Rich City, Poor Women

Life is tough for everyone in the slums but the burden on women is greater, given the precarious nature of housing and lack of basic infrastructure for water, sanitation, and fuel. Here, they tell their stories.

Text by Arjun Chavah
Photos by Akash Basumatari

I was born and brought up in a Disneyland in Hyderabad, or at least 25 years ago it felt like Disneyland to us. We would play kabaddi and football in the maidan, go fishing and swimming in the lake, and dance to the beat of the dholak on Ganesh Chaturthi every year. This Disneyland happens to be a slum called Errakunta.

When I was about 13-years old, I realized that all was not right with this Disneyland. This realization struck one day when I was playing cricket with my friends. Someone screamed, and when we got there we saw that a young woman, about 23-years old, had immolated herself as her three-year old baby lay crying besides her. When she died a week later, the police arrested her husband. He went to jail for torturing and mentally harassing her but no one seemed to know the whole story. As I listened to people speculating about the tragic event, I realized that the lives of the women in my slum basti were filled with violence and stress.

photo 1 for article
“Look, we are living in these slums with no light, water, or medical facilities. We take hours and hours to cook one meal on the chulha by blowing and blowing the fire, which fills the room with smoke,” says Shibli.

I now live in Mumbai and when I speak to women in the slums here, I realize things are not very different for them even today. Women living in the slums of M-Ward – the city’s poorest and most disadvantaged ward in terms of infrastructure and services – are plagued not just by everyday problems relating to housing, sanitation and water, but are also more vulnerable to violence and oppression. Balancing responsibilities at home and outside becomes especially difficult for them, and the lack of basic public amenities and infrastructure makes completing everyday tasks a painful and exacting struggle. Thirty-year old Shibli Ansari works as a domestic help and also takes care of her two children. She gestures towards the hardships in her slum as she tells me, “Look, we are living in these slums with no light, water, or medical facilities. We take hours and hours to cook one meal on the chulha by blowing and blowing the fire, which fills the room with smoke.”

I realize that even when these women are earning as much as their husbands, their socio-economic position is lower within their families. Their lack of access to education is also a hindrance. Shibli earns Rs 3000 a month and her cobbler husband earns an average of Rs 3500-4000 per month. Her job is more secure than his, which she attests to when she says, “My employers are very understanding. They pay me on time each month and never threaten me with pay cuts. They don’t ask me to stay back and do extra work as they know I have to return to my family in the evening.” But she has only studied up to class nine and her education was discontinued when her parents decided it was an unnecessary expenditure. As I talk to her, I wonder – if she had continued with her education, where would she have been today?

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Vimal Gaikwad says, “The drainage system is a joke. When the monsoons come, the gutters overflow with rainwater mixed with putrid garbage.”

Shibli lives in the Baiganwadi slum, where there is only one pipe for drinking water. The women all line up every morning to get water from this pipe. Shibli fetches water for her family every morning in one matka and has to make multiple ten-minute trips to the pipe. She explains how important this chore is, “When I wake up every morning, my first thought is that I must get enough water so I can cook for my family.” The older women find these repeated trips very demanding. Middle-aged Vimal Gaikwad told me, “I end up walking 3-4 kilometers to and fro to get enough water for the day, and my legs and back ache.” According to the Mumbai Human Development Report 2009 published by the state government, Mumbaikars on average get 200 litres per capita per day, while slum residents get only 90 litres.

The defunct sanitation system in slums places additional burdens on the women. Vimal told me, “The drainage system is a joke. When the monsoons come, the gutters overflow with rainwater mixed with putrid garbage.” When this water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and dengue attacks paralyze the slum, the onus of taking care of the sick inevitably falls on the women. Shibli tells me, “The municipality doesn’t allow us to build our own toilets here, because there is no drainage line in the slum.” Women have to pay Rs 3 every time they use the government toilet, which is usually so dirty that fungus grows on the floor. While trying to access these public toilets, women must also guard against being abused, harassed, stalked, and physically assaulted. “Going there at night is particularly unsafe as there is the additional threat of drunk men who sexually harass us on the way to and from the toilets,” Shibli says.

The women from these slums were unanimous in their demand for the creation of adequate infrastructure. As for a change in mindsets, they are already teaching their sons to stay away from violence, alcoholism and so on. They hope that this will improve the lot of the younger women, who will not have to suffer like they did.

Cover photo by Arjun Chavah

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Space Games

A PIL reveals the complex nature of Mumbai’s real estate market – where some get labelled encroachers while others are treated as legitimate developers.

