Through his series of photographs of the children of manual scavengers, lensman M Palani Kumar is urging society to take note of their overlooked lives
Palani started documenting the lives of the marginalised while working as a cinematographer in the Tamil documentary, Kakkoos (2017). “While working on that project, I travelled across the State (except Kanniyakumari, Ootty and Salem) documenting the lives of manual scavengers and found that their children are also falling into the same trap. Once, when I was capturing a manual scavenger cleaning feces with his bare hands, I saw his daughter witnessing it and how she was upset about her father’s condition. This incident made a huge impact on my life,” he says.
Over the years, Palani noticed that when these children grow up, they are also caught up in the plight and end up being manual scavengers. “It’s a vicious cycle that needs to stop. In most of the areas in Tamil Nadu, they are treated badly. Their living conditions are pathetic without proper shelter, food and water. Moreover, casteism prevails in the society and the children carry its burden,” adds Palani.
For Palani, the photo series, Naanum Oru Kuzhandai, is his way of fulfilling his social responsibility. “While interacting with the children of manual scavengers, I understood that many of them don’t have any hope about their future. I could see sorrow and pain in their eyes; it’s not their fault that they were born to that particular community. Like any other children, they too have the right to live in a dignified manner,” stresses the lensman.
Acclaimed photographer Sudharak Olwe has been documenting the lives of manual scavengers for the past 30 years. By comparing Sudharak’s photographs with his own, Palani says that nothing has changed in the last three decades. “This clearly shows that the officials are apathetic towards the condition of manual scavengers and are exploiting the marginalised. I hope things will change in the coming years,” he remarks.
Palani is presently taking photos with a borrowed camera as and when it could be given to him by a friend. Now, the youngster has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Milaap.org to buy a camera which will also help him to make his life sustainable by doing commercial work to feed himself.