Varanasi’s Brick Kiln Workers

Varanasi’s Brick Kiln Workers

“I found that the journey undertaken by the soil to become a brick, to build homes, consecrated by the people who ironically remained homeless, themselves.”
Photo and text by Rajesh Kumar Singh

Varanasi, the name rings a plethora of nostalgia and memories of my youth, which I spent as a student of Banaras Hindu University. There couldn’t have been a better place for me than Varanasi during my formative years as a student of photography.
I do not know, what drove me towards this city despite never having visited the city ever before, but the desire was so strong that I chose to be rather disowned by the family and pursue my studies in Banaras.
Kasi, Banaras and Varanasi are the names of the same city, which has got changed many times over the centuries but always retained its ancient fervor alongside the compulsions of modernity due to some mysterious reasons. It is a mystery city, which remains juxtaposed in 4000 years of history and present turbulence. It has inspired many & shall continue to do so for many like me.
My inspiration for Brick kiln workers was borne of the revelation that the remnants of present Varanasi were dating back to 800 BC in Rajghat area. Pottery, artifacts found, suggested evidence of veryancient settlements in Rajghat.
This city has given me “perspective”, and to document it through photography, identify yet to be explored character of the city, use my imagination to capture the frailty of mind over the stark reality of the brick kiln worker’s world. I try to interpret the faces and the façade that they put to brave the odds against them. They are usually the ignored, overlooked, underprivileged creations of the same creator, who has perhaps just chosen them to reinvigorate our belief in the power of human resilience, patience, and faith by the sheer difficulties thrown by life at them and their will to overcome these difficulties with dignity.

I feel privileged if my photographs manage to stir positive emotions towards these marginalized sections of society. I try to say, their hidden stories, struggles and efforts to live with only available elixir of life called “ faith”.
I chose brick kiln as a subject due to my earthy connection with soil and cultural background. Brick kilns being the general view of Indian rural landscape, had always been a part of my curious nature and to understand what tall chimneys, primitive processes of carrying mounds of soil by little children on their heads, meant? I wanted to know what was the final journey of this soil, which robbed small children of their childhood, and delicate women of their femininity,before building a home for somebody. It was a heartbreaking revelation that most of the brick kiln workers died at an early age due to lung disease as an occupational hazard. Ironically, those bricks that will be used to build someone else homes, are made by people who remained homeless, themselves. It was a journey of human helplessness, bringing migrant villagers to cities in search of better future and getting enslaved to the very destiny they yearned to change.

Photo and text by Rajesh Kumar Singh

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