Life in the Wastelands by Debmalya Ray Choudhuri


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Kolkata -one of the most important economic and cultural hubs of India. A concrete jungle of sky high buildings ,swanky malls and offices ,yet with a life refulgent ,simple and laid back. In the suburbs of all this noise and humdrum of daily city life, lies one of the biggest open air waste disposal sites and the area around it which has a life of its own-a life shrouded in squalor and an uncanny solitude .

Every day the city generates tons of waste and where does this go -Dhapa ,that is what it is called-a hinterland so different that it hardly bears a semblance of being a part of a metropolitan busy city.

Dhapa dumping ground spread over 60 acres of land started operations in 1987 has long outlived its utility. It was built with the capacity to accommodate city’s wastes for 15 years. The people who are engaged in segregating the waste and collecting and trashing them are mostly migrant labourers from the poorest sections of the society. They live in abject poverty in thatched frail houses in the hinterland away from the crowd .The government has established a local school and some medicine stores ,most of which are dysfunctional or closed. These people are exposed to toxic fumes and gases ,which rise from the burning of the waste .The children are often seen engaging in the same labour for an additional daily income which by world standards is much less than the minimum for basic sustenance. These people have built a life around the place and it is in stark contrast to the luxuries of a city life. Relentlessly working throughout the day for a meagre wage has become a way of life for them,a quagmire of sorts .Working long hours ,mostly from day break to dusk often takes a toll on their health .

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The “Jomadars” or the people living in the area responsible for the waste segregation and disposal, as is popularly called is the most overlooked section of our society .Their state is just testimony to the growing economic disparity particularly ubiquitous in our country,India.

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This place is soon going to be overloaded with all the waste beyond its capacity and the government fears that it cannot sustain for long .The place needs to be shifted soon to a more remote location away from the city .Sadly, this may entail a huge amount of expenditure ,something that the government has not yet planned or taken into account given the sheer ignorance of this place piling up with waste and stench. It is only a matter of time ,maybe a few years more until this place can no longer be used as a dumping site . What might happen to these people who have built a locality of their own around them ?No one knows .In a developing country like India where labour is cheap ,every place caters to casual and migrant workers who are ready to work on meagre wages only to survive through the day .Soon the workers in the former parts of this place may disappear into oblivion and take to other menial jobs or migrate somewhere else.

The main intent for my project is to put forth the lives of these people ,important yet ignored largely by the state .Though living on false hopes of a better life soon, there is no sense of despondency in them: maybe they have adjusted themselves to their destiny or maybe they are waiting for a better future which seems bleak .


”Life in the wastelands” is part of a sustainable human development long term project that I have adopted ,starting off with a photo essay on the largest and only dumping ground of a densely populated city ,Kolkata. [Official website]

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