India is making great progress economically and in many other ways, but among its more than one billion people there are still many millions who are desperately poor. In hopes of a better life, many have flocked to the cities, where they struggle under very harsh conditions.
During my recent trip to India, I visited Ujariaon, a slum in Lucknow. That experience will stay with me for a long time. Despite very tough lives, people there have great strength and determination, and they’re optimistic about the future.
The photographs in this gallery were made by Prashant Panjiar, a photojournalist who has worked extensively on issues of social concern. He has been documenting the work of the foundation since 2004 and has accompanied me on many of my learning trips in India and Africa.
The 2001 census in India found that slums existed in 640 towns spread over 26 states and union territories.
Slum conditions are highly unsanitary, as seen in this slum in Govandi, Mumbai.
Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher in slums.
More than two thirds of slum residents lack access to safe drinking water on their premises—a major health problem.
Another major health problem is the lack of available latrines. It is estimated that over one third of slum households have no access to bathroom facilities, promoting open defecation, which in turn leads to the spread of fecal-oral disease and parasitic infestation.
Slum dwellers have no choice but to live amidst industrial and environmental hazards and even raw sewage. Yet they flock to cities for a chance at a better life.
People living in the makeshift shelters in slums don’t have rights to the land they’re on, so their homes could be knocked down at any time, and meanwhile they can’t rely on the police for protection as their mere presence is technically illegal.
As in Ujariaon where I visited, poor people in Kanpur eke out a living by picking through garbage at the local dump—an activity that is central to the livelihoods of poor people who live in the urban slums of India and other developing countries.
In the Ujariaon slum in Lucknow I visited the home of Zohra Khatun and her family. Despite living in such adverse circumstances her resolve to better her family’s life was inspiring.
It’s impressive how much parents in India are concerned that their kids should get a good education. Many poor families set aside money to send their children to school and see education as a way to improve their children’s future.
The people of India show great determination to improve their communities and their living conditions.
This woman sells fish door to door in the Kamla Nehru Nagar slum. Like her, many slum dwellers are enterepreneurs operating small businesses. Despite extreme poverty, India’s slums have vibrant economies of their own.
Poor migrants from rural areas flock to the slums hoping to find work. The informal economy of India’s cities is estimated to be larger than the formal economy, accounting for around 60 percent of the GDP and more than 92 percent of the workforce.