2010 — professional winner
Uddin is Drik Picture Library Ltd. team leader and photographer in Dhaka. He was a staff photographer at the Daily Sangbad, a leading national daily newspaper published in Dhaka for seven years. He attended Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography from 2007-2009. He was Assistant Lecturer for the College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Katmandu, Nepal, in 2006-07.
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.