Amrao Manush: The Pavement Dwellers 1
Thousands of people sleep, stay and spend their days and nights on the sidewalks and pavements of Dhaka and Kolkata. Here, they become the natives of the streets. Not everyone who comes to the city will ‘make it’. They are at risk of becoming even more hidden.
Their main concerns are food, clothing, and a place to sleep. They live for the present. One day at a time. No past, no future. They engage in numerous activities to earn a living (working as porters, rickshaw pullers, maids, sex traders, and solid-waste recyclers), with their own particular struggles and joys.
Many newcomers arrive after escaping floods that ruin livelihoods in rural areas and that are becoming more frequent with climate change. Others are crippled with debt and are reeled in by the promise of better opportunities. But for the future influx of pavement dwellers, the move will not bring the better life they hope for.
We might assume that the biggest struggle for pavement dwellers is homelessness and unemployment. But the reality is that their situation robs them of their human dignity, renders them “invisible” to the rest of society and denies them access to the rights and resources that others enjoy. Nonetheless, they are conscious of their identities as human beings. Amrao Manush is a Bangla phrase meaning ‘We are humans too’.
I started this project in 2007, as a staff photographer with Drik and it was commissioned by Concern Worldwide. In 2010, I received grants from both the Magnum and Alexia Foundations to support the continuation of the project and this has helped me to give voice to the voiceless.
A group of pavement dwellers entertaining themselves in Osmani Uddyan singing “We eat in the hotels, sleep in the streets, we are rogue vagabonds, our home is in Gulistan and our house is in Osmani.” 2007, Osmani Uddyan.
A group of pavement dwellers sleep together like a family on the veranda of Mirpur Mazar market, but they do not know each other. They will have to get up very early in the morning before the shopkeepers arrive and chase them away. 2007, Mirpur Mazar.
A pavement dweller, working as a porter, unloads vegetables at dawn from trucks coming from different parts of the country at Kawran Bazaar in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2007,
Pavement dwellers queuing at a public toilet in the morning, in Paltan. In cities designed for the wealthy, the poor struggle to retain their dignity.
Rabeya, a physically handicapped woman, begging for alms. 2007, Mirpur Mazar.
With help from a neighbour, a mother cleans her baby’s excrement with a cloth but no water. 2007, Kamalapur Railway Station.
The Mazar authorities supply free meals for about 300 people at lunchtime everyday, on a first-come first-served basis. For many of the pavement dwellers around the Mazar, this is the only secure meal of the day.
2007, Mirpur Mazar.
A young man massaging his sick friend with ‘tel pora’ (blessed oil). They have been friends for four months, strangely however they did not know each other’s names before I asked. 2007, Kamalapur Railway Station.
Neighbours sharing moments as they come from different parts of the country, but live together like a family. 2007, Kawran Bazaar.
A child scribbles on his palm. 2007, Paltan.
An angry lover beats his ex-girlfriend for not returning the money he spent to release her from police custody, after she was arrested as a sex worker. No one around comes forward to help. 2007, Mirpur Mazar.
Marjina, a sex worker, posing for a photograph. 2007, Kamalapur Railway Station.
A rickshaw-van puller sleeps on his van, wrapped in a plastic sheet to ward off mosquitoes and rain. 2007, Kawran Bazaar.
A boy sleeping on the stairs of the market near the Mazar gate. 2007, Mirpur Mazar.
Champa with her son Ridoy, rushing to me as they see me after a while. In the beginning, Champa was very hesitant towards me, but she soon became quite willing to pose in front of the camera. To trust or distrust someone is a matter of whimsy for her. 2008, Kamalapur Railway Station.
The platform of Kamlapur rail station also used to be a common place for shelter at night for the pavement dwellers, but these people are no longer allowed to sleep here either. I have been taking photos of pavement dwellers since 2005. Since then I have observed that while the number of pavement dwellers is increasing, the places where the can sleep is shrinking every year making it more and more difficult for them to survive. 2007, Kamalapur Railway Station.