All posts by smcsfootnotes2015

‘Zameen Hamari Aapki, Nahi Kisi Ke Baap Ki’

By Saurabh Kumar

In May 2015, I spent 36 days with the protesting people of Mandala, a former slum basti in Mankhurd, Mumbai which had been bulldozed ten years ago by the state government on account of it allegedly being an illegal construction. The former residents of Mandala had returned to reclaim their land – their protest was marked by zesty slogans, banners, songs and most remarkably, hope that the city would this time listen to their plea and offer them legal tenure to the land they considered home.

This photo essay captures a few shades of that protest.

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When Home is a Hostel  

By Tarishi Verma and Swati K.

Whenever we go out, a simple question often creeps into conversations, “When are you going home?” For hostel students, it’s no different except that we make a home out of one bed and half a wall in a tiny room. A hostel room is often shared between two, sometimes three or four or even more people. But each of its inhabitants puts in effort to make it ‘like home.’ From decorating the walls to keeping it incredibly messy, every act demarcates ‘personal space.’ And even among the tiny personal space, there will be a magical public space. In a room with four people, these demarcations are sharp. Where one side of the room maybe spick and span, another area would make a cleanliness freak cringe – you may as well draw a line. Where one wall would be empty, the other can be full of pictures and a third would be full of notes. But together, the same hostel space becomes a home away from home.










Surekha Ka Ghar

By Tanvi Khemani

It has been over seven years since Surekha and her family moved into the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) building at Aarey Milk Colony. Her 1-Hall-Kitchen apartment (where the hall becomes a bedroom at night) covers only 225 square-feet, but houses four adults. It is small by most standards but the family has mastered the art of organizing their lives to fit into a cramped space.

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The SRA buildings at Arey Milk Colony in Mumbai
Surekha's is one of the many buildings in the SRA compound.
Surekha’s is one of the many buildings in the SRA compound.
The common letter box for her building.
The common letter box for her building.
A dream deferred - their elevator is still under construction.
A dream deferred – their elevator is still under construction.
Her love for flowers and her husband’s devotion to the Hindu goddesses is apparent as you enter their apartment
Her love for flowers and her husband’s devotion to the Hindu goddesses is apparent as you enter their apartment
Surekha making tea in her tiny but spotless kitchen.
Surekha making tea in her tiny but spotless kitchen.
The toilet has been cleverly concealed behind the picture of a waterfall.
The toilet has been cleverly concealed behind the picture of a waterfall.
The view from their window is perpetually obstructed by clothes kept out to dry.
The view from their window is perpetually obstructed by clothes kept out to dry.
Many of the SRA buildings in the compound lie vacant as the rehabilitated communities refused to move in, complaining about the lack of basic amenities.
Many of the SRA buildings in the compound lie vacant as the rehabilitated communities refused to move in, complaining about the lack of basic amenities.

The Watchmen

Akshay Panse and Geetha K. Wilson

In the busy life of a metro, rarely do we pause to notice the different bodies inside the identical uniforms. The watchmen who guard and secure our apartment complexes, themselves enjoy very little economic and social security. The work of a security guard is tiring and often thankless. Even though these guards spend 8 to 12 hours per day on the job, many only have a stick and a chair to keep them company. In this photo essay, we have tried to capture the human face behind the uniforms that guard our gates.










Finding home under the Mankhurd fly over

Vishal Langthasa & Arjun Chavah

Some roofs are small, some are big and we bring you the story of two families  enjoying the luxuries of a huge elongated roof which they generously share with many others.

The roof is the Mankhurd fly over, which is also lovingly called Mankhurd Bridge, located in the suburb of Eastern Mumbai. Ashok’s three-member family and Geeta’s six-member family live under the portion of the fly over just near Maharashtra Nagar area. Forty-year-old Ashok’s small family, from Maharashtra’s Beed district, comprises of his wife and father-in-law. They had lived under the Mankhurd flyover for just 15 days when we interviewed them. They used to live on the streets of Fort earlier but due to repeated hounding by the police they chose to head eastwards.

On the other hand, 30-year-old Geeta and her family have been associated with the bridge for over 15 years now. Although most of Geeta’s time is spent under the bridge selling puffed rice, she claims that they live in a little shanty just beside the bridge. Geeta’s husband Ganesh has a disabled right arm, thus Geeta has more responsibilities on her shoulders. They came to Mumbai from Banaras in search of a living in 1999. Geeta and Ganesh have two daughters and two sons.











Life in a BDD chawl

By Radhika Agarwal

The Bombay Development Directorate (BDD) chawls in Worli are a set of about 121 buildings which were developed in 1920 by the colonial government to provide low cost housing to workers in the city. A barrack like structure with long corridors and common bathrooms at the end of it, these chawls have a close connection to the city’s working class and Dalit movement histories.

