The Pavement Dwellers
A photofeature by Shehab Uddin/Drik/Concern
There are thousands of people who live on the pavements of Dhaka city, becoming natives of the streets. There are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 pavement dwellers, which may seem a small number in the context of Bangladesh, but these are some of the most vulnerable people in the country, with few assets to help them cope with life in a political, social and economic system that virtually ignores them.
"We eat on the streets, sleep on the streets, we are rogue vagabonds, our home is in Gulistan and our house is in Osmani."
--In Osmani Uddyan, a park in Dhaka, a group of pavement dwellers
entertaining themselves and singing folk songs.
A significant cause of the city's rapid population growth is urban migration. This group consists of both people who are being pushed out of rural areas due to loss of resources caused by floods, debt or other disasters, and people who are being pulled to Dhaka city by the promise of better opportunities.
Freedom, democracy, autocracy, human rights, fundamental, primary, secondary, demand, supply - these words are unknown to them; some they do not even want to know. They only want food, clothing and a place to sleep. They are mechanical about the core necessities of life. Yet these people are deprived of the basic necessities like food, shelter, health, and security. They are conscious about their identities as human beings, although they are living an inhumane life.
It is a common trend to look down upon the pavement dwellers as outcasts of society. They live for the present. They do not worry about their past, nor do they think about the future, living one day at a time.
Pavement dwellers engage in different types of work to earn a living. Some of these jobs are - porters in transport centres, labourers unloading trucks in markets, rickshaw pullers, maid servants, sex traders and solid waste recyclers.
I saw two pavement dwellers in deep sleep in the rain. They cannot afford to be disturbed by the rain. If they do not use the little window of time they have designated for sleep, they will not be able to rest until the next opportunity arrives.
Now is the right time to think about this community - the victims swept under by the seemingly unstoppable tide of urban migration.
‘Amrao manush' is a Bangla phrase that means "We are People too". The name was proposed by two different women, pavement dwellers from two different locations in Dhaka.
Like the migrants and pavement dwellers, I too was pulled to Dhaka from the countryside in 1990. My own beginning in this city has inspired me to raise awareness about their vulnerability.