Visual Artist and Storyteller Debmalya Ray Choudhuri is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. These images are from his project ‘A Different World’. To see Debmalya’s photographs click on any image.
In a country like India, of the national land area of 3,166 lakh hectares, 15% is categorized as wasteland. It encompasses a diverse set of states with some having an overwhelming area as waste while some lacking an inch that could be called wasteland. The wastelands in some of the major urban cities now serve only one purpose- dump yards for the several thousand metric tonnes of daily urban consumer waste. For the most part, there is no way to segregate them and the people who work in these wastelands are exposed to all types of hazardous substances too. There is no safety precautions of gloves, or masks to shield the workers from toxic fumes of burning products(often batteries, plastic and leather) or dangerous sharp objects or dead carcass. The people who work here are mostly migrant workers who have shifted to the city in search of a better option, only to find themselves lost amidst the squalor and the disparity. Most of the people living in the cities and apparently belonging to the upper middle class consider these people to be from the lowest rungs of the society. Yes, they are Dalits- most of them belong to the lower “classes” of the society and so the hoi-polloi have taken it for granted that these people would be clearing our wastes, working and living in filth .After interviewing the people of the community in different places, it was observed that most of them resonated with the same voice-feeble, unheard and desolate. The community that has developed around these regions mainly comprise of the Dalits and Muslims. Most of them are migrant workers whose daily income is much less than the global average minimum. They have houses that are no less than roofed tin boxes covering with one room housing several families and even more(8-10 members). On top of it, is the menace of flies and vector borne diseases, unhealthy drinking water that is mixed with the ground water ,lack of health infrastructure in the communities .The monsoon is one of the worst time, especially in places where drainage is poor, like in Mumbai.
These people have clearly an uncertain future- most of these dumping sites are operating way beyond their capacity, the Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai, one of the oldest, has outlived its capacity and the Dhapa dumping ground in Calcutta also has the same fate. In some places, the land has been given to private contractors for construction of other property as a result of which people might have to be displaced again. There have been talks by state governments and municipal bodies to convert some of these wastelands into energy conversion plants ,but nothing concrete has come up yet .Also, where will these people go once a plant comes up is a matter of concern? Do they even have a better future ? All these questions will never have answers, as we continue to generate waste and take life for granted.
The project was initially started in the region in Calcutta which once used to be a wetland known as the East Calcutta wetlands .The dumping ground became functional in the mid 80’s and since then daily it has been exploited and use increased exponentially over the past decade or so, thus gradually decreasing the area of fertile land also and the proportion of water-bodies. All of this has a counter-productive effect on the climate also, also exposing cities near the sea to increased flooding .
The intent for the long-term work is to showcase the dismal situation across India in spheres of waste management and how humans themselves bear the brunt of their growing consumerism and abject ignorance towards other people. It is a vicious cycle involving power, money, class divide all molded together under the veneer of crony capitalism.
“In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love, and the ability to ask questions. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us.”
~ Mary Oliver.
All that is intended through the work is to ask questions and look for answers which many people have been deprived of .
By Debmalya Ray Choudhuri