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The Blog of Photographer Steven Gray

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India, Day 5 - Eyeglasses for the Adivasi

The Adivasi are one of the original people groups to populate the country of India.  Despite their long history of living in India, they now live out an existence somewhere between abject poverty and pure serfdom as underpaid tea pickers.  Adivasi all over India eek out a living as laborers for the new, non-tribal owners of the land that was home to their ancestors. I traveled with my host to visit a group of Adivasi, where we performed basic eye exams and fitted as many of them as we could with eyeglasses.  If it is possible to be "elegantly destitute" in such wretched environs, the Adivasi manage to conduct themselves accordingly.  They viewed us, and especially me, not with fumbling curiosity, but with an air of contemplative interest.  Unlike the gawping, ogling stares that greeted me in the towns, where Indian equivalents of country bumpkins gathered en masse to give me the once-over, the Adivasi regarded me with stoic reserve.  The women stood dignified in their saris while the men clasped their hands behind their backs and stood with a balletic lightness to observe the proceedings.  Even the children were mindfully quiet.

When you are confronted with the less attractive defects that plague humanity, it is hard to watch.  This is a fact no matter where you are in the world.  But to see a group of people, like the Adivasi, with common problems of cataracts and mental illness, lacking both the education to know what is wrong and the resources to do anything if they did, it is especially hard for a stranger to observe.  The faces I saw in that little room stayed with me without the aid of photographs.