Today different communities of people reside here, predominantly Dalit Ambedkarites and state government employees – mostly police personnel. With their close proximity to the Lower Parel office district, the Worli chawls are now being eyed by developers for redevelopment projects. Some parts of the area are already in the process of being redeveloped and one can see tall isolated buildings juxtaposed next to the traditional chawls with their focus on community-based life.

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Abandoned Hopes

By Shreya Sachan and Sujata Sarkar

It’s surprising that for a city where people yearn for a roof over their heads, Mumbai has a fair amount of abandoned buildings, crumbling edifices, and vacant land plots. The reasons are plenty: buildings under legal or other dispute – usually between landlords/redevelopers and tenants and their heirs or the state and citizens; forsaken redevelopment of plots especially when the developer runs out of cash; or abandoned just due to plain old bad luck. For this photo essay, we visited three sites. The first one was a house in Chembur where a sole woman tenant rebuked us for shooting pictures of her house. The second one was a shut-down hospital in Koparkhairane, now a site for petty criminal activity and obscene graffiti.  The third site was a Transit camp for displaced families at Mankhurd.

Chembur 2

Chembur 3

High Court order

Hospital Navi Mumbai 2

Hospital Navi Mumbai

Transit Camp

Transit Camp 2

Silver Screen Dreams

Mumbai’s Andheri West neighbourhood attracts single young women keen to find a foothold in the celluloid city. But this city is not an easy one to call home.

Text by Nayantara Nayar
Photos by Saurabh Kumar

It is 7 pm when I walk into the Starbucks at Infinity Mall in Andheri West. The place is packed but I have an inside man who points me to an empty table in the corner. It has the perfect vantage point as it overlooks the entire café. Undoubtedly, this must be the preferred spot for casting directors on the lookout for the next new face. Or perhaps, this is where the actors perch themselves trying to tell the producers from the rabble. My own goal isn’t very different – I am there to test out a theory: ‘Go to any coffee shop in Andheri after six and every other woman you see there is a struggling actor trying to make it in Bollywood.’

“Andheri became the central point of the production houses only in the 1990s,” says Ajay Punjabi, a real-estate broker with Regal Estates, located in Lokhandwala Complex. “Before that it was mostly residential.” It still is mostly residential but the difference seems to be the kind of residents moving in. “In a day I get about ten enquiries for homes,” Ajay says, “and I can confidently say that nine of those are from young single women looking for housing in Andheri. They’re usually either in media or want to get into Bollywood.” IMG_0648-2 use this

The story of the struggling actor/writer/model/singer/director slumming it in Mumbai isn’t very new – the city has been a beacon for starry-eyed youngsters from all across the country for decades, but today with spiralling rent costs and fewer industry openings, how do young women, who put everything on the line and move to Mumbai, manage?

This is the question I ponder as I watch a stylishly dressed young woman, pointed out to me as a struggling model, order her third round of chai-tea latte. Starbucks is not cheap, and surely if one is struggling the sensible thing to do is avoid coffee at Rs 230 a pop?

“You would think so,” says Chandni, a 23-year-old make-up artist who tried life in Mumbai but found it too expensive, “but image is everything with people here.”

“If you want to get into the industry, you have to make contacts. When I was training at Fatmu we’d get models in a lot, and they were always running off to coffee houses and swanky bars just because someone says, ‘Oh all these big shots from this production house hang out here’ or ‘I saw this actor over there’ so they’d have to be there too. Not being seen at those places means you don’t exist,” explains Chandni, who’s now back in hometown Chennai.

Just then my contact gestures to me. “There’s a man who does casting – in a red shirt, sitting by himself,” he whispers furtively as I approach him, “just talk to him.”Bhavya, a struggling actress from Lucknow, demurs, “I think when people say you have to be seen here or seen there they aren’t getting it correctly. Yes, contacts matter but at the end of the day being in a coffee shop will only get you so far. I’m still new to this but I find I make my best contacts by being persistent and approaching the right people repeatedly. That way you also have time for other things.”

“Not everyone can make it here. Eight or nine of the people I talk to on a weekly basis are women from outside Mumbai who want to become stars or big-shot models.”

The man I am pointed towards is Kuresh, and though he won’t tell me exactly what he does, he is quick to say that he isn’t an agent but more a liaison. He knows producers and casting directors in the big companies, and he knows a lot of aspiring actors, writers and the like, so he simply puts them together.

“I don’t conduct auditions,” he says his eyes constantly flitting around the room, “I take peoples’ profiles and portfolios, and if I hear about a role they might be good for, I tell them.” What he gets out of this is unclear but he bypasses that question and tells me instead of how one of the people he helped is now doing television serials. “Not everyone can make it here. Eight or nine of the people I talk to on a weekly basis are women from outside Mumbai who want to become stars or big-shot models.”

