The global award in photography and sustainability

Brent Stirton

India is the nation where the highest number of burns victims are found. People live in close proximity to each other and the primary source of light in many villages is paraffin lamps. These are easily knocked over, especially by children, and the building materials are easily set alight. Despite over six million people being burnt every year, India has very few burns facilities at clinics and hospitals and the best of those are very expensive, especially for the complex and multi-layered surgeries that burn victims require as well as the plastic surgery afterwards. This is particularly tragic for impoverished women and girls. The ability to marry is very important in India, in large part because of the dowry price that is attached to the marriage and how that can uplift the bride’s family. Dr Subodh Singh is a very talented plastic surgeon who made a deliberate decision to build a clinic for the most impoverished burns victims. He offers free surgery to them and runs camps where he can locate those most in need and provide transport so they may come for surgery. In many cases, the amount of money required to travel to a hospital is beyond the means of many rural families, let alone the cost of surgery. In this work I covered the surgery of a very brave and determined girl Kumkum Chowdhary, who was terribly burned when a gas canister exploded when a flame was held to it by an ignorant village boy. I saw Kumkum three times in two years and watched her endure what has been a painful but meaningful transformation from years 12 to 14. She is hopeful of being married now. I went to West Bengal to meet Ragini Kumari, 10, who was badly burnt by a Kerosene fire when she was 2 years old. She has had to grow up with a terrible constriction in her neck and shoulders due to the burns and how they reshaped her body. I travelled with Ragini and her parents via train to Varanasi. Dr Singh freed her surgically in the space of an hour, rebuilding Ragini completely will take more time, one visit a year for the next three. Dr Singh’s small hospital is always full and he is always happy to see it so. He says he dedicates his clinic to his father, who taught him to always be of service to those less fortunate than himself.

Brent Stirton