At late hours when we are sleeping peacefully on our comfortable mattresses, thousands of people are homeless and living on the streets of Dhaka city, seen here in Kawran Bazar. These people have no special story to tell, but the mere need to survive. These labourers find themselves resting on footpaths, stations, only using their baskets as a head-rest. This little rest they get before the early morning rush to menial, toiling, labour helps them survive another day of struggle.
The labourers also come across days when they wish for a little comfort in life. For them, a bed and a mattress might be a far-fetched aspiration, a pillow even more so. But at the end of the day, the opportunity to lay down their head for rest, be it on their baskets, or their arms, is what they accept and take to their sleep. No matter how difficult it may seem, they try to find peace in their brief respite.
Sometimes the unfavourable circumstances in life make us empathize with others. They say beggars cannot be choosers. Truly, the impoverished do not have the option to choose how they live. Just like this child at TSC Chattar, children end up sleeping on roads; often joined by stray dogs. Those who live on the fringes of society find a mutual bond of understanding and vulnerability between them.
The floating labourers have little respite, and society accommodates them a lot less. There is no 9-5 shift. They work through the night, interrupted only by rain. There is no shelter provided by the employer; rather the labourers pack up their belongings and find refuge on the pavement in Panthapath, with closed shutters to their backs and an uncaring but accommodating roof over their head.
Even among the impoverished, there are the fortunate and the less fortunate. While one may afford to sleep unconcerned about pests, another may as well use the night air as a blanket and the insects’ buzzing as lullaby. The owners of parked rickshaw-vans that become makeshift beds do not know of their nightly tenants, and the erstwhile sleepers do not know the owners. Each night, a different bed; each night, a different shelter.
In what little space they resign themselves to for the night; the labourers carve out their own little world. To ward off mosquitoes and other insects, mosquito nets – or saris in their absence – are put up. Clothes are spread as makeshift bed sheets and clothes are folded to make pillows. All in all, everything they do is in the hopes of getting some sleep before they have to wake up at dawn for the next day’s struggle.
A glimpse of the daily struggles of floating labourers across the capitalAll photos have been captured by Dhaka Tribune photographer Rajib Dhar