Thursday, January 22, 2015
Photo essay led to Tata’s Mission Dignity
A powerful photography project on the lives of 38,000 conservancy workers who clean maximum city’s literal underbelly — its sewers, manholes, 7,000 tonnes of its solid waste — and work in hazardous conditions has spurred industrialist Ratan Tata to fund a massive project in collaboration with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to improve their lives.
Titled “In Search of Dignity and Justice – The Untold Story of Conservancy Workers,” this photo project by award-winning photojournalist Sudharak Olwe documenting how manual conservancy workers lead unsafe and undignified lives and its social impact had earned the project the National Foundation of India fellowship in 1999.
The photographs came out in book form last year, and the publishers, Lok Vanmaya Gruha approached the Tata Trusts for funding the book. When Mr. Tata flipped through the copy of the book, he was shocked to see the images and penned a strong note to his staff to search for solutions to resolve this problem, triggering off a massive and multi-layered initiative now titled “Mission Garima” (Mission Dignity)
“This collection of photos by Sudharak Olwe has been an eye-opener. It has captured and brought to our consciousness, the plight of a group of people we seem to have relegated to a collective blind-spot,” Mr. Tata wrote in the foreword.
“Conservancy workers live and work in our own city. They are as much citizens as we are. Yet, we do not seem to be aware of their very existence and least of all, the plight of their condition. We should strive to eliminate manual conservancy work in Mumbai and work dedicatedly towards rehabilitation, retraining and reemploying the workers, with dignity...I am grateful to each and every one of the 38,000 conservancy workers of Mumbai for their ceaseless service,” he wrote. With his initiative, the Tatas formed a team led by Rukmini Datta, the Senior Programme Officer, Tata Trusts, to co-ordinate with the BMC officials.