Diwali, the festival of lights, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated during autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness or good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair.
The images here take a look at how Diwali is celebrated by some of the most impoverished sections of society. Slums bordering the Suburban Transit rail tracks in and around Kolkata house a large population of the city’s dispossessed and underprivileged. The establishment of Kolkata as an imperial city led to an explosion of population during the 19th century. Authorised slums called bustees originally came into being during the early period of the British rule before industrialisation, when migrants came in from the hinterland to serve the colonial rulers and their families. Rapid expansion of the railway network greatly facilitated this migration. A second wave of slums were formed when Kolkata entered the industrialisation and urbanisation phase, when a massive inflow of capital led to the development of textile and engineering industries. An increase in the industrial scope took place in support of the British war effort in the 1940s, which led to a further increase of migration. Lastly, wave upon wave of immigrants and refugees came into Bengal, many by train; once from East Pakistan after the creation of the new countries in 1947 and then again during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.
The 2001 census reported a total population of 4,496,694 in Kolkata while the slum population was 1,409,721 which is around 31.35% of the total population.
Living under a constant threat of eviction, these lives sustained in semi- permanence stand in contradistinction to the permanence of the traditions they seek to maintain every year round. While the slums bear a look of disrepair, civic neglect and dereliction during the year, the little lights and decorations lend an air of magic to the atmosphere during Diwali. The denizens revel in the ethereal luminescent character their locality by the rail tracks takes on amidst the fast approaching winter mist.