Sometimes it is true that a picture can paint a thousand words. This week’s photo challenge: A Split-Second Story, inspired me to dig deep throughout my vast archive of photographs, each one telling a story of a certain place and time. In my opinion, there is no place on earth that a simple photo can tell so much about a place than India.
India, one of the most populous countries on the earth, is full of color, contradiction, glory and pain. It is a place of wonder, sorrow, fear and hope. India bursts with humanity on every street or corner you pass. You can see it all there – poverty, wealth, good, bad, happy, sad, beauty and tragedy.
Behind the beautiful, lavish parts of India always lies the most abject poverty imaginable. Nothing can prepare you for the stark reality of desperation, misery and despair of walking through a real live slum in the heart of India’s capital. Sometimes the most severe poverty is hidden behind the walls and within the confines of a slum. Other times, it stares right back at you like a hard slap across your face. You try to look away, and ignore the creeping, uncomfortable nagging guilt. But you can’t.
Woman leaving the newly constructed toilet compound thanks to WaterAid.
Women living on the street, outside the walls of the American Embassy near Vivekananda Slums in Delhi, India.
In the background of the lush green, beautiful grounds of the American Embassy lies the Vivekananda Camp, one of many unauthorized slums that surround every single part of Delhi. I visited this slum as part of a tour with WaterAid, a global NGO that provides safe drinking water and sanitation to areas around the world that do not have access to it.
The stark contrast between the neighboring American Embassy and the Vivekananda Slum were almost too hard to morally comprehend. These two places represent the immense contradictions and inequalities that can be found all throughout Delhi and India as a whole. One of the greatest inequalities ever seen anywhere in the world is right there staring into your face, making it impossible to not feel deeply distraught.
In the Vivekananda Camp, a slum of approximately 500 households, there is no running water, no sewer lines and people live in absolute dire circumstances. Thanks to WaterAid, improvements to sanitation have been made by the building of a Community Toilet Complex (CTC), a compound containing 20 toilets for women, 20 for men and a few for children as well as a couple of showers, providing some sort of dignity in a place where dignity hardly exists.
When I saw the old woman leaving the Community Toilet Complex, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was moving slowly, at a snail’s pace, with the help of an old wooden cane. She was heading back into the deep confines of the dirty, dingy slum, to her home. I watched her gait with wonder and hope. She had to be in her eighties and most likely spent almost all her life without a proper toilet. Finally after all these years she had the one thing every human being on this earth is entitled to: Dignity. It brought tears to my eyes for the simple things we take for granted.
Less than a third of people ( 772 million people) have access to sanitation in India, and 90 million people in India do not have access to safe water per WaterAid. Over 186,000 children under five die from diarrhea every year. With 17% of the world’s population (over a billion people), the water crisis in India is only getting worse and is becoming life or death for millions of people.
This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story. To view more entries, click here.
Note: Right after I posted this today I saw the following tragic press release from WaterAid. Lack of toilets reportedly linked to murder of Uttar Pradesh girls . Via @WaterAidAmerica