmi, an abandoned young mother and Saraswati who suffers from a stress disorder.

Speaking about Lakshmi’s story, Poulomi expresses:

“Despite all the obstacles, Lakshmi’s instinct to protect and provide for her children is undefeated.”

“This story is a testament to her resilience in the face of such violence and stigma.”

Blood Speaks melds immersive technology with realism to create a ground-breaking awareness of the gender-based violence that survivors have endured.

The project appears on shortlists for the Sheffield Doc Fest Alternate Realities Commission Award, International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), and the Tim Her Thington Visionary Award.

Furthermore, Poulomi’s initiative spreads throughout Asia. Declaring her feelings about this distribution, she gushes:

“Whilst the work has had tremendous coverage in the West and has helped to raise awareness of this issue, it is fantastic to me to see the work distributed across Asia.

“This is a deeply nuanced project which could never be adequately investigated in just a series of pictures.

“They are not static, frozen moments but alive with possibility and presence.

“We are not looking ‘at’ but spending time ‘with’ – this is an important distinction for me.

“I carry the stories of the women with me, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to ensure their voices are heard.

“As to how I protect myself, I practice Transcendental Meditation twice daily and I have three dogs!”

Poulomi Basu deserves applause for the mission of Blood Speaks.

Watch Saraswati’s chaupadi story:

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Other Initiatives

How Poulomi Basu is Confronting Gender-based Violence - Other Initiatives

Fireflies

Poulomi Basu’s Fireflies is a breath-taking exhibition.

The gallery of the project is a transcendent experience of storytelling. Two screens simultaneously show Poulomi Basu’s personal experiences of liberation and an authentic dance routine.

The routine represents the attempt of breaking free from an abusive environment.

Fireflies aims to shed light on taboo issues including domestic violence and mental illness.

Poulomi explains that the landscape of the exhibition looks to allow viewers to see themselves differently:

“The landscapes allow the onlooker to envisage themselves in a different world, yet one they can make their own.

“A world that is not only your present but can also be your future.

“I want to reach audiences who aren’t able to see themselves in predictable stories of daring masculinity or testosterone-fuelled space adventures.

“I want them to be able to turn to Fireflies, and spin fantasy through a feminist lens.”

To Conquer Her Land

To Conquer Her Land showcases the empowerment of women within the military.

By combatting roles within Indian society that are stereotypically masculine, Poulomi unveils this sexism and works against gender taboos.

The photographs within the exhibition show female soldiers fighting for their land, forging lesbian relationships and enjoying a dance in border barracks.

Commenting on the project, Poulomi says:

To Conquer Her Land wrestles with intricate issues of conflict, psychological warfare, class, youth, gender and queerness, love, peace, the concept of home, an undefined idea of patriotism, and the strength of the mind.”

Such progressive thoughts are nothing short of praiseworthy and they deserve all the positive outcomes achieved.

Centralia

Centralia explores the war between the Indian government and indigenous people.

Within this project, Poulomi unmasks gender inequality and underlines female members of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA).

Poulomi also published a book about the movement with the same name.

Speaking about her influences behind the book, she reveals that William Faulkner, JG Ballard, David Lynch, and Arundhati Roy are among the authors who inspired her:

“For Ballard and Lynch, in particular, the safest, most benign places are the ones that hide the most darkness.

“We must penetrate this veneer to reveal hidden and normalised violence and mechanisms of control that are hidden in plain sight.

“In Faulkner, I am inspired by a multitude of perspectives, a collision of information, which is arranged in the mind of the reader to arrive at some form of understanding.

“Nothing is presented to us in a linear fashion.”

“As readers we must actively engage in the imagery for meaning to emerge.

“As for Roy, I admire her belligerence and her activism. I admire her anti-establishment stance.

“To write and talk about these things, to give buried voices a chance to be heard.

“And to do so with lyricism, with poetry, with fire.”

The Ongoing Mission of Poulomi Basu

Poulomi Basu is one of the greatest activists to tackle gender-based violence.

By combining her talent, her compassion, and her indefatigable will to advocate for injustice, she has produced some of the most vital initiatives for gender equality and feminism.

The activist underscores her clear desire:

“You choose your side and my reasons for documenting such practices and my desire to see an end to such gender-based violence and tradition as a form of control is clear.

“Journalism for me is a mere set of research tools, but I see no purpose in being objective when documenting such abuse.

“Whilst we need a political movement we also need a social movement to change hearts and minds, I believe this work is more important now than ever.”

The work Poulomi Basu is doing is essential towards creating a society of equality, hope and justice.

For that, she should be lauded and commended.



Manav is a creative writing graduate and a die-hard optimist. His passions include reading, writing and helping others. His motto is: “Never hang on to your sorrows. Always be positive."

Images courtesy of Poulomi Basu, Autograph ABP, Peinture Fraiche and Musee Magazine.

Video courtesy of YouTube.




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