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Relevant issues for this story, separated by commas (eg. war, race, gender):
Poverty, Human Rights
Geographical region for this story (eg. Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia):
South Asia, Asia
Relevant key words for this story, separated by commas (eg. Africa, Hurricane Katrina, Mother Teresa):
Homelessness, Migration, Dhaka, Megacity, Kolkata, Bangladesh, India, Urban Migration
A short summary for this story that will go on the stories page (1-2 sentences):
As urban populations in South Asia have grown, so too have the numbers of the pavement dwellers. This project documents a group of pavement dwellers in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Kolkata, India: people poor in material wealth, but rich with life, color, humanity and humor, all the while facing problems of criminality, ill health and insecurity.
A K M Shehab Uddin

2010 — professional winner

While the term ‘megacity’ implies images of gleaming skyscrapers, the reality is that rapid urban growth will also create a rise in exclusion. Not everyone who comes to the city will ‘make it’. As urban populations in South Asia – where a disproportionate number of megacities will be located – grow, so will the number of pavement dwellers. They are at risk of becoming even more hidden.

I was pulled to Dhaka from the countryside as a migrant – like the pavement dwellers I have photographed – in 1990. My beginnings inspired me to raise awareness of their vulnerable position. After 10 years of shooting breaking and spot news as a press photographer, I felt it was time to enter another kind of life with a longer project. My empathy with the sprawling, huddling gangs of street people is strong and I became friends with several of them.

Thousands of people sleep, stay and spend the day on the sidewalks and pavements of Dhaka and Kolkata. Initially arriving as migrants lured to the capital by the promise of better opportunities, they engage in a variety of activities to make money, including being porters in transport centers, laborers unloading trucks in the market, rickshaw pullers, maid servants, sex traders and solid waste recyclers. Here, they become the natives of the streets.

Freedom, democracy, human rights, fundamental, primary, secondary, demand, supply. These are words which are unknown to many of the pavement dwellers of Dhaka city or Kolkata. Others know them but do not care. Their main concern is food, clothing and a place to sleep. They live for the present. One day at a time. No past, no future. 

The number of pavement dwellers may not seem large in the context of Bangladesh, a country with a population of 150 million. But their population over the last decade has increased at the same rate as the population of Dhaka, which is currently between 7 and 10 million. The capital itself is in line to become one of the world’s largest megacities, set for a population of 20 million over the coming years. In Mumbai, 60 percent of the total population consists of pavement and hutment dwellers. Kolkata is also set to see the biggest population of homeless people in the world. Many of the newcomers arrive after having been pushed out due to floods and others natural disaster arising as a result of climate change damaging their livelihoods in rural areas, or due to crippling debts. These problems only show signs of increasing.

But for the future influx of pavement dwellers, the move will not bring the better life they hope for. Instead, they are in danger of becoming some of the most vulnerable people in the country. In Bangladesh and India, pavement dwellers are looked down upon as social outcasts, feared by middle class society.

But they are conscious of their identities as human beings. We might assume that the biggest struggle for homeless people is unemployment and homelessness. 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.

Through working with pavement dwellers, I tried to enable these homeless people to fight for their own rights and portray the inner story of how these people want to portray themselves. I came across lives which were poor in material wealth, but rich with life, color, humanity, and humor, as well as facing problems of criminality, ill health and insecurity. With my photo essay, I have tried to give a voice to the voiceless. 

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A group of pavement dwellers try to warm themselves up in the cold by burning paper in front of the platform. Cold weather is one of the difficulties they face, alongside rain, mosquitoes and other problems. Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
A young pavement dweller, who works as a sex worker, smokes marijuana while she waits for a customer. Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2010. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
Laxmi Kanto Laskor collects garbage for living during a late evening. He was forced to live on the streets after his parents abandoned him because they disapproved of him arranging his own marriage. Raja Rammohan Sarani, Kolkata, India. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
Abdus Sobhan, an elderly street dweller, at a mobile medical camp at Kamalapur Railway Station. At the camp he gets free prescriptions and medicines. The medical camp is run by the Amrao Manush Daycare Denter. Before it was set up, Sobhan and other pavement dwellers did not have opportunities such as this. Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
Rupa, a child pavement dweller, reads in the early morning before her father wakes up. In Kolkata, some street children are lucky enough to get the chance to go to school. This is rare in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Babughat, Kolkata, India. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
Laxmi Kanto Laskor with his two-year-old son, Mangal, and his sister-in-law, on the way to visit relatives aboard a local train. Their family collects garbage for living. Borabazar, Kolkata, India. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
Asa Rani Laskor combs her hair in the evening with her husband, Laxmi Kanto Laskor, and daughter, Pinki. As the family collects garbage for a living, they shower and freshen up every evening. Raja Rammohan Sarani, Kolkata, India. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
Two porters, Togar Ali and Pir Mohammad, enjoying a morning shower. Kolkata City Corporation supplies water from the Ganga River for pavement dwellers to use twice a day. Borabazar, Kolkata, India. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
A mentally challenged pavement dweller dresses himself as a traffic police officer and tries to control the traffic. Raja Rammohan Sarani, Kolkata, India. 2011. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation
Two rickshaw-van pullers sleep on their van, wrapped in a plastic sheet to ward off rain and mosquitoes. Kawran Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2010. Shedab Uddin/Alexia Foundation