Photo Essay

Life, the way they knew it, changed for many when the nation-wide lockdown was announced in March 2020. People struggled everywhere - for food, work, shelter in cities, and transport back to their homes in villages. Those at the bottom of the economic pyramid struggled the most as these seven women in Mumbai’s Dharavi. This is their story of life in the pandemic.

In Shastri Nagar, a few hundred metres from Rajiv Gandhi Nagar lives Anita who works at Lijjat Papad. Though she is a single woman, she is a provider for her family consisting of her brother, his wife and their daughter. Anita’s efficiency in her work is evident as a wicker basket is ready with perfectly round papads drying on it, laid out in the scorching midday sun.
During the lockdown, Anita and her family struggled financially as she was out of work till July.

Manju Devi is a vegetable vendor who works right outside her house during the evenings. But since April 2020 she hasn’t been able to do much to help her family financially. Business was good before the lockdown but even selling a sack full of vegetables is a feat now.

In her house, it makes for an astonishing sight as her son scurries upstairs to the makeshift first floor of the house but can’t let go of his love for Shin Chan on TV so he peeks from his place on the floor above.

A narrow path that begins at Manju Devi’s house winds up to a small space where houses and families are closely crammed. One of them is Salma Khatoon Ansari’s.

Outside Salma Ansari’s house lay cans of oil and water next to a basket of food materials for their ‘dhanda’ that cost them food grains during the lockdown, and a table along with some money on 10th March 2021.

Mashamma barely has any sales during the half day that has passed. The leafy green vegetables make for a good photo but they are not of any benefit to her empty pocket and stomach as she does not even make the 200-300 rupees that she could manage before the lockdown in March 2020.

Into the smaller lanes of Dharavi’s Koliwada near Holi Maidan is Vinita's house and shop. Vinita runs a small shop out of a big, metal cupboard placed outside her house. She started it post the relaxation of lockdown restrictions in July and it contains all essentials one would need in one’s household on a daily basis. Her stock usually lasts for 4 to 5 days and costs her 5000-10,000 rupees depending on how much she buys and for how many days.

Nestled behind leather shops of Dharavi was Sunita’s cosy home filled with aromatic smells of fresh, home cooked food in tiffins. For Sunita and her husband, there has been no stopping even through the lockdown of 2020 and after that. They have provided food to workers who stayed behind in Mumbai and they did it for free, out of sheer goodwill.

Outside Vijaya’s shop in Kumbharwada lay unsold diyas from Diwali and bowls of phirni that Vijaya said would not be sold during Ramazan due to lack of finances among customers too.

Earthen pots have been created and the workers want their payment but there is nobody to buy them. So they lie outside the shop as a daily reminder of the lack of business.