Published: 04th December 2017
'Kakoos' cameraman is now going across TN to educate manual scavengers' kids using art
Palani Kumar, who shot the controversial documentary with Divya Bharathi, says that he was so moved by the lives of manual scavengers' children that he is starting this project to help them out
When people talk about manual scavenging, it’s generally a topic that does not invite too much debate. Blame it on the smell or apparent grime. But what about the children of manual scavengers? Shedding light on the life they lead, the work they do and the discrimination they face is photographer Palani Kumar.
Remember Divya Bharathi’s documentary film, Kakoos, about manual scavenging? It got the people of Tamil Nadu talking, or at least the media did. But there wasn’t much change that followed after that, even though the girl made official heads turn. Now, almost a year later, Palani Kumar, who was a part of the original crew of Kakoos that went on the mission to explore manual scavenging all over Tamil Nadu, is receiving recognition for his work. But what really affected him was the sight of how the children and families of manual scavengers lived. And this impact ran deep. So deep that he decided to do something to bring some colour to their lives.
I don't think government officials can do something about it because if they could, they would already have made the change. I want to create awareness among people to be the change
Palani Kumar M, Photographer
Palani is planning to take another trip very soon with a bunch of youngsters, and this time its big. This young bunch will include different talents like sculptors, artists and photographers. After spotting these manual scavengers from the 25 different districts he visited, he had also witnessed their children falling into the same trap. So, this journey will be about bringing these kids out of manual scavenging, through art.
Palani recently hosted a photo exhibition on the theme Nanum Oru Kuzhandhai at Lalit Kala Academy. Using the art of visuals, Palani educates the audience on manual scavenging and he’s been dedicated to this since 2015, since working on Divya’s documentary. Talking about this, the 27-year-old says, “I was taking pictures even one week before this exhibition, and the journey will continue.”
I never used my telephoto lens during this journey because I want to take a closer look at their life. If you think that's dirty, I just click the pictures, but that is what they do for a living
Palani Kumar M, Photographer
This Madurai-born photographer discovered that his love for children was intense when he started working with a group of youngsters. He eventually went on to teach children in government schools all over TN, after finishing his engineering degree from Adhiyamaan College of Engineering, Hosur, which he only joined to please his mother, a fishmonger who wanted her son to be an engineer, though he had other ideas.
Palani soon noticed the difference in lifestyle between government and private school kids. That is when he observed that kids from government schools and most of their parents are forced to be manual scavengers for a living. It was either that or because of the community they belong to. “Children don’t know caste, race or colour. I love their innocence and it was they who changed my destiny in life. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have known about all this,” states Palani, humbly.
In the dark: The Nanum Oru Kuzhandhai exhibition showcased 100 different pictures of manual scavengers — each of them more evocative in a different way
But travelling around and taking pictures is not a ‘light on the pockets’ kind of hobby. So, where does he get the money for his travel expenses? “I do wedding photography and for other occasions. I earn money and that is more than enough to satisfy my needs,” he says.