Amrao Manush: The Pavement Dwellers 2
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 sex worker searches for a place to sleep on the rooftop of Kamalapur Railway Station. Previously, they would sleep on train platforms and in waiting rooms. But the authorities no longer allow them to sleep there, with police detaining those who try. The rooftop may also be used as a ‘room’ for sex workers during business hours. 2010, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Lili Begum wakes up at dawn ready for a day’s work collecting waste. She lives underneath Kamalapur Stadium with her family. Around 500 people take shelter beneath the stadium. Most of them come from Gaibandha, one of Bangladesh’s poorest areas. Many migrate from there due to riverbank erosion. 2010, Mugda Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Babu steals vegetables off the backs of rickshaw-vans, trucks and from wholesalers to sell them for a living. When it rains, he finds it easier because drivers are in a rush and pay less attention to him. He spends much of his earnings on his drug addiction. Like Babu, many young pavement dwellers are addicted to substances of some form. 2010, Kawran Bazaar.
Jummon and his partner, Ontora, in an abandoned rail carriage in Kamalapur Railway Station. Jummon earns his living from various occupations, from manual labour to stealing and mugging. Ontora is a sex worker. She works in various places in and around the station, including on rooftops, in abandoned carriages and gaps in between rail lines. She also makes love to Jummon in these spaces. 2010, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Popy, a pregnant sex worker, visits a health worker for a regular check-up in a new day center for street people. Popy is now 16 years old and is fortunate enough to get medical assistance. Before the center opened, pregnant street dwellers faced many medical complications. Popy herself previously suffered a miscarriage. She has a new boyfriend who she’s been with for a month so far. He supports her to get food. 2010, Mugda Amrao Manush Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Rezina and her family as they arrive back in Dhaka after a visit to see their relatives in Gaibandha. Families often feel they are thrown in at the deep end when they first migrate to the city from a rural area. But they have faith that they will be able to stay afloat. The family migrated to Dhaka in search of work several years ago. Now, Khabir pulls goods on a rickshaw-van, and Rezina collects garbage to sell to vendors who recycle. Their daughter studies at a school at Amrao Manush Day Centre for pavement dwellers. But their son spends his time doing nothing. 2010, Mugda Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A rickshaw driver sleeping in his rickshaw at Kamalapur Railway Station. He uses it as his bed as it is safer for both him and the rickshaw. A lot of male pavement dwellers pull rickshaws for a living. 2010, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Many pavement dwellers suffer severe health problems, including malnutrition, tuberculosis, weak heart, and drug addiction. Often, they find it easiest to beg for a living. Others work as garbage collectors. 2010, Sadarghat ferry termina, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A young pavement dweller caught by railway police for stealing from a passenger. Younger pavement dwellers often steal and rob to earn a living and pay for their addictions. 2010, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Rijia, an elderly street dweller prepares her dinner for the evening. She cooks only a little amount of rice that she got by begging in the street. She uses scrap material as fuel. The street in which she cooks is littered with garbage, mud and human waste. 2010, Mugda Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A disabled pavement dweller begging on Mughdha Street, Dhaka. Begging is the main source of income for pavement dwellers who are disabled, very young, or elderly. 2010, Mugda Para, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Akhbar (Right) and Nurbanu. Akhbar has been suffering fever for the past two days. Nurbanu pours cool water on his head to lower his temperature. 2010, Mugda Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Josna, with her 1 day-old baby boy, and her partner, Selim. Josna was lucky to have a safe delivery. She works as a sex worker, and Selim steals for a living. Selim was detained by police three days after this picture was taken. 2010, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Fulbanu at a mobile medical camp in Mugda Stadium set up the Amrao Manush Day Center. At the medical camp, she gets free prescriptions and medicines. Before the center was set up, Fulbanu and other pavement dwellers did not have any opportunities like this. 2010, Mugda Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A child plays in an underpass in the early morning while it rains outside. He spent the previous night in the underpass with his parents, who are still sleeping alongside their neighbours. 2010, Kawran Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Jaheda on her way back to her home at Mugda Stadium. At the stadium, she sells pieces of paper and plastic she has collected from garbage dumps and the streets. 2010, Mugda Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Panna and Rita have been friends for the last two years. They stay together in the street and have now become family. They share their food and income earned from collecting and selling waste vegetables from the bazaar. 2010, Kawran Bazaar Amrao Manush Day Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Arshadul and Shumon playing together one evening in Karwan Bazaar. Arshadul collects waste paper from garbage before selling it on. Shumon steals for a living. They are good friends. 2010, Kawran Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Rina getting ready to make her bed for her and her family on a footpath on the main street of Karwan Bazaar. She sells waste vegetables collected from the bazaar.. 2010, Kawran Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A young pavement dweller sleeping on the arrival platform at Sadarghat ferry terminal. As ships begin arriving at the terminal in the middle of the night, he will wake up to begin working on them as a porter. 2010, Sadarghat ferry termina, Dhaka, Bangladesh.