These young women arrive in Mumbai every day, some supported by their families and others not. Those who have family support manage to live in relative comfort, if not in luxury but those women that have no support, work several jobs to sustain their dream.

“They’ll struggle for a year or two,” says Kuresh, “but as they stay on it becomes harder. They need to be able to afford things like acting classes, regular photo shoots, dance or speech training. Eventually some just pack up and go home.”

Bhavya, who moved here in June last year, says “I came with my mother so at least I had that, but it took us a long time to find a home in Oshiwara. No one wants to help single women.” IMG_0693-2 this

Ronak Makhji, working at Landmark Real Estate Agents, agrees, “Only you can’t really blame the people who are in the societies. When women are by themselves they have parties or have men over and drink and smoke – the buildings they are living in have young children, so it isn’t nice. I think mostly they come here because it offers so much more freedom than their homes, and then they lose direction.”

The fact that young single women find it the hardest to get flats is something that no one I speak to denies. To most people it seems a foregone conclusion. “With things like call girl centres being run out of apartments in respectable areas, what do you expect? The societies here are very strong and they don’t want that kind of thing to ruin the neighbourhood,” says Ajay.

Chandni, however, finds that unfair, “It took me some time to find a place and even then people were really suspicious of me, being a young single woman in the film industry, but honestly I was just there to do my work and get out. Most of us don’t have time for anything else. Even the people who come home late and wear these so called ‘indecent clothes’ have to, it is part of the job to be on call all through the day and to present yourself a certain way.”

Andheri and places nearby like Versova and Oshiwara are very attractive to young women because these areas are considered safer. “I can wear what I want here and walk around at 12 in the night too,” says Mithali, a 20-year-old college student and aspiring actress living in Andheri. “I don’t know if that’s true of everywhere in the city.”

However rising prices are pushing strugglers further and further out towards parts of the city that aren’t as safe or easy to navigate. But the call of the silver screen is too strong to let this matter, “I’m here to become an actress,” says Bhavya, “and I knew it was going to be hard. Honestly Mumbai is a good place for us, because even though it rains a lot, the people here are nicer.”

Even as space in the city grows more expensive, young women and men stream in, hoping to get a break in the film industry which is one of the largest and most successful employers of young people. But the industry is also deceptively misleading. “There are a lot of fake auditions,” admits Bhavya, “with people just trying to rope in young girls and get their information to take advantage of their ignorance. You have to know how to tell the difference and only being here and experiencing this will show you how to really survive here.”

(All photographs are for representational purposes only)

The Nightmare that is Lallubhai Compound

If you want to know why Mumbai’s slum dwellers don’t buy the government’s relocation and rehabilitation plan, visit Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd’s ‘infamous’ resettlement colony.

Text By Rajendra Jadhav
Photos By Arjun Chavah

Till eight years ago, Vinod Narkar used to live in a slum in Parel. Now he lives in a building in Mankhurd and says “life here is worse than the slums”. Narkar, aged 27, is a resident of Lallubhai Compound (LBC), a cluster of 65 buildings which were built under the Slum Rehabilitation Act (SRA) to resettle slum and chawl dwellers displaced as a result of Mumbai’s zealous development.

Narkar along with some friends and neighbours is part of a ten-member group that has recently carried out a social audit of LBC under the Youth Movement for Active Citizenship (YMAC) project, a program funded by UN Youth Fund.  Their contention is that Lallubhai Compound,  which came into being around 2005 and includes both five-storey and seven-storey structures, has been ignored by the government for the last decade and daily life here is a struggle for food, water, education and cleanliness.  The compound is home to approximately 70,000 tenants and 36,000 residents.IMG_0917 copyc4

The most recent part of their campaign was the creation of a thermacol model entitled “The future of LBC”, an outcome of the community based participatory group research they conducted regarding the housing problems in LBC. The model took into account the current situation there and also showed the future aspirations of the residents. The model reflects the desire of the residents for the compound to include markets, schools, hospitals, social spaces and gardens.  Narkar and his colleagues have so far presented their model to local corporators, the TISS- M ward project and some other NGOs in an attempt to raise awareness about the problems at LBC.

LBC was built under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) with Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Center (SPARC) being the nodal NGO agency to assist in the resettlement and rehabilitation process. There seems to be widespread resentment among the residents of LBC about what they were promised in terms of amenities and services and what they have received. “The rehabilitation of project-affected people should have been within a radius of 3 kilometers from their original dwelling, but we have been brought 25 km away from our chawl. Sarkar ne hum ko phasah diya (The government has trapped us.),” says an angry Narkar.

There the women would meet in the evenings to chat, but here in Lallubhai compound, there is no sense of community. We feel like prisoners here.”