By Geetha K. Wilson

“We used to live right there, man (pointing to slums in the far vicinity).  Now, it’s all business. India is at the center of the world now, bhai. And I… I am at the center… of the center.” -Slumdog Millionaire

Location: Hiranandani Gardens overlooking the sprawling slums, Powai.

Hiranandani Gardens owns the Powai skyline. Its pale sandalwood regal structures resembling neo-classical architecture majestically rise up to meet the sky. The boulevards are meticulously maintained and the buildings are fenced by tall walls, with entrances for parking lots. The security officers are on constant vigil. There are shops, malls, conference halls, special economic zones and international brand stores. The public bus services, autos and cars ply through the well laid, clean roads connecting it to the National Highway. At the far end, work is now underway at a frenzied pace to erect a few more apartment blocks now that the stay orders have been lifted following the Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed against Hiranandani Builders alleging a Rs 840 billion land scam. The stay orders have now been lifted.

This article lays out details about that dispute and offers varying viewpoints of the key players involved and explaining the land politics of this city, where land is more valued than molten gold.

“The developer was given 230 acres of land at Re 1 per hectare (40 paise per acre) way back in 1986 to create affordable housing for the middle class. Is Rs 20,000 per sq feet affordable?” – The PIL petitioner Kamlakar Motiram Satve against Hiranandani Developers

Hiranandani Gardens stand on 230 acres of land granted to them as a part of the tripartite agreement, dated 19 November 1986, executed by and between the State of Maharashtra, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and the developer (Hiranandani Developers). Under the agreement, the villages of Powai and Tirandaz (under the Powai Area Development Scheme) were leased to the developer for 80 years at the rate of Re1/- per hectare (ie.40 paise per acre). The agreement entitled Hiranandani Developers to build 1500 residential units not exceeding 80sq.m and another 1500 units not less than 40sq.m. Out of these 15 % were to be sold to the government at Rs.135/- per square feet to resell to the middle and higher middle-class buyers. The outcry over these constructions started when advertisements were put forth by the Developers announcing the selling of individual units– ranging from 180 sq. m to 457 sq. m – for prices as high as Rs 4 crores. PIL’s were filed against the developers which resulted in a ban on further construction in 2012. Along with the original petitioner Kamlakar Satve, Medha Patkar on behalf of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA) also filed a PIL against it in the same year.

“It is ironical that the Government of Maharashtra was kind enough to give 300 Acres of land to Hiranandani at the rate of 40 paisa per acre but has continued to evict and break the homes of basti dwellers,” says  Medha Patkar.

“Do you know how many families live here? Four thousand! These families give stable jobs to the people in the slums. While the construction was going on, do you know how many people were working there? She made the court impose the ban thousands of people lost their jobs. Has she done anything for them? Do you know how many people have made their livelihood out of us?” says Sudipta Lahiri, Senior Manager, Administration and Facilities, Hiranandani Group of Companies.

True enough, Phule Nagar Dumping Ground dwellers in Powai had been badly affected by the stay order. “I had worked for Hiranandani as an electrician and my wife was working there too. With the money from our jobs there, we could afford a place of our own here,” says 54-year-old Babu Gaykwada. The same was the case for the other households around.

“These people have not been returning the land to the government and have been paying paltry sums as rent.”

Roy Philip, an administrative officer at Hiranandani, chimes in, “What is this slum-slum thing that she is talking about? Has she ever looked into the problems with slums? Government builds permanent rehabilitation centers for them. They go there and stay there for some time so that they would get the place. Then they come back and stay in the same place where they were rehabilitated from. Then they give the permanent place for lease. By support to slum dwellers, one must actually help the people in dire need, not cunning exploiters. Hiranandani has constructed the Hiranandani Gardens complex and even the court mentions the development that the place has undergone. They are now giving tax to the government, not to mention jobs”.

Simpreet Singh, an activist associated with GBGBA asks, “What tax are you talking about? They were still paying the unrevised tax rates of 1986… what was it? Rs.15 or something. They got the land for Re1 per hectare. And how much are they selling the houses for? Rs 4 crores!” Filmmaker Faiza Khan, who in recent years has filmed several slum demolitions across the city, agrees and adds, “If the government is so keen to destroy the houses of the poor in Mumbai and declare their occupation of the land as illegal in order to give that land to developers, shouldn’t they apply the same standards for big developers who flout all the rules?”

