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Posts Tagged ‘Delhi’

Born a criminal?

In Denotified Tribes, DNT, Documentary work, India, Uncategorized on May 22, 2017 at 3:11 pm

 

 

A baby born to a community living under a highway overpass in Mumbai

How could someone be born a criminal? I thought in the eyes of god we are all created equal or in America we are all created equal. The point is that there are many places that in politics, religion and government they speak of being born equal. Meaning that we all have the same rights and opportunities as one another. The truth is in fact far from that. For the last few years I’ve been working on a project in India that centers around what is called the Denotified and Criminal tribes. Basically this is a large group of nomadic tribes that have been living within the borders of India for hundreds of years if not longer.

Children play while living under a highway overpass in Mumbai

In 1871, the British colonial government enacted the “Criminal Tribes Act” to control supposedly ‘criminal’ communities. Despite the Act’s repeal in 1952 – five years after India gained her independence – these communities continue to have their livelihoods and dignity stripped away. Today they are like ghosts in their own country. Most live on the fringes of society in temporary encampments and extreme poverty. Without permanent housing, they lack official identity and cannot access vital social services or even cast their votes. Education becomes a luxury when children are needed to earn money for the family. Caught in cycles of intergenerational prostitution, a lack of education, and a fear of authority, these once proud communities are amongst India’s most dispossessed.

Saddest of all is that there are many generations born into this world with no idea how or why they are living the way they are. Only that this is there life. #thebirthlottery

Many of these people come from tribes that were made up of artists, musicians, puppeteers and the like. Few are able to practice their crafts these days but the ones that still are have managed to hang on to wonderful skills from the past.

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A puppeteer from the Bhat community

Three albino brothers in Delhi, India

Two people sleep on the roof of a building surrounded by a DNT community.

A DNT family in Solapur.

 

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What could she possibly be smiling about?

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2015 at 12:51 pm

The heat, oh the heat!  I guessI knew in an abstract way that it would be hot in India this time of year. Sure, I’ve been to hot climates or at least I thought I had. I mean Africa (okay it was November) but I live in NYC, it’s so hot in summer their and the humidity can do you in. Still the heat I’m feeling here in Delhi is really kind of crazy! It’s over 100 degrees every day. I’m feeling more than a little disgusting and sticking to myself, I don’t want anything to touch me, I’m starting to dream of a shower, not literally but I am thinking about it hard. I know it’s going to happen and a cold shower sounds just about right. Knowing that I’m going to take that shower is something I can really hook myself into. Knowing that things change for me when I leave this place and that I CAN leave this place is really all the comfort I need at this moment.

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A dog cools off in an open sewer.

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Kids playing in an open sewer.

Kids playing in an open sewer.

Still this is not a story about my suffering, it’s a little story of how I came to be with and document the De-Notified and Freed Criminal tribes of India. Two weeks ago I had not even heard of these tribes but since arriving in India and working with Ruchira Gupta and her NGO www.apneaap.org I’ve learnt quite a bit and you can certainly look it up online to learn more but the bottom line is during the British rule they labeled these tribes who were as they said “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bail able offenses” Once a tribe became “notified” as criminal, all its members were required to register with the local magistrate, failing which they would be charged with a crime under the Indian Penal Code. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1952 repealed the notification, i.e. ‘de-notified’ the tribal communities. This act, however, was replaced by a series of Habitual Offenders Acts, that asked police to investigate a suspect’s criminal tendencies and whether his occupation is “conducive to settled way of life.” The de-notified tribes were reclassified as habitual offenders in 1959. So basically these tribes were essentially given a scarlet letter and even though the law was repealed when India got it’s independence the damage was done. Stigmatized and marginalized within a society that often falls back on a caste system these groups do not even qualify for the lowest caste. As such they are treated with very little respect and find themselves living on the fringes in abject poverty. Setting up little tent cities on side roads with limited opportunity for adequate income.

As a result of the limited financial income options they are often forced to turn their daughters and daughters-in-law to prostitution and their sons to pimping.

As a documentary photographer I have seen a lot of poverty in India, Bangladesh, Africa and Australia but what I witnessed within the community of these DNT’s was far beyond what I had seen in the past. With barefoot children and adults thin and frail in tattered clothes performing the most basic of services like blowing up balloons to sell on the street.

A young girl from the De-notified tribe blows up a balloon to sell on the street.

