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Birkbeck and The Hindu newspaper launch photography competition

An exhibition of photos by Birkbeck's Dr Penny Vera-Sanso inspires photo competition across India

An exhibition of photographs by Birkbeck Development Studies lecturer Dr Penny Vera-Sanso and the Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies in Chennai, southern India, which uncovers the economic contribution made by older people to India's fourth biggest city, has inspired the launch of a national photo competition across India with The Hindu, one of India’s most widely-read English language newspapers.

The competition The Working Elderly, invites the public to submit and vote for photographs of older people working in India, in order to reveal the diversity of older people's work and their contribution to family, society and the economy.  Dr Vera-Sanso hopes the competition will create a ‘people’s research project’ and give much-needed visibility to older workers.

Porter in wholesale market

Research project

Launched in association with Birkbeck and the Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, the competition follows two research projects, Ageing and Poverty: Working Lives of Older People in India, and Ageing, Poverty and Neoliberalism in Urban South India, led by Dr Vera-Sanso as part of a five-year research initiative, New Dynamics of Ageing, funded by Research Councils UK.

“Our research reveals that older people make a significant contribution to the economy, yet they are too often positioned as burdens on their families and the economy,” said Dr Vera-Sanso.   “Old age poverty is pushed to the margins of policy and planning, and the economic and social contribution people make in later life, and their needs, go largely unnoticed.

“We wanted to get our findings widely known in order to spur a debate on older people’s contributions, needs and rights, but knew that formal publication would take time, and wouldn’t necessarily be read where it could make a difference,” she added.  “We took many photos while conducting our research and it struck me that these images would powerfully convey the story of older people's work to a general audience."

Cleaning rice

New audiences

“Earlier this year we were invited by the Pension Parishad, a network of civil society organisations campaigning for a universal pension in India, to exhibit our photographs at their five-day demonstration in Delhi. The network is continuing to use the exhibition in its campaign to raise awareness of older people’s circumstances.”

Dr Vera-Sanso is delighted that the exhibition is bringing her research findings to new audiences.

“We put the academic arguments into the accompanying text in English and Hindi, and we saw people – many of whom are barely or semi-literate – taking time to follow every element of each exhibition board," she said.

“The Pension Parishad demonstration attracted thousands of older people. Following this with a photography competition in The Hindu, which has a huge readership, is a wonderful way to give visibility to the work older people do, and to gather evidence on the range of that work across a country as large and diverse as India."

The Hindu competition runs until July 21, voting finishes on July 28. All competition photographs are viewable on and everyone is welcome to vote and submit qualifying photographs.

Photo credit: Penny Vera Sanso and CLPHRS, Chennai

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