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Pehchan: helping Mumbai's street homeless

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Based in Mumbai, Pehchan were participants in an exhibition called Without Walls by homeless people and organisations and we contacted them to join our This Is Where I Live art exchange.

Pehchan, which means "Identity" in Hindi and Urdu, are a small charity who help families who are street homeless. They help them obtain services which are not easy to gain access to on the street, including obtaining ID papers. Brijesh is pictured (left) holding documents.

Pehchan is based in a very old wooden building on the fourth floor. Entering the building from the hot and noisy Mumbai street where it's located near Mumbai Central Station is like going back in time. The building is mostly rented to families and I was impressed by the staircase which was made of hardwood.

Brijesh told me that the building was built by the British Raj and it was not hard to believe it.

As well as gaining international attention from time to time, including helping universities from Sydney and London do research, the Pehchan office is a base for their street volunteers to head out and help the homeless families living on the streets. They are not based there all day and are on call any hour of the day: there is a mobile phone which is used by everyone to contact Pehchan. Smart phones are common in India today, even with the street population, and contact by WhatsApp is a preferred method of communication should people need support.

Brijesh told me that thousands of Mumbai families have been living on the streets of Mumbai for generations and most of the adults work while the children go to schools. In the eight days I was in Mumbai I met many families living in these communities in various parts of the city. Most were built with timber frames with tarpaulin covers draped over them at the side of the streets.

Brijesh asked us about doing MYMUMBAI a long time ago. It could have happened sooner if Covid had not got in the way but thanks to Fujifilm, who have donated 100 QuickSnap cameras for MYWORLD projects, we are now able to do it this year.

In Mumbai the street homeless population doesn't have a high profile. We hope that by doing MYMUMBAI and creating a 2024 MYMUMBAI wall calendar, not only will we engage people living on the streets of Mumbai in a photography project, but by selling the MYMUMBAI calendar to the more wealthy population of Mumbai their profile will be raised locally.

We also hope that our international audience, who buy the MYLONDON calendar, will buy the MYMUMBAI calendar helping Pehchan directly though the earnings. Even if this is a one-off calendar it will be a success if we help Pehchan reach these new audiences.

Cafe Art and MyWorld Creative Projects are launching the new MYWORLD charity by holding a fundraising event in The Corner Hotel on Thursday 29 June, 2023. We will be raising money to help run this project in September 2023. Tickets are FREE and we will sell MYLONDON greetings cards on the night, with all the money going to MYMUMBAI.

Above: Brijesh Arya and Ajeet Mahale from Pehchan met with Rajan Nandwana (below) to discuss the MYMUMBAI project. One of the topics was when it would be a good time to distrubute the cameras and September was decided on as the earliest time after the Monsoon season which would allow time for the printing of the 2024 MYMUMBAI calendar.

Paul Ryan from Cafe Art visited Mumbai in April to meet Brijesh Arya and Ajeet Mahale. "I was on my way to meet distant relatives in India and family in New Zealand and so I dropped into Mumbai on the way," he said.

As well as meeting Rajen Nandwana who is a member of the RPS in Mumbai, Brijesh and Ajeet introduced Paul to many other individuals and organisations who are offering their services free of charge.

The most prestigious is St Xavier's College who will be helping with the distribution of the cameras and later will be hosting the exhibition.

The MYMUMBAI calendar will be sold on the Cafe Art and MYWORLD websites with all profits going to Pehchan. Cafe Art will also be doing a crowdfunder for the project in July.

Above: Paul Ryan from Cafe Art and Brijesh Arya from Pehchan. Below: Paul and Brijesh visiting families who live on the streets of Mumbai. This woman is already a professional photographer and earns an income from taking photos, including weddings.

Below: The majority of the street homeless population of Mumbai include multiple generations and have lived in the same place for generations. More than 70% are in full-time employment.

Below: The MYMUMBAI project will be held in September, resulting in an exhibition and 2024 MYMUMBAI calendar.

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