A young girl from the De-notified tribe blows up a balloon to sell on the street.

Since it was so hot out many people were just taking refuge in their makeshift tents and sleeping while others were on beds on the edge of the road. When I finally got out of the car I was greeted with warmth and kindness. Young kids practicing their English on me “ what is your name?” “my name is David, what is your name?” they would giggle and repeat my name, “hello Dabid, my name is….”

Huge smiles stretched across their faces as they asked to be photographed. Each child trying to one up another and taking the main focus of the composition. How could they be so happy I thought to myself, living like this? When their very lives seem so precarious not knowing where the next meal will come from never mind safety or education.

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We set up to photograph some portraits of the kids and adults to try and create images that would help to quickly tell a story of what goes on for these individuals to whomever viewed them. Communication was tough but thanks to Jasneet from apneaap we were able to get some great images.

It’s never my goal or intention to show people in a bad light, I try to focus on the positive and the human spirit. My goal is to make a “human connection” with whomever I photograph and with these individuals in a very short time I believe a trust was forged.

After about an hour or so we said goodbye and started to head back to the office of apneaap and I was scrolling through some of the images of the day. I was struck by the portrait of one little girl. She is using a pump to fill up a balloon to later sell on the street. I found myself getting a bit emotional while looking at this image. She was so sweet-looking but even more than that she reminded me of my little cousin. How is it that one person can be so lucky to be born in to a family that is financially and emotionally stable with all the love and support around her, not wanting for anything while another little girl is born into what appears to be the complete opposite. One with every chance provided to her to succeed having essentially won the lottery on life and one not even having enough money to buy a ticket for that lottery #thebirthlottery.

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So many of us are annoyed when a beggar comes up to us and asks for money or is trying to sell some knickknack. I know I was like this but after meeting these people I have a new understanding for these kids. Certainly it’s not their choice to be in this situation. There are many reasons they are there. The obvious of course to make some money but there is also organized crime that manages these people.

I think a society can be judged on how well it takes care of it’s people and unfortunately in the case of what is going on with these De-Notified tribes there is a great failure going on. Nobody should go without education or basic necessities. Growing up without them almost guarantees that the cycle will continue.

There is hope though! With organizations like what Ruchira Gupta at Apne Aap have created bringing attention to these people and their at risk children is imperative to helping to make a change. To force the government to recognize these people, help them to get their Indian identites so that they can qualify for social services. Make them aware of what is theirs to help create a sweeping change

This little girl is getting an education thanks to the work of Apneaap.

This little girl is getting an education thanks to the work of Apneaap.

IN OUR LIFETIME!!

Layover in Kolkata

In Documentary work, India, Kolkata, Sex Workers, Tamracphoto, UN Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women on January 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Bangalore and the sex workers or Devadasi are now behind me as I board another early morning flight. My destination is Ranchi but for whatever reason I will be stopping in Kolkata for a full 9-10 hours. At first this sounds great to me but I’m also aware that I’ve been running pretty lean for the last week and getting a bit tired. It’s become more and more difficult to find a place and enough time to catch up on my now seriously depleted sleep. I’m determined to check out Kolkata though and hope to get to the Ganga (Ganges) river. I’ve never been the type of person that likes to read too much about a place or to make too many plans before I arrive. I like to go where my nose takes me. I want to be off the beaten path so with that in mind I sometimes find myself unprepared for what is in front of me. Don’t get me wrong as I like this challenge but it often ends up to be a very big challenge. Note to potential traveling companions, you had better be okay with this or there could be some uncomfortable moments. Anyway I arrive early in the am and proceed to leave the airport and find a day taxi through a service in the arrivals terminal to give me a tour of the city. I meet a nice young man who in his best stuttering English between puffs of his every present smokes claims he understands what I want and will give me a great tour of this city. I tell him what I want is to see the underbelly of the city. I’m not interested in houses of worship or anything where there may be a tourist. No problem he tells me and starts to point out all the tourist spots he can find. Once again I tell him that’s not what I want. Finally after some time he gets it and says he is going to take me to Sonagachi this is essentially the red light district of Kulkuta.

