This documentary photography was submitted to Edge of Humanity Magazine by documentary photographer Tui Sigman.
From project “Fly Over The Children” by Tui Sigman.
Click on any image to see Tui’s gallery of documentary and travel photography.
In the midst of a concrete jungle, under the Jogeshwari Flyover on the Western Express Highway of Mumbai, live dozens of families with children. A majority of these families have relocated in search for work, from a poverty-stricken village, Kolhapur, Maharashtra. Many of them were farm owners unable to make ends meet and so forced to sell their land.
With nothing but hope and a handful of possessions they arrive on the streets of Mumbai, to then build homes with plastic tarp for their families. The majority of them work long days as laborers at construction sites, with meager salaries that only allow them to live hand to mouth. The role of the State Government in helping these citizens is minimal, it only goes as far as providing a set quota of monthly ‘rations’ (rice, pulses and grains), and can be taken IF one possesses a ‘ration card’, available only to those with a permanent address. The bureaucratic process further alienates citizens in need.
These young and bright children survive the challenges of the urban environment by adapting to life on the streets. They find ways to make a living, and protect themselves, while still childish and mischievous.
A few parents take their children to work with them at construction sites or cleaning gutters, believing their children are safer under their watch.
The older siblings assume the role of caregivers to the younger ones and watch the house while the parents work. Some innocently admit they turn to stealing or begging at the traffic lights. Stolen steel spoons from the back of a local restaurant, become currency for barter in times of hunger pangs.
Several young boys under the Jogeshwari Flyover, walk long distances across the city in search of recyclable scraps and plastic bags that is monetarily compensated by weight. Arjun, of 11 years, lost both his parents to an accident at a construction site and is now the sole-bearer of income for himself and his 6 year old sister. He takes great pride in being able to support his sibling with honest hard work.
These are ‘working children’ (not employed against their will, nor forced into labor), but actively pursuing a means to an end, to survive and support their families in any way they can, bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, often literally. Almost all of these children when asked if they would attend school given the chance, they enthusiastically replied, they would.
After having spent time with these children under the flyover, I was eventually welcomed into their world of dreams. With boys enthusiastically expressing desires to join the army, become teachers or cricketers, and girls aspiring to be teachers, scientists and bollywood heroines.
An exceptionally energetic and optimistic girl Kranti, 8 years old, would walk 4 kms everyday to get clean water and cart it back balanced atop her head, with a smile on her face, not fazed by this whatsoever.
Living on the sidewalks, they breathe in the toxic fumes from the relentless traffic along with dust, making them more susceptible to lung disease at a delicate age.
The scorching summer of Mumbai spares no one. The heat inflicts severe rashes and nosebleeds, amongst a host of other undiagnosed and untreated health problems. Neither does the merciless monsoon spare those who live in houses made of plastic tarp, nor the host of infectious diseases that chance upon them on a rainy day.
Despite the odds these children somehow survive the urban environment of Mumbai and its challenges with the force of the indomitable human spirit, maturing beyond their years and a loosing some innocence along the way, but not the ability to have dreams in their eyes.
By Tui Sigman