BY DAVID GOLDMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
I’ve been thinking about what it means to win #thebirthlottery and, after a considerable amount of mental back and forth, I think it comes down to simply having less stacked against you. Of course what “stacked against you” means is up for interpretation. Being born into abject poverty in India to a young woman who was trafficked, prostituted and raped is certainly going to be much more difficult than the experience of a child of a middle class professional couple living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. That is not to say a the child in Brooklyn won’t face challenges, just that, right out of the gate, the child of the trafficked girl is going to have a tougher go. Immense wealth and power can also have a profound effect but for now I will be more focused on poverty.
There is no question that I won #thebirthlottery. I am the son of middle class parents born in Toronto, Canada. I didn’t get everything I wanted but I was never in need of anything. As a student, I was not the best, but when I found photography, I worked hard to “make it.” I still work hard. In my travels for work, I’ve met people that have worked way harder than I have yet they seem destined to struggle with barriers beyond my comprehension. I have also met those who have not really had to work too hard for anything and seem destined to succeed in spite of themselves.
This is an ongoing project that will focus on the very crossroads of those who are working toward changing the results of their birth lottery.
While continuing my project on denotified and criminal tribes in India I was introduced to three brothers who are part of the Bhat tribe. The Bhats are known for their musicianship and work as great puppeteers. it’s difficult enough just being part of a DNT but to also be an albino in a community with little to no education can make it very difficult for anyone that appears different to be treated fairly and with dignity.
In 1871, the British colonial government enacted the “Criminal Tribes Act” to control supposedly ‘criminal’ communities. Despite the Act’s repeal in 1952 – five years after India gained her independence – these communities continue to have their livelihoods and dignity stripped away. Today they are like ghosts in their own country. Most live on the fringes of society in temporary encampments and extreme poverty. Without permanent housing, they lack official identity and cannot access vital social services or even cast their votes. Education becomes a luxury when children are needed to earn money for the family. Caught in cycles of intergenerational prostitution, a lack of education, and a fear of authority, these once proud communities are amongst India’s most dispossessed. #thebirthlottery
Kaya has been forced into prostitution in Songachi, which is Asia’s largest red light district in the heart of Kolkata. There are believed to be close to eleven thousand prostituted women there. Her life started out fairly normal, she went to school and got married. Between Kaya’s husband and herself, they made enough money to support themselves. But then her husband lost his job, began drinking and abusing her. Eventually Kaya left, but could only afford to take one child. A woman she knew promised her work in Kolkata, but before kaya really understood what happened, that woman sold her to a pimp. Kaya was beaten and forced into a life of prostitution. She has been working to pay off her debt to the pimp in order to gain her freedom. She is smart, beautiful and funny. Her husband has her little girl and she knows she may never see her again. Kaya has her boy and is doing everything she can to make sure he has a better life. #thebirthlottery
Rag Pickers as they are known in India are a group of people that collect waste for recycling. In Mumbai alone there are over 300,000 of them of which over 120,000 are children under 14 years of age. Often forced to leave their rural homes to make money. They will migrate to larger cities to pick. They are subjected to dangers from medical waste and noxious gases not to mention rats, garbage and human waste. Most of their money comes from melted down metals like copper from consumer electronics.
Have you won the #thebirthlottery
Migrant Sugarcane Worker
A young woman travels for days to reach the sugarcane factory where she will work from daybreak till sunset harvesting sugarcane. This job will last six months and although it will help her young family it guarantees she cannot get an education because she is not in one place long enough. With no education she has little to no chance of improving the quality of life for her or her children. Eventually those children will be faced with a similar situation. #thebirthlottery
Children of the cane
These two young girls are born into families of migrant sugarcane workers. Each year they return to harvest sugarcane for up to six months at a time. Being away from their home makes it impossible to complete a normal year of school. As a result the kids end up becoming migrant workers as well. With no chance for education the cycle will continue. #thebirthlottery
Mohammad Kalam is from the Nat community which was branded as a criminal tribe during the British rule. His Father and uncle suffered a great deal due to this law and were even arrested and jailed leaving them stigmatized. The exploitation continued and the women in the family were forced into intergenerational prostitution which is prevalent within many tribes. Today Md Kalam is the first graduate in his community and has finished his MA,LLB degree. (Masters of Law) He has been working with the community since 2004 and with Apne Aap women worldwide.
It could be argued that he lost the #birthlottery but has won in life. Fighting to get out of a bad situation and now helping others to change their destiny. #thebirthlottery
Three siblings, two boys and a girl. They are part of the Sapera de-notified tribe of India. Born into extreme poverty their family will make money playing music or selling knick knacks on the side of the road. Often times due to their financial limitations the girls are forced into intergenerational prostitution while the boys will end up pimping. #thebirthlottery
Meena was born in North Bengal, India. At just 5 years of age she was trafficked and forced into prostitution, first in the town of Katihar and then Purnea. Incredibly she managed to escape the brothel and move to Forbesganj close to the Nepal border. Her daughter destined with the same fate, was also trafficked and sold into prostitution, a common tragedy in this part of the world. With the support of Apne Aap Worldwide and local police Meena was able to rescue her daughter. Meena’s story was the subject of a short documentary by actress/director Lucy Liu and the Sibs based on Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s best-selling book Half The Sky, which lays out an agenda for the world’s women to confront three on-going global crises: gender-based violence, maternal mortality, and sex trafficking. She exemplifies bravery! Meena now spends her days teaching children in the red light area of Forbesganj. #thebirthlottery