Indrani Nayar-Gall knows the power of sunshine.
Indian-born Charlotte-based artist, teacher, and activist Indrani Nayar-Gall has spent a lifetime illuminating societal inequities and social justice issues. Her artistic creations serve as an access point and inspiration source for action.
When she was exploring women’s issues in her homeland years after leaving, Nayar-Gall learned the facts behind the religious practice of Devadasi, a romanticized tradition of young “Temple dancers/singers” pledged to patrons and “married” to a deity as young as age 3 in the service of the temple. The outlawed-yet-still-practiced tradition is widely seen as nothing more than enslavement and child prostitution, delivering a life sentence of destitution and shame to impoverished rural village girls and their families.
“When I found out about the Devadasi system, I was really shocked,” Nayar-Gall says. “My first response was to talk about it through my visual art. Increasingly I’ve come to recognize my art stays within the walls of a gallery. I felt I needed to find a medium that more people can see and respond to.”
Despite her lack of filmmaking experience, a shoestring budget, and limited resources, Nayar-Gall embarked on an ambitious documentary filmmaking project, Devadasi_NOW to shed light on the issue. The short film documents the illegal, yet persistent Devadasi system, the impact on young women’s lives, and the struggling efforts underway to combat it. Completed at the end of 2016, the film made its debut earlier this year in Wilmington, N.C. at the Wilmington Female Filmmakers ChickFlicks Festival.
“My goal with the film is to bring these stories from remote villages to light and bring increasing pressure to eradicate the practice,” says Nayar-Gall. “I also want people to bring more stories to me. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, and I look to continue exposing the practice and raise funds for skill-training and educational programs for Devadasis and their daughters.”
Nayar-Gall is particularly touched by the humanity, hope, and dreams of the older Devadasi who desperately look to break the cycle for their children.
“These are beautiful, industrious women who want a better life for the next generation,” Nayar-Gall says. “I’ve worked with them, they are smart and want to become educated. They deserve a life of freedom, not a life sentence.”
Learn more and how to support the project at Nayar-Gall’s website, www.indraninayargall.com.