Before all that sex worker stuff, we were going to need to get some food. He takes me to this little place in the center of the city where I’m sure he takes all his fares. He knows the guys by name in the place and quickly orders what surely is his regular meal. I order some vegetarian dish and when it comes I devour it like all the food I’ve had so far and barely take the time to savor the spices that I love so much since my interest is to see what’s  going on outside. After I pay for both of us (is that the way it’s supposed to go?) I get up and wander out the door and behind some stalls to what appears to be a little town hidden behind a bigger city. Little sidewalks zig zagging back and forth like a decrepit Venice Italy. This is where poverty pervades, too poor to beg. Still smiles abound with the children. There were people playing some hand cross version of pool and checkers with an odd number of pieces and other people just making do with the day. There was a small family sitting around a chopping block with the remains of some animal. There was a jaw and a hoof and more fly’s then you would ever want to be around.

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Once back on the road and on to Sonagachi I was given some strict orders from my driver not to talk to anyone and by NO means am I to have my camera with me. I say listen here bub, this is what I do for a livin and I’ll be fine. He is really adamant that it’s terribly dangerous for me to be walking around with a camera and as much as I’d like to be a tough guy he simply will not allow it. Normally since I pay for insurance I’m not too worried about losing my gear but in this case since I had a few more shoots to do I simply could not afford to lose any of it. I decided to take the gear with me vs. leaving it in the car as he suggested.

We begin to walk in the Sonagachi area and at first it seems ordinary enough but very soon it becomes clear that there are a disproportionate number of young girls here. They tend to hang out in little groups of 4-5 and they are very nice to me. Gosh I think isn’t that nice. Who doesn’t want a little attention? Of course it’s not like that at all. These are all prostitutes and they are so young! Seems like many of them are late teens or early twenties. No doubt there are some older ones but the older ones don’t seem to be as out there as the young ones. Granted this was still early morning so I suppose they could have been sleeping from the night before. There was more than one occasion when my driver took me by the hand to guide me.  It’s very common for two men to walk hand in hand but it tends to make me a bit uncomfortable plus I feel i’m a big boy and don’t need my hand held but I certainly appreciate the concern he had for me.

Incredible poverty is what you see in this area but at the same time I don’t see sad faces. I’m not saying these people were happy with their lives only that where I was at that point in time the people I came across showed no obvious sign of stress. I have no doubt that looking a bit closer would reveal myriad of troubles. Like most places people leave their problems at home and then go to work even if their work is prostitution. There were kids playing in the street and both young and old men and women washing in the little corner water pipes.  I do wish I had the camera but I think that without a pre arranged meeting with some people my shots would probably not have been too interesting. Anyway how many shots of sex workers do you really want to see on one trip.

Next it was off to the Ganga. I just assumed this was a place that anyone who you would ask in this country never mind the city would know about it. Funny thing was that it was not as easy to find. We actually had to ask about 5-7 different people on the street to get directions to this magical place. We navigated our way through the crowds of cars and people until we crossed some train tracks and arrived at the edge of this river. These places always seem more romantic in your mind then when you are actually faced with them. It was somewhat hidden behind a row of buildings that lined the edge. As I walked through a break in the buildings my driver decided to hang out with some guys. I do find it amazing that in a city of millions a person can sit down beside what I only can imagine are total strangers and start talking as if family. Meanwhile I walked down some stairs that led right to the waters edge. There were young people washing and children playing. There was a man missing a leg from what I imagine to be polio. He with his crutch and a what I suppose was his girlfriend. They laughed and splashed each other with water. Children running naked as they always seem to do smiling and posing for the camera. I have often photographed two children together with the youngest one happy and giddy to be in the photo while the older one even though also happy to pose there was a small indication that the innocence was beginning to fade,  almost ready to say no photos but not quite independent enough to do so.

As I started to leave I went past one of the areas where they cremate bodies. There are many little concrete divots to build a fire in and then place the body on. There are what amounts to bleachers for people to sit and watch as the body burns. I saw a flame but it had been burning for some time and there was no obvious sign that a life had ever been.

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Once we left the river it was basically a bee line back to the airport. Rush hour if that’s even possible since it seems to always be rush hour would begin soon and my flight was at 7pm. We made it back much faster than it seemed it took to get from the airport to the city and I will say it’s not that close. My driver asked that I tell the service who I reserved him with to say he did a great job and that I would be back later in the week. I guess this helps him, I’m a little embarrassed to say I did not actually do this as I was not heading in the direction of the arrivals terminal where I had originally reserved the car in the first place. Oh well I’m sure he will do fine.

Now onward to Ranchi and meeting the group that works with the Adivasi or indigenous peoples of India.