Dhaka, the huge, sprawling, mouldy capital city of Bangladesh, does not have a lot to titillate the World’s backpackers. In fact, it does not have much to offer the majority of the 20,000,000 humans who must regard it as home.
Working in Dhaka has been a weird experience, as I have hardly soiled my shoes on the dusty footpaths. Rather, my enquiring camera has been working hard from the front passenger chair of the motor car provided by the client to shuttle me between International Hotel oasis and guarded front door of the company’s head office building.
But, I have seen things…like the ambulating hordes of workers, that clog the main streets from early morning until long after dark each day; many working in small teams to push/drag heavy hand-trailers weighed down with a ton or more of cargo…human power is the cheapest source in this city.
And, I have seen numerous solitary, still figures like this girl in my picture…I shall call her Seena, and I shall tell her story…
Seena has lived on the streets all of her short life. From age 6, when her mother died from complications of giving birth to Seena’s younger sister, she has been “mother” to her father, older brother and baby sister. Seena has washed everyone’s clothes in dirty gutters, stolen food, begged, prepared lodgings under a ripped poly-canvas tarpaulin, and taken care of her baby sister. Seena has never seen the inside of a school or even a mosque.
From age 9, when her Dad noticed she was attracting the wandering, lustful eyes of men on the street, Seena has had to add the role of salary earner to her crowded schedule, so the men in her family could occasionally enjoy the luxury of a cigarette or an hour of petty gambling.
And so it goes, day following day, until Seena is 15 years old. Her only self-indulgence is to draw a private pleasure from the laughter of her younger sister who is growing pretty and playful, and from the modicum of respect a working-girl earns from those who depend on her.
Then, the younger sister draws attention of men in the street, and the laughter ceases. For a while Seena’s Dad and older brother wallow in the wealth from 2 working daughters, but soon enough it becomes clear the younger daughter is earning most, while Seena’s best years are in the past…a girl ages quickly in this environment.
So, Seena is cast out of the family…judged more liability than asset.
Now she has a solitary life. She rarely moves from her place against the wall. She conducts all her business from her world, which has shrunk to just 1 square metre of dirty blanket. In daylight hours she silently begs, and an occasional passer-by might drop a crust or chicken bone on her blanket. At night she silently endures the stream of street-men who use her and, perhaps, occasionally throw down a taka or two to salve their guilt at a momentary indiscretion.
Sheena will not have to endure for much longer…look closely at her face and see the unfocused fog that veils a madness born of her life of hopeless misery. Tomorrow, or maybe next week, Sheena will stand unsteadily, shuffle to the curb, throw herself under the rushing bus…
Man’s humanity to man makes a lie of our boast of being the alpha species.
Ray Storey 2014