Millions of girls around the world have hopes, dreams and a desire to go to school and stay in school. But, accessing and completing her education is not only about the girl herself. It’s also about the heroes around her who work for equality of opportunity. And, in many cases, one of these heroes is often a girl’s father.
Debasmita Dasgupta is the mastermind behind My Father Illustrations, a creative celebration of daughter-father stories from around the globe. We met her when she shared a portrait of Senna from Peru and have been inspired and intrigued by her work ever since.
We were even more excited to learn that My Father Illustrations began after Debasmita heard a TED talk from Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a good friend of Girl Rising who grew up in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime and dressed as a boy in order to attend school.
It was Shabana’s father’s courage to provide her with access to education that inspired Debasmita to begin her project.
“Shabana’s story gave me a strong impulse to do something but I didn’t know ‘what’ and ‘how’. That’s when my sketchbook and pencil caught my eyes.”
Now, it’s 4 years later, and Debasmita has sketched 216 father-daughter relationships from 54 countries. Since our favorite stories are ones that keep girls' and women’s voices at the center, we will let Debasmita speak for herself:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am from a middle class family in Kolkata, India. Being the only child, I had a very close bond with my parents, especially my father who always told me do not be afraid to ask questions. My father is a theatre actor and director. I used to accompany him for rehearsals and get completely bowled over seeing him bring together actors and orchestrate them to create art with strong social messages. That became the foundation of my artistic existence. It inspired me to find my purpose as an artist. Thus began an urge do something meaningful with my education, my art, my resources and surroundings.
I did my post-graduation in Development Communications and started working with non-profits in different parts of India. The field exposures that I received during my tenure in India helped me observe and better understand many pressing social needs in the country. In 2010, I shifted to Singapore to manage the media relations for an intergovernmental non-profit that works across Asia and Europe. I still take up a lot of freelance visual storytelling assignments with non-profits in the developing world. It gives me immense satisfaction to create art for a cause. I am also a published children’s book illustrator and I have illustrated books for many publishers including KATHA, Pratham Books and Room to Read in India.
Do you feel like you are an empowered woman? If yes, why? If no, what do you think needs to happen - in society - for you to feel fully empowered?
Yes, I do. Because I am well informed and educated about my rights. I also have the freedom to exercise them. I consciously stand for our fundamental rights and question any individual or institution that try to undermine those rights.
In addition to sharing “My Father Illustrations” on social media, how else to you connect with fathers and daughters?
I decided to expand the scope of my work reaching out to communities in need, collecting stories from the grassroots. That’s how Doodle with Dad (DwD) started in 2015 through which I partner with local organisations and community members to facilitate community art camps for fathers and daughters.
These camps provide a space for dialogue to fathers and daughters and help strengthen their bonding with each other. “Art” as a medium of communication helps initiate discussions on sensitive topics including female foeticide, child marriage, and violence against girls.
Is there a particular moment where you remember realizing the power of a Father-Daughter relationship?
The making of every “My Father” illustration reminds me of that. Before creating the illustration I do research to better understand the father and daughter of my next story – who they are, what they do and what makes them special. The more I know them, the more I get inspired. Every story makes me believe the world has a lot of positive energy that we need to share, to be good and do better.
What is it that keeps fathers around the world from hoping for sons over daughters?
It is the patriarchal mind-set and the gender stereotypes that are deep-rooted in many of us. Only with right education in families, schools and communities these beliefs can be challenged.
Do you have one of your images in particular that is your favorite? Tell us more about it.
Some stories certainly create a deeper impression than the others. One of them is my illustration inspired by the life of Monica Singh, an acid attack survivor from India. She was 19 when she faced this earth shattering experience. However neither she or her father lost hope. They kept walking until the end of the tunnel and finally the darkness was over. She is now a fashion design student at the prestigious Parsons School of Fashion in New York. She has proven that inner beauty is far more powerful than physical beauty. Her pillar of strength, her confidant, was her father, Mahendra Singh. Monica has established The Mahendra Singh Foundation to train other survivors with skills so that they become self-sufficient.
What does gender equality mean to you?
To me, gender equality is when a girl and a boy get access to equal opportunities in life. These opportunities include living in a safe and healthy environment, getting education and life-skills, which make them confident and empowered to take the right decisions for them and for others.
Want to check out more of Debasmita’s work? Visit her Facebook page and prepare to be inspired.