Saumya Khandelwal /India

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Project Mentored by Amit Mehra

Child marriage was outlawed in India ninety years ago but over 102 million girls are still forced into wedlock before they turn 18 and Uttar Pradesh's Shravasti district is among the prime offenders. Lede It was turmeric that made 12-year-old Suman of Kyotan Purva village realise that she was getting married. Ten-year-old Jaggi, from the same village, got married six months ago, but in her case, it was vermilion, which made it sink in that she was finally bound by nuptial vows. Turmeric and vermilion, or haldi and sindhoor, though insignificant in themselves are immensely symbolic. Applying the former on the body before marriage and the later on the forehead afterwards are deep-rooted customs of the Indian Hindu society. But Poonam and Jagriti are not alone as many other girls of their ilk have to resort to such symbols to understand marriage because they're too young to comprehend it otherwise. This is Shravasti district in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous and among the least literate states of the world's fastest-growing big economy. According to Census 2011, one in every four girls born in Shravasti is married off before she turns 18 making it one of the worst performing districts in the country - ninth in 707 to be precise. If that is not alarming enough, sample this: "couples" in the age group of 10-19 have given birth to six million children. And Uttar Pradesh leads the ranks at over 1 million. Just to be sure marriage of girls below 18 and boys below 21 years is illegal in India but the practice continues unabated. In the absence of childhood, dreams, and desire they are left to face the realities and repercussions of premature marriage, and in many cases premature parenthood too. 'Child Brides of Shravasti' looks at the stories of such girls who have lost their innocence too early.

Curators Statement:

Child marriage in India has been a social evil for a long time. Though considered illegal, it has continued as age old custom among a vast number of communities in the country.

Young girls and boys are forced to get into the nupital ceremony before they even realise themselves physically and mentally.

Saumya's visual story on the child brides of Shravasti, is a poignant reminder about the unrealised lives of many such young boys and girls, from a district in the Northern State of Uttar Pradesh. The state is among the worst in what is considered a human rights violation as per the law of the country.

Through Saumya's photographic images while we peep into a cheerful, colourful and playful life of celebrations on the face of things. This leads to a highly complex and uncertain future for many who have never had the opportunity to explore their childhood and find themselves under the burden of adulthood evading a natural human evolution.

Sandeep Biswas ( Curator )

Saumya Khandelwal is a contributing photojournalist with TIME, National Geographic, The New York Times etc. based in New Delhi, India. A Getty Images Instagram Grantee 2017 for her work 'Child Brides of Shravasti', her works focus on gender and environmental issues.

Nominated for World Press Photo 6X6 Global Talent Program from Asia region in 2019, Khandelwal has built a diverse body of work spanning journalism and documentary genres of photography over the past seven years. Khandelwal has previously worked with Thomson Reuters and national daily Hindustan Times.

She has also contributed for The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Rest of World, The Guardian, Bloomberg Businessweek, Stern, Der Speigel, Nzz Am Sonntag, MIT Technology Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Vanity Fair, Caravan etc. and NGOs Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Malala Fund, Acumen, Path India etc.

Recipient of the National Foundation of India Award 2017, Khandelwal's work has also been exhibited at Getty Images Gallery, London, Foreign Correspondent's Club, Hong Kong, India Photo Festival, Hyderabad, and Goa Photo Festival; and digitally exhibited at Women in Photography slideshow, Singapore.


2019 | Selected for World Press Photo 6X6 Global Talent Program
2019 | World Press Photo Joop Swart Nominee
2018 | World Press Photo Joop Swart Nominee
2017 | Getty Images Instagram Grant
2017 | National Foundation of India Award
2015 | Neel Dongre Photography Grant
2014 | Neel Dongre Photography Grant


2020 | Solo exhibition 'Child Brides of Shravasti' at Foreign Correspondent's Club, Hong Kong 2018 | 'Child Brides of Shravasti' exhibited at India Habitat Centre 2017 | Exhibited at Getty Images Gallery, London 2017 | 'Child Brides of Shravasti' exhibited at India Photography Festival 2016 | 'A Biography of Scrap' exhibited as a part of 'World of Recycle' at India International Centre 2015 | 'Water - A dying lifeline' exhibited at Goa Photo Festival 2015 | 'Gurgaon' exhibited as part of 'Millennium Dreams' at India International Centre


2019 | Artist Talk at India Photo Festival, Hyderabad.
2018 | Speaker at TedxChennai on 'What photos can teach us about child brides'
2018 | Panelist at International Media Conference on 'Creative storytelling'
2018 | Participated in Hostile Environment Training by Key Objectives
2018 | Selected for New York Portfolio Review
2018 | Judge and mentor at Nikon's photo competition 'Through Her Lens'
2018 | Attended National Geographic Photo Seminar
2016 | East West Centre Alumni for Cross Border Reporting