Attired in sarees and oversized sweatshirts, these women gather seaweed as a means of existence, unlike their Victorian counterparts who did it for centuries as recreation. Alongside images of iconoclastic or carefree liberties that people take with clothing and water, this photo-essay dwells on one set of women in southern Tamil Nadu. In Ramanathapuram district, women from the coastal villages of Chinnapalam, Bharathinagar and Kilakarai leave each morning to enter the sea, fully clothed in their sarees and underskirts, the “petticoat”. Some of them take boats to head out to shallow waters where they jump in, and others walk into the waters from the seashore. This image of saree-clad women in water makes for much curiosity about the conditions that lead to such incongruous behaviour. After all, the saree is an attire associated with words like “homely”, “traditional”, “womanly” and is apparently designed to fix the movements of women on land. Worn underwater, it appears to be a transgression. Worn with a man’s shirt, the contrasts within the image become stark.
The women divers of Rameswaram