Deepti Asthana

6x6 Asia Talent: Deepti Asthana, India

“Deepti Asthana's stories focus on women in her home country, India. [...] In all her projects, Deepti Asthana manages to create a narrative where the color tones fit with the story. Her visuals are challenging and open for interpretations without losing the core of the story. Deepti Asthana's visual style varies from project to project, but is always very coherent and she has a strong sense of the use of color as a part of the story telling.” - Søren Pagter, Denmark, head of department of photojournalism, Danish School of Media and Journalism, and 6x6 nominator.

Deepti Asthana is a self-taught photographer based in Mumbai, India. She worked in IT companies in Delhi and Mumbai, India, and in the United Kingdom before making a career switch to photography. Her work focuses on telling the stories of Indian women, “which have been overshadowed for too long,” she says.  

A Thousand Thorns

A Thousand Thorns follows Pushpa and Pushta, two young women working as forest guards — a typically male-dominated occupation — in the arid region of the Thar desert, in Rajasthan, India. Pushpa, a 25-year-old mother, lost her husband in an accident. Recently married Pushta is 26 years old and following two miscarriages is chastised for not producing a male heir.

Rajasthan has the lowest literacy rate among women in India and child marriage is still prevalent. Women are seen as the keepers of the honor of families and communities and for this reason, are often denied opportunities available to men. Patriarchy defines daily life and access to resources. However, as education and technology permeate rural India, the aspirations of women are changing. Through the story of Pushpa and Pushta, the photographer aims to highlight how women across India are challenging gender-defined roles. Fighting their way through the patriarchal clutches of rural Rajasthan, these women — along with many others in villages across India — are subtly asserting their right to equality. 
The Thar Desert spans some 77,000 square miles, acting as a natural border between India and Pakistan. “The locals have learned to live in this inhospitable climate but it was surprising to see two women that hold post-graduate degrees working as forest guards in such a remote region”, said Asthana. Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India, 5 January 2020.  
Pushta Pawar is the first woman in her family to go to work away from her husband. She has grown accustomed to the harsh living conditions. Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India, 26 June 2018. 

Despite losing her husband in a motorbike accident, Pushpa Shekhwati was determined to learn how to ride one and become independent. At her workplace, there are many things that women cannot do including carrying a gun for safety and self-protection despite being formally trained. Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India, 6 January 2020. 

Pushpa and Pushta prepare for different competitive exams to explore employment options that offer a better work-life balance. For them, there is no end to dreaming about a better life. Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India, 7 January 2020. 

Tale of the Girls

In July 2016, the photographer traveled to the Himalayas and began documenting the lives of two young girls, Manisha and Babita. Tale of the Girls portrays the tender moments that allowed them to escape the worries and expectations of their reality. Life in the mountains is particularly harsh for women. They spend their days doing housework, often days locked in small, smoke-filled rooms. Reminded of her own teenage will to escape a life in which she was repeatedly told to "behave like a woman," Asthana bonded with the girls and returned regularly to witness Manisha and Babita's teenage years unfold.
Chaukori is a small village in Uttrakhand, India with a population of 2,500. Villagers mostly rely on agriculture, animals and the forest. 24 February 2020.
Babita is a shy girl who is often overburdened with household chores. Her grandmother is very strict about the work and how Babita should behave as a girl. Chaukori, Uttrakhand, India, 26 February 2020.
Manisha and Babita on a broken tree. Chaukori, Uttrakhand, India, 20 July 2017.
Manisha with a kitten, warming herself by a traditional stove. Chaukori, Uttrakhand, India, 25 February 2020.

See A Thousand Thorns by Deepti Asthana on Witness.

Discover work by the 6x6 Asia talents, and find out about 6x6’s nomination and selection process.