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This Diwali, See Dharavi’s Last Generation of Diya Makers

“I don’t want my children to get into this. My whole life is already gone into this,” Premila says.

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“Like fish learn to swim in water? We learned to make diyas the same way. Because we had to.”
Vala Arvind Kumar, Potter

What does Diwali mean? To most it’s about fireworks, sweets, and spending time with family. To the diya makers of Mumbai’s Dharavi, it’s about their livelihoods.

For some people, like 38-year-old Premila Prakash, this is the only thing they know. Premila has worked in pottery and made diyas from her childhood.

Pottery isn’t just a means to an end for Premila and the other diya makers of Dharavi, it’s the ONLY means to an end they have, because they weren’t given access to schooling, and an education, when they were young.

Like Premila, Vala Arvind Kumar has been making diyas for most of his life. He’s 50 now, and has been making diyas for 35 of those years. But he’ll be the last in his family to pick up the profession he says. He doesn’t want his children to follow in his footsteps and has worked to give them an education.

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Some diya makers want their children to learn their trade. Most don’t want their children to follow in their footsteps, and want them to live a better life instead.

“When we were young, we didn’t feel like studying. We would also see the condition of our house and feel bad. One person earns, to feed five to six mouths.”
Vala Arvind Kumar, 50

Premila’s children have completed their studies and are looking for jobs now. Arvind doesn’t want to see his children enter his line of work.

The slums of Dharavi are home to hundreds, if not thousands of these stories. On Diwali 2019, hear their stories.

(This article was originally published on BloombergQuint and has been republished with permission.)

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