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.