Welcome to Olakh and the University of Wisconsin's digital archive of grassroots feminist posters from India. India has been home to a vibrant women's movement (or rather women's movements) with a global influence. Historically, grassroots women's organizations -- initiated and sustained by farmers, students, workers and housewives alike -- have been the backbone of the women's movement. These groups have had a vast repertoire of communication strategies for creating awareness, mobilizing support, and protesting against injustice. However, posters have been one of the most widely and effectively used communication media.
The poster collection represented in this archive is physically located in the offices of the feminist organization, Olakh (meaning Identity). Members of Olakh have designed and produced some of these posters. Many others they have collected from different women's groups and feminist organizations from all over India. These posters are not simply beautiful pieces of material culture created by individual artists. Most of the posters are the outcome of a collective political process in which community members, activists, students, and/or survivors brainstorm together to translate a deep social concern into words and images.
Even though posters have been widely produced and used in the women's movement, few organizations have preserved or documented them systematically. When posters are lost to decay or simply gather dust in storerooms or cupboards of individual organizations, they are lost to future generations who wish to engage with the material aspects of historic moments characterized by struggle and social change. Olakh has done a commendable work in collecting and preserving these posters over three decades and University of Wisconsin-Madison extends this work further by supporting preservation, cataloguing and wider sharing of this rich historical material.
Olakh is a feminist organization based in Vadodara, Gujarat, India. Olakh performs several important functions as a feminist resource, documentation, and counseling center and runs many community based programs. Their goals are to create safe spaces for women at risk, to work against discrimination, violence and injustice, and towards a more equitable society, as well as to collect and archive examples of South Asian feminists' efforts for social reform. More specifically, the main activities of the organization include:
Olakh's work has been groundbreaking, not only for the assistance it provides local community members. Just as importantly -- as one of the few feminist archives in India -- it works to record feminists' efforts at social change in many locations, from Gujarat to Bengal. This archive includes not only political pamphlets and books but also a one of a kind collection of political songs, tapes of street plays, political posters, artwork, and poetry collected by Olakh from feminist groups around the nation.
The Center for South Asia at the University of Wisconsin – Madison is comprised of a community of faculty and staff who reflect the diversity and global relevance of South Asian Studies. Through diverse academic scholarship, the Summer Language Institute, the Annual Conference for South Asia, student organizations and outreach programs, the Center seeks to define and promote greater understanding of South Asian history, language, religion and culture.
The mission of the Department of Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is to expand the understanding and appreciation of women's lives and experiences in both historic and contemporary societies. The department is involved with courses, research, and a wide range of educational programs on and off campus. Social justice is an integral part of research and curriculum in the department.
Posters in the archive are grouped under six categories, though these categories are in no way impermeable. They are: feminist thought, violence, conflict resolution, women's rights, health and education. The archive is a project in progress and we will keep refreshing it with new material as we receive it.
We acknowledge and thank all the women's groups who shared these posters with us, as well as the women and men who contributed to their creation.
Concept and Coordination: Nimisha Desai, Christine Galough, Manisha Pathak-Shelat
Photography and Design: Sanket Shah
Hindi Translation: Anshu Singh and Dr. Swami Varishthanandji
Gujarati Translation: Atman Desai
English Translation: Mubashera Campwala
Data entry: Varsha Mistry, Manisha
Administrative support: Jyoti Suryavanshi, Vimal More