GBGBA also accuses Hiranandani Developers in having a hand in revoking the Urban Land Ceiling Act. The Urban Land Ceiling Act of 1976 provided for “the imposition of a ceiling on vacant land in urban agglomerations, for the acquisition of such land in excess of the ceiling limit, to regulate the construction of buildings on such land and for matters connected therewith, with a view to prevent the concentration of urban land in the hands of a few persons.” This law was later repealed in 2007 because it ‘barred development on large tracks of land as the major infrastructure development projects had a major setback’. On the top of it, GBGBA maintains that a few influential people in the city have been granted leases over vast tracts of city land for years while the requests by the poor for small tracts of land on lease have been constantly turned down. “These people have not been returning the land to the government and have been paying paltry sums as rent,” says Simpreet Singh. A status report on Mumbai lands and leases in 2011 has been released by GBGBA. See Tables 1 and 2

Table 1: Status of Mumbai Lands in 2011 (GBGBA)

S. No. Name of Land holder Land in Possession
01. Godrej & Boycee 2500 acres
02. F.E Dinshaw Trust 800 acres
03. Bairamjee Jeejibhoy 600 acres
04. Essel World 650 acres
05. Amir Park & Amusements 300 acres
06. N K Bhesanim Trust 315 acres
07. K.J. Somaiya Trust 175 acres
08. Bhiwandiwala Hormasji 935 acres
09. Ghashiram Ramdaya 885 acres
10. Gaman India Ltd. 240 acres
11. Larsen & Toubro 165 acres
12. Mahindra & Mahindra 140 acres

Table 2:  Status of Mumbai Leases in 2011 (GBGBA)

Table 2

On the National Alliance of People’s movement website (http://napm-india.org/), Prerna Gaekwad, a GBGBA activist remarks, “Let the government use the land above ceiling available in Mumbai for implementing the right to housing. Our struggle against the builders will continue and we will continue to expose their corruption.” In a press statement, Hiranandani Developers maintain that they didn’t violate any restrictions – “The 15% of construction that has to be handed over to the government will be handed over. The restriction was to sell those at Rs.135/-, not the others.” This was later approved by the High Court; but the Court also pointed out that this was a complete and gross violation of the intent. The Court had also asked the developer to build another 1500 flats of 40 to 80 sq. m intended for low-income people.

While the victory of GBGBA  and the verdict to hand over the flats to the Government were applauded and welcomed by the Mumbaikars, a quick look at the rates of ‘Kingston’ Flats for rent on olx.com flash a monthly rent of Rs 35,000  for a 1-BHK and the same for ‘re-sale’ in 99acres.com lists for Rs 1.49 crore. Kingston flats are the first set of flats that Hiranandani had constructed and handed over to the Government in 1990. An RSS flag welcomes everyone in front of the Kingston Housing society. An inmate who had taken the apartment on lease says, “The politicians and government officials own the place. They rent it out and I have just taken it on lease from a government official.” These flats which government officials had got for Rs.135/- per square feet are rented and re-sold at exorbitant rates. For, a home in such a developed housing complex remains an unaffordable dream.

Cover picture courtesy Creative Commons.

…Not Just the Trees

In Goregaon’s Aarey Milk Colony, a battle unfolds. Whose home and whose rights prevail when it comes to this critical green lung of the city? 

Text and Photos by Akshay Panse

You walk up a small grassy lane to meet a 64 year ‘young man’. He puts on his prosthetic leg and takes you into the woods to show the different plant species he has sowed. Sharing his knowledge about the medicinal usage of some plants, Chandu Jadhav says, “We adivasis are used to living in the jungle under the open sky. This forest is everything for us, but it is in danger now. I was the first person to cry foul when the Metro yard plan was released.”

Jadhav, an adivasi activist and a former Aarey Dairy employee, is the man who initiated the exercise of documenting and surveying all the adivasi padas (hamlets) within Goregaon’s Aarey Milk Colony (AMC). “We have to struggle for our basic needs, face natural calamities, and as if this was not enough, we now have to be prepared to combat the corporate forces which are now on our edges,” he says. Vanicha pada, the place where he lives, is one of the 31 adivasi padas with a total population of around 8,000 in AMC.

Chandu Kaka and his wife removing weed from the fields
Chandu Kaka and his wife removing weeds from the fields.

But Jadhav is not the only person who is upset with the government’s decision to use Aarey’s land for developmental purposes. When in early 2015, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) announced its plan to build Metro line 3 – Colaba-Bandra-Seepz – cutting across some parts of AMC, people nearby and from across the city rose in protest. They came together under the banner of ‘Save Aarey Campaign’ (SAC) to save the largest ‘lung’ of the city. The proposed car shed for the Metro rail in Aarey is on 70 acres of land and 2298 trees were marked for cutting down or transplantation.

