Last week, I woke up early in Rajasthan at the Bal Ashram of Kailash Satyarthi. Typically, mornings are not my shining moments, but since he is the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, along with Malala Yousafzai, I was thankful for a moment to reflect on my position.
As my feet hit the cool floor, I turned to see the sun arriving boldly over the mountaintop temple in the distance. Honestly, the sight floored me. It was one of those moments that feels incredibly personal, yet meant for sharing. So, quietly amongst the seven other sleeping fellows in a very dark room, I scrounged for my old DSLR camera.
I’ve earned a degree in photography and worked with the world’s best photo library at the National Geographic Society. I am no stranger to an aperture. However, for various reasons, I’ve barely touched a camera in years. My unfamiliarity magnified in the dark as I rustled, aimed, and clicked with what seemed like incredible noise. But, I had a great shot; I could tell as I briefly glanced at the screen, not wanting to fill the room with light.
I went about my day, doing yoga with the kids, perfecting utensil-less eating, snapping a few more photos and getting to know my fellow Fellows. I learned more about Mr. Satyarthi’s decades of rescuing children from labor and trafficking. Along with children and child advocates around the globe, he has helped to secure child rights through legal reforms and public awareness in significant ways. Though India’s laws had been good and are getting better, according to the ashram’s educational videos, child abuse hides in the darkness of unaccountable adults and ignorance.
And then, I reviewed my photos. Frankly, they’re not good. They lack focus and clarity. The contrast is weak, which means the shadows and light both fall short of their potential.
Then, I got metaphorical.
In the days following the ashram visit, I’ve often returned to this idea of shadow. My fellowship assignment at the Counsel to Secure Justice will largely focus on legal transparency and courtroom accountability. Indian child sexual assault laws are relatively strong, progressive and victim-centered, as far as I can tell in my limited research. And yet, conviction and accountability are blurred concepts, which is certainly not an Indian-only problem.
I can sympathize with India’s lack of perfection. We both have significant histories of education and reform. One might expect the Delhi court system to clearly administer the law and to present striking images of justice. One might also expect me to take jaw dropping photographs.
The legacy of Mr. Satyarthi teaches that darkness is all around us. But so is the light. My photographs are largely dissatisfying and unremarkable because they don’t delineate well; there is not sharp distinction between the two. I suspect I’ll find a similarly fuzzy border between the beacon of restorative justice and the realities of implementing it daily.
During this fellowship, I anticipate bright bursts of light as I experience exciting moments, incredible camaraderie and meaningful work. I also expect hardship, confusion and vague notions of progress, both in my personal experience and in the work I produce.
But shadows are essential. They frame the light.
And so, I’m excited to begin work tomorrow. And thankful for that sunrise.