It was pre-independence, when India was still under the regime of the British, fighting for its liberty. It was that period when women were hardly allowed to be educated. Against all odds, Homai Vyarawalla, then chose to take up the profession of photography equally with men, hence becoming India’s first female photojournalist. Vyarawalla was known for photographing the best moments of the history, before independence, after independence and also many leaders. She played a significant role in documenting the important events during India’s independence movement.
Homai Vyarawalla was born to a Parsi family on December 9, 1913, in Navsari, Gujarat. Ms. Vyarawalla and her family moved to Mumbai in 1932, where she went on to study at the Bombay University and JJ School of Art. Homai was married to Manekshaw Vyarawalla, accountant, and photographer for the Times of India. She picked up the art of photography from her husband, and eventually went on to build a career in the same field. She launched her career in the 1930s and worked on the onset of World War II. The black and white images that she published in The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine, earned her respect.
Vyarawalla’s contribution to the photojournalism was immense. She had photographed the first Indian flag that was hoisted at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947. Her contributions also included photographing Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s last press conference in India, and several political leaders, including former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Some of her best works that photographed Nehru addressing the crowds in Delhi, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, departure from India, and Gandhi’s funeral, left an impeccable impression. She even photographed Queen Elizabeth’s and former United States President Dwight Eisenhower’s visits to India.
Soon after her husband’s death, in 1970, she gave up photography. After she retired, she passed on her photos to Delhi-based Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. She died at the age of 98 in 2012 in Vadodara. Vyarawalla’s decision to take up the profession of photography was a bold step then, as women were not encouraged to do so at that time. She initially published her work using the pseudonym ‘Dalda 13’, which was attributed to her birth year.
It was her contribution and her determination to work equivalent to men during the Independence movement, that has made everyone to remember her (works) to this day. Honoring the first female photojournalist, Google Doodle on December 9, 2017, paid tribute with a doodle on her 104th birth anniversary.