Though the Metro rail yard plan has been put on hold for now, many other developmental projects are still in the pipeline. These include a proposed ‘international-grade’ zoo on 200 acres, another 180 acres for the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) and some land for the Aarey road widening project. Already in 2002, 95 acres of land was set aside for a center and training facility for Force One Commandos.

The ‘Save Aarey Campaign’ (SAC) aims to save the largest ‘lung’ of the city
The ‘Save Aarey Campaign’ (SAC) aims to save the largest ‘lung’ of the city

Meanwhile, Aarey’s original status as a place to house the metropolitan city’s dairy is also under threat. Essentially established in 1949 to shift dairy sheds from the congested island city, Aarey today has 30 tabelas (animal sheds) with 16,000 buffaloes which provide around 1.25 lakh liters of milk per day.

The state government’s Central Dairy, which has functioned here since 1949, was given the task of processing and packaging that milk and supplying it across the city. Today with less government support that milk supply is much reduced and restricted mainly to some western suburbs. Critics feel it’s because indirectly the state government is supporting rival private milk producers.

C. K. Singh, leader of the Aarey Milk Producers Association (AMPA), supports any protest to protect Aarey land. “We are aware of the fact that this encroaching attitude of the government will one day also swallow us,” he notes with concern; “and it’s not just us who will get affected by developmental activities such as the metro, there is a chain of people whose livelihood is dependent on the milk production here.”

The proposed site for the third phase of Metro.
The proposed site for the third phase of Metro.

Such as the 29-year old tabela worker Mohamamd Karim. “One person looks after 10 buffaloes – including their fodder, cleaning, milking, etc. and there are around 100 buffaloes in this tabela,” explains Karim, who has worked at Tabela No.6 for the past eight years. “My practical experience has also trained me in injecting the buffaloes with medicines and conducting a general medical check-up for them.” Mohammad is from Bihar and lives inside the tabela in a small quarter which he shares with his co-workers.

A tribal kid playing at Gaondevi Pada
A tribal kid playing at Gaondevi Pada.

From an original area of 3000 acres, Aarey today has shrunk down to 2000 acres, thanks to the government’s generous land distribution for varied activities to different groups. With the change in the Proposed Land Use (PLU) policy of AMC from primary activity of dairy and fodder growing grasslands to a residential and commercial zone, the controversy around AMC shows no signs of getting resolved any time soon.

Though the ‘Save Aarey Campaign’ was initially organized against the Metro rail car shed, it has now widened its ambit given the many threats to the area. The group, which has garnered much social media attention, is fighting to preserve the overall ecology of the area. “We are a group of environment lovers, activists and local residents who have joined hands under the umbrella of ‘Save Aarey’ to defeat the government’s sinister agendas. First they are trying to kill Central Dairy step-by-step and then in the name of development they plan to sell the land to the corporate lobbies,” explains Biju Augustine angrily. He is a civil engineer whose workplace is in the nearby Royal Palms estate, a property that is in fact considered an early ‘encroachment’ on Aarey land. He adds, “Through SAC our message is that not a single inch of Aarey’s land is negotiable, and we are appealing to all the Mumbaikars to join us in our protest activities.”

The group has organized various activities including a film festival, a human chain, and walking tours of Aarey. “By organizing different events, we want to catch the attention of Mumbaikars and want them to know that Mumbai city has a huge green space within its boundaries and one doesn’t have to go to Lonavala to see greenery,” say Priya and Kripa, both enthusiastic SAC volunteers.

Aarey’s importance for Mumbai – a city with a dismal open space per person ratio – cannot be overstated. Besides, Aarey acts as a water shed to Vihar lake which is a chief contributor to the water supply of Mumbai city. It is also known for its varied flora and fauna with different species of amphibians, butterflies, moths, spiders and reptiles are found here. Only time will tell whether the efforts by the residents of Mumbai to protect this green lung of the city is successful. Meanwhile the trees bear witness to change.


THE OTHER AAREY RESIDENT

African_Leopard_5The Aarey landscape hosts a small resident population of leopards (Panthera Pardus). Ecology functions on the prey-predator density ratio. As conservationist and naturalist Sunjoy Monga explains, “There has been a sudden and impactful change in the lifestyle of the locals. This is causing an ecological disturbance because the leopard population increases when there is a sudden abundance of unnatural prey in the area.” While talking about pragmatic solutions, he emphasizes on the need for controlling the stray dog population and the livestock in tabelas. Both of these are attractants for leopards. He also said that other measures such as spreading awareness about leopards, maintaining cleanliness, street lighting and fencing would help.

Leopard picture courtesy Creative Commons.