| A picture by Krishanu Dutta, one of the frames at the Indian Museum exhibition
The photograph is one of a beggar lying on the road. The caption reads: “Dead drunk. This is a common sight in our locality.” The photographer is 12-year-old Sankar Sarkar. He lives with his mother, a sex worker, in Sethbagan. He loves taking pictures of his mother, who, he says, is his “inspiration”.
Sunita Sen, 14, lives in a red-light area in Bowbazar. The caption to one of her photographs on display reads: “This old woman comes to our locality every day to eke out a living by selling eggs. She comes by train from a far-away place. I want to show how poor people struggle to feed themselves.” That is her purpose — to present the plight of the poor to the world.
They are just two of the children whose works are on show at the Indian Museum, at an exhibition entitled Life Through Their Lenses. The photographs were taken by over 100 children, between eight and 15, in the red-light areas of Tollygunge, Kalighat, Bowbazar, Sethbagan and Titagarh. It is the culmination of a 15-month project by two city-based photographers, Suvendu Chatterjee and Kushal Ray. And the exhibition has been put together by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), comprising the mothers of these children.
The exhibition is a reflection of the world as these youngsters see it. Some of them are campaigners, like Krishanu Dutta, 13, from Kalighat, who clicks kids. “I want to portray their lost childhood, sadness, hard labour and lack of basic human rights,” he explains. Others, like Ajoy Das, 15, want to prove a point. “Nobody begs out of choice. It’s because no one will give them a job.” Some, like Pappu Singh, 14, just want to provide a candid view of the profession their mothers and other women in the family pursue. The caption to one of his photographs reads: “The customer checks the power of his purse before entering the room.” But they all agree that photography is the profession for them.
Says Purnima Sen, a sex worker and DMSC member, HIV/AIDS campaigner and mother of 10-year-old Pampa: “We never hide anything from our children. They know that everything we do is for them. Besides, ours is a job, just like any other. We, too, are trying to support our families.”
Adds Bhadu Das, also a sex worker, a campaigning member of DMSC and mother of Ajoy: “I am very proud of my son. He went all the way to Dhaka for an exhibition. He is learning something good and making a name for himself.”
Four of the youngsters were the only Indian representatives at the annual Chhabi Mela in Dhaka recently. “Our work was praised and really appreciated by everyone there, including many international photographers. We were also very well looked after by everyone,” gushes Krishanu.
The mothers are all smiles, and the children acknowledge they have family support for their passion. The cameras (mainly fixed-focus Pentax and Yashica), are provided by the teaching duo. The kids roam their locality at leisure, clicking away, and eagerly turning up for the weekly sessions to discuss their work. They keep the prints and the negatives, too. Sometimes they have the amused cooperation of their neighbours. Sometimes, they have to work around it, like when capturing sex workers on film. “A lot of them want to hide their identities, so that their families don’t find out,” says Annapurna Singh, a mother and sex worker.
“The thing is, these children might not know a lot of things about rights and freedom and such, but they certainly know the difference between right and wrong. They have a unique way of looking at the world, because of their experiences. That is their right. Their heart and soul is visible in every frame,” concludes Suvendu Chatterjee.