Talking about Health

Conversations about health, hyigene, sanitation and re-development in the heart of
Asia’s largest Slum – Dharavi. Part of PPT’s longest running documentation project
as well as social outreach programs.

Talking about Health

Photography as a medium to illustrate issues of health and sanitation inside urban slums.
Dharavi is quite literally a juxtaposed entity between the rapidly growing urban Mumbai and the struggling urban slum. The continent’s largest slum, Dharavi is one of the most densely populated places on planet earth. Maze like alleyways, gullies which are dark and void of light in the middle of the day, a cacophony of sounds and smells from the lakhs of homes, industries and mini factories and a dizzying number of diverse sights too behold – Dharavi is an assault to the senses.
Founded in 1883 during the British Raj, Dharavi has a high population of Tamil people who came here during the early 1920’s influx of migrants into the city of Mumbai (then Bombay)
The PPT team and its collective of Mumbai based photographers started documenting life in Dharavi from the early 90’s as globalisation swept the nation and the city and gave rise to a much larger middle class. Those who could move away from Dharavi went off into the far away suburbs towards the north where housing had become cheap. But for those whom Dharavi had become a way life, it became increasingly difficult to keep pace with a faster and more modern world and sustain the industries inside. Slums and “chawls” were now more despised than before and decades of civic neglect and a massive boom in population inside the slums had given rise to many issues. Hygiene and Sanitation being the top-most.
In 2011, SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education & Health Action) a non-profit that works for women, children and public health and safety systems in urban slums to reduce child malnutrition and maternal mortality approached Team PPT to curate a series of workshops for women and youth from the slums and build a conversation around health and sanitation inside Dharavi.
For 3 months at SNEHA’s Dharavi based centre, Team PPT worked with over 25 youth and women from the area to build an unique story to tell about Dharavi. It was an uphill task from the first day of the workshop. Coming from a background where conversations about personal hygiene and sanitation rarely take place, the first few weeks was spent with the participants interacting as much as possible with Team PPT and building a rapport with all of them. The images we wanted to create as part of the workshop had to be intimate and personal, introspecting on issues of the slums through their perspective, through their door way and their eyes. For this it was important to make the camera a part of their daily life. PPT employed a range of modules to make them comfortable in photography, sharing and conversing. It was also a way for them to learn about issues and how to tackle them.
To keep the workshop engaging and increase mental stimulation of the participants, the workshops focused on three key elements:

Participatory Learning

Keeping the participants engaged was one of the most important tasks at hand. A mix of learning through participation and sharing was initiated. The students were divided into small groups who would work together each week on assignments and help each other with any difficulties with the camera. The groups made were a mix of young adolescent girls, teenagers and older women. This ensured that there are no divisions in the workshops and different age groups worked together and interacted on photography assignments thus breaking usual barriers and forging new relationships that would usually not be possible.

Shooting with a theme

Each week the participants and their respective groups were given themes to shoot on. The themes were given to build confidence in the participants to use their cameras so that they confidently wield and use the camera in public spaces and their communities. Themes ranged from shooting how people stored water in Dharavi to the local public toilets (or lack thereof) to weddings and festivals and soon moved to families and more personal subjects. The focus of the assignments was to get the students to start shooting their immediate surroundings and use the camera lens as a new perspective for their own problems and issues.

Encouraging Conversations

The crux of the entire program was to get the youth and women talking about issues of health and sanitation. To encourage more conversations, participants were asked to explain the thought process behind their photos or how they felt about their own pictures or other participant pictures. After the first few sessions where participants where apprehensive about public speaking, they slowly opened up to share beautiful snippets of life, anecdotes from their daily life in dharavi and almost all pertaining in some way to health and sanitation. After a month and a half, not just their pictures but they themselves were speaking a story not many had heard of.
“Sudharak and the PPT team were dedicated to teaching youth living in Dharavi the art andskill of photography. They spent entire days mentoring them with sincerity, patience, and encouragement. I really appreciated how diverse their team was and how professional each one was — it was a brilliant learning opportunity for their students”.

Ashifa Sarkar Vasi

An important part of the workshop sessions was to not reflect on the poverty in the slums and view the problems of hygiene and sanitation as a more personal problem. Though, in the context of Dharavi – visuals of poverty inadvertently become a part of the narrative but the objective of health awareness and dissecting Dharavi’s daily life and people was always the main aim in these workshops. This was also the main aim of our massive collective project “Project Dharavi”. Below are a few images from the project that involves over 10 photographers from Mumbai.
As part of the workshops with SNEHA, exposing the participants to new spaces, people and ideas was imperative. Exhibition and Gallery visits were conducted for the participants. It was the first time anyone of them had ever stepped into an exhibition gallery.
The 3 months intnesive workshop sessions brought to light many issues inside the slums and in the lives of the workshops participants, giving us images we had never seen before. An intimate collection of moments of Dharavi by the people who stay there. The documentation, its confidence building approach and participatory learning methods helped SNEHA identify tagret issues. They, then mounted a very beautiful represenatation of the life in Dharavi using the images and creating an art installation plus awarness model right in the heart of the slums.
Through such long term models of engagement using photography and community issues, PPT has created a unique process of self explorration and awarness building. By adding a camera into the conversation, a catalyst was born which has promoted social documentation, added value to an exisisting program and created new experiences for its participants.
Scroll to Top