A few years back, photographer and journalist Javed Iqbal, 28, decided to travel the country, taking pictures of people along the way. He’d regularly stumble upon families that had been displaced from their homes and had nowhere to go.
“The biggest irony is that I started documenting displacement at a point in my life when I had no intention of going home. I just wanted to keep moving. Then the idea of a home started to become a major part of what I would see,” says Javed, explaining the beginning of this phase of his life.
Photographing people with no home left can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Javed has worked in such volatile areas as Chattisgarh where the Maoist threat is the strongest. But when he came back home, he realised that things aren’t very different here either.
“I realised there was a lot happening in Mumbai itself that wasn’t getting the coverage it deserved. I may have travelled a thousand kilometres to get a story in Orissa, but just 10 minutes from my home was the struggle of the people of the Golibar slums in Khar,” he says.
A lot has been written about slums in Mumbai; some parts of the Western media even dub the city ‘Slumbai’ to signify the sheer number of people who live in such dwellings. Books like Shantaram and Beyond The Beautiful Forevers have documented life inside these cities within cities.
“I’ve taken photographs during the struggle between the residents of Golibar and the SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) or a builder, where the residents have accused the builder of falsely taking their consent for the (redevelopment) project and grabbed public lands from the Defence and Railway Ministry,” says Javed.
Though it sounds like his work would involve some risk, he says most people are supportive. “I’ve never been stopped by the authorities from shooting images. I was yelled at by a police inspector once, which is fine.”
Javed has been clicking pictures of displaced people since 2008 and started his work on slum demolitions in Mumbai in 2010. “I have plans about further photographing this city, but I’d like to keep mum about them,” he says.
Currently, pictures from Javed’s personal archives are on display at Kitab Mahal in Fort at a show aptly titled Ghar (home). The exhibition, hosted by Columbia University’s urban initiative Studio X, has been curated by Gitanjali Dang whose
not-for-profit arts lab, Khanabadosh, is associated with it. Khanabadosh means those who carry their homes with them and “this collaboration with Javed’s work fits perfectly with our cause,” says Gitanjali.