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The Keepers

Liza Van der Stock | Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Organization: Stree Mukti Shangatana

"I know that the work I’m doing is very dirty. Everyone keeps a distance from us waste pickers. It is a disgrace, but I know that the work we are doing is very useful. I’m not only working to make a living, but also for the environment. People need to understand the importance of segregation. If the waste doesn’t get segregated, it will lead to more flooding, like we have seen in 2005.

I don’t need praises for working in the dirt created by others. I would be more than happy if people would just acknowledge the importance and the impact of our work. This recognition would give some dignity to our work. We don’t want other people’s money or help, we just want some respect for what we are doing."

Waste pickers play an essential role in the livability and sustainability of large cities like Mumbai. Every day, thousands of them roam the streets and dumping sites to recycle the waste created by others. Despite their positive impact on the environment, they do not get the credit they deserve. Waste pickers are burdened with the stigma of waste and their low caste, but this does not stop them from fighting for equal rights.

In this series, I work together with strong women with incredible, inspiring stories who granted me access in every aspect of their life. Their personal testimonies in combination with my photographs depict the struggles they face to provide their children with education and a better life. Yet, these women are not and do not want to be seen as victims, since they take their life in their own hands and only ask for respect.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to Sarika Nair, my translator and friend, without whom this project would not have been possible. I’m also very grateful to Jyoti Mhapsekar and the entire staff of Stree Mukti Shangatana for helping me in every possible way to create this series.

The goal of this project is to visually describe socio-economically disadvantaged communities through photographs in combination with personal stories of their members, which together counter perceptions of the community as a monolithic group of homogeneous ‘victims’. This involves an open interaction between the community and myself as a photographer that transforms the people being photographed from passive ‘subjects’ into active ‘participants’. Consequently, I don’t speak for, about and on behalf of, but with and nearby the participants.

Stree Mukti Sanghatana

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