Current Issue / DU Alumni

Daughters of India

Stephen Huyler (BA history ’73) figured he should take a class to familiarize himself with India before he left for a trip there with a friend. His friend ended up canceling the trip, and Huyler found himself “riveted” with his Indian studies. So riveted, in fact, that he convinced DU’s administration to let him create his own degree in Indian studies and developed an independent yearlong research trip to India during his junior year.

Although most young women in India today wear contemporary fashions, girls in some regions, such as this one in Kachchh, Gujarat, still proudly adorn themselves in traditional jewelry. Photo: Stephen Huyler

That year, he set to work on what he considers to be his first book (unpublished essays and photos) while traveling through India. The work was a collaborative effort: “I sent [essays] to my mother handwritten, and she typed them up and sent them to the University,” Huyler says.

Huyler, who came to DU intending to study creative writing, felt a strong desire to capture the country and its people in a creative fashion. “I saw things in India that needed to be documented through photography in addition to words,” he says. And on that initial trip, he knew what it was he wanted to focus on: Indian womanhood.

“I had these very rich, rewarding experiences into the social Indian dynamic in which I witnessed the strength of women,” he says. “Men run hotels, men run the businesses, men run the public sphere … but women run the private sphere.”

His most recent book — his fifth on India and its culture — is Daughters of India: Art and Identity (Abbeville Press, 2008). It profiles 20 different Indian women, featuring color portraits and text describing their journeys.

Stories range from traditional to modern, and each highlights women’s empowerment, Huyler says. Some of these “daughters of India,” he explains, have had to “live behind the veil” and were viewed as untouchables and treated as lower-class citizens.

“These are horrific situations, but they don’t view them as such,” Huyler says. “It’s an example of [the strength] of women globally.”

Huyler aims to dispel Western myths about Indian women, claiming that Americans are often jolted by reports they hear about the country in general.

“We have our homes with televisions and cars and washing machines. … We believe that people who don’t have these are less fortunate or less happy, but in fact, that’s not true,” Huyler says, noting that the women he features in his book are among the most content people he’s known.

Huyler has spent an average of four months a year in India for the past 37 years. “It’s tiring,” Huyler admits, “but I love doing it. It feeds something inside me. It’s very nourishing.”

Although he says it’s impossible to speak all the Indian dialects, he has learned to comprehend a handful. Many of the women he converses with understand and speak English and “are very, very open, kind, receptive and generous people.”

“I’m very aware of the issues of inequality,” he says, “but I do not view Indian women as victims.”

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