Photographer Raajadharshini is shining a light on the effects of climate change in India

The photographer has witnessed the devastating impact of various climate-related disasters, from tsunamis to floods and droughts, in her home country. 
  • Photographer and WriterRaajadharshini

Having recently moved to the UK for my master’s, I have become acutely aware of the stark disparity in how climate change is perceived throughout the world. In the West, it is often discussed in a passive voice, with the privilege and luxury of time to complain about the weather. However, having grown up in a middle-class family in Tamil Nadu, India, my experience of climate change couldn’t be anything further from passive. Back home, the consequences of rising global temperatures are hugely felt. I vividly remember the water crisis in Chennai, where the levels in the city’s main reservoirs reached their lowest point in seven decades, with only 1.3 per cent of the total capacity remaining. This drought, ranked as the fifth-lowest recorded in 74 years, brought unimaginable challenges to the city. In my own home we had to adapt by storing water in large buckets and tanks, converting our dining room into a makeshift storage space. The luxury of showers and baths for relaxation was something we only saw in movies.

I recall the planned power cuts during scorching summers, with neighbouring buildings and shops continuing to function while we endured stifling heat on the other side of the lane. To combat the boiling nights, we played shadow games with our “emergency light”, relishing the moments when our good behaviour earned us the privilege of using the small fan that was attached to it. The sound of celebration echoing through the neighbourhood marked the return of electricity, a joyful reminder of the preciousness of basic amenities. Living there,

I witnessed the devastating impact of various climate-related disasters, from tsunamis to floods and droughts. The droughts have led to the drying-out of wetlands, disrupting the habitat of migratory birds a kilometre from my home; in a country with three seasons – hot, hotter, and hottest – clothes dry crisp like chips in the searing sun. This explains the overall irritation in the air, the angry honking of motorists and the weariness of shopkeepers. The constant irritation and heat render pleasantries like “please” inconsequential. And as a resource-starved country, thanks to our colonial past, we are left with a broken infrastructure. Yet we have become so accustomed to injustice that we have learnt to accept the system and thrive. We are so numb to the misery that we all know that facing the full gravity of the calamities will crush us. We have been forced to cope.

Through this project, I aim to explore how communities involved in fashion textiles, manufacturing and other industries in Tamil Nadu are coping with the effects of climate change, despite contributing the least to its causes. I want to capture images that reflect my lived experience, showcasing how we constantly find makeshift solutions to combat the heat and how we coexist with the animals of the region. By visually documenting the resilience, creativity, and resourcefulness of individuals and communities, I aim to expand the discourse around the climate crisis, challenging the misconceptions and stereotypes that overshadow our realities. Through my photography, I hope to bring attention to the unique challenges faced by those living in areas directly impacted by climate change and promote a greater understanding of the complexities and interconnections between climate, society and the environment. Heat represents not only a physical phenomenon but also a motivating force that drives us towards action. I want to explore the warmth of touch, compassion and resilience in the face of adversity, showcasing the ways in which communities unite to address the challenges posed by climate change.