Homai Vyarawalla (1913-2012), Modern India’s first female photojournalist, was a trailblazer in many regards. While defying traditional gender stereotypes, she also displayed exemplary journalistic courage while chronicling India’s euphoric yet painful transition towards becoming an independent nation-state. Her images retold the Partition from the eyes of the displaced and the decision-makers, along with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a time that redefined the entire subcontinent.
EARLY LIFE AND WORK
Ms. Vyarawalla was born in 1913 in India, where the quest for Independence was slowly picking up steam, but societal expectations of women were still somewhat archaic. Raised in a Parsi family, she was the lone female enrollee at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art. Here, she fell in love with her craft and met her future husband and fellow journalist, Manekshaw Vyarawalla. From freelance assignments of group outings, Ms. Homai used the prima facie disapproval of others to gain experience and access to a plethora of significant events.
Her most memorable images humanized our freedom fighters, as epoch-defining decisions made the country experience great happiness alongside permanent scars. From an in-depth look at World War 2, stills from the Quit India Movement, the formation of the Constituent Assembly to the birth of India and Pakistan, Ms. Homai perfectly chronicled the birth of our Motherland. She also caught breathtakingly realistic images of a nation grieving the loss of life, communal divides, and the deep need of an entire civilization to re-announce itself to the planet after centuries of servitude.
RECOGNITION AND LAURELS
Employed at the prestigious British Information Services in the 1940s, her lifetime of work earned India’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2011. Her 104th birth anniversary was celebrated with a Google Doodle, where the moniker India’s “First Lady of the Lens” was aptly attached to the photojournalist. Her knack for capturing crucial moments of India’s struggle for Independence and her irreverence for gender norms make her among India’s finest photographers to date.