Sumitra Pawar, a middle aged woman, says, “When we were first told that we had to shift from our chawl in Parel to a building, my husband and I were very happy. I had been working as a maid in a building and I had seen what life was like in a flat. I saw that buildings have adequate water supply, lifts, and cleanliness. So we thought that our entire lifestyle would change after becoming flat owners, and we would live with dignity there. But when we came to LBC we realized that buildings could also be slums! The only difference is that our previous dwelling was a horizontal slum and this one is vertical slum.” Pawar feels that her life in the Parel slum was much better than in LBC.

The problems are many in LBC. There are no proper sanitation/and drainage lines here. The narrow alleys between the tall buildings – often barely three metres apart – causes insufficient ventilation in the houses.  People constantly complain of perennial leakage from various pipes in the area making the compound very slippery to walk in and making the entire complex a breeding ground for mosquitoes year-round. The incidence of water-borne diseases is high in the area.IMG_1368 copyc6

The residents of LBC often congregate on the road divider in groups because there are no safe public spaces for them to meet in.  Says resident Alka Patil, “There is no public transportation facility in LBC.”  According to Shila Patil, the residents in her building cannot afford to pay the maintenance fee of Rs 300 Rupees per month and as a result many common services that are shared by the residents don’t exist in reality. Such as many of the buildings don’t have an elevator facility and even where it exists, most lifts are totally out of service.

The families in LBC get water for very limited periods in the day. Some get water for only 10 to 12 minutes every day and some for about 25 to 30 minutes on alternate days. Garbage collection and disposal is also a major issue in LBC and mounds of garbage piled up is a common sight.

To date, there are no branches of any banks here and the only ATM just opened a few months ago. As a result, there is a thriving jewellery loan business in LBC. People routinely mortgage jewellery to take loans – at interest rates as high as 36 per cent a year – at the 12 to 15 shops that have mushroomed here.

_MG_1356 copyThe lack of services is appalling in the least but most of all residents of LBC complain of feeling very alienated here. Alka Patil lived in a chawl for 20 years before she was forced to shift to LBC eight years ago. Reminiscing about her life in the chawl, she says, “There the women would meet in the evenings to chat, but here in Lallubhai compound, there is no sense of community. We feel like prisoners here.”

She continues, “In the chawl, we used to celebrate many religious and cultural events such as haldi-kunku. We used to exchange bhaji (vegetables) and help each other with the cooking. When someone in the family got sick, the whole chawl would help out.” She gestures towards the lack of community feeling in LBC by describing an incident when a resident died and the neighbouring families didn’t even reduce the volume of their television sets as there was no communication between them.

It’s time someone paid attention to Lallubhai Compound, a nightmare of a resettlement project.

No Home for the Third Sex

Though ‘transgender’ is now an officially recognised category in India, people who identify as such still find social acceptance and housing tough to come by.

Text and Photos by Radhika Agarwal

Chandrakala invites me inside her pavement home. Supported by a roadside railing on one side, with walls of hay and an orange plastic sheet as its roof, the space inside is lit by a solitary lamp offered to Goddess Yellama, the deity worshipped by transgenders who follow Hinduism. Thirty-year old Chandrakala belongs to the transgender community and lives alone on a pavement near Elphinstone road. Her parents live two huts away with her brother and his family. “My parents have not been able to accept my sexuality even after so many years,” she says. As I look at some of the spaces inhabited by members of the transgendered community in the city, I discover that many transgenders have not been accepted by their own families and have in fact been turned out of their family homes. Not having a home, a space to be yourself, is one of the many heartrending troubles that the transgender community faces.

Transgender, according to the U.S. National Center for Transgender Equality, is a term for people whose gender identity, expression or behaviour is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. In India, transgenders received legal recognition only in April 2014 though they were counted for the first time in Census 2011. The official count of the third gender – an umbrella term for people who do not identify themselves as either male or female – in the country is 4.9 lakhs, though gender activists estimate the number to be much higher. In Maharashtra, the census count is 41 transgendered persons per 1000 people.

The glow of the oil lamp is the only source of light in the miniscule space that Chandrakala inhabits. Earlier she stayed in slums nearby and when they were demolished, she moved under a flyover, which has now been sealed off for ‘beautification’ purposes. She fears that she might be removed from this pavement too. Chandrakala, who survives through begging on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays – collecting not more than Rs 250 to 300 per day– is not afraid of dealing with her poverty.  What she fears instead is being moved to some other space with different people who might exploit her sexual vulnerability. Here, she has adjusted with her neighbours. With new people she will have to go through the trauma once again.IMG_6569

For instance, she talks of her experiences of going to the toilet.  Before the public toilet in her area was built six years ago, she was forced to defecate in the open which would often be embarrassing as a few women would end up staring at her genitals. In that respect, having access to a public toilet has been a relief. She prefers using the ladies washroom but often gets awkward stares from other people around.

Even though the public toilet here charges Rs 3 per use and some more for taking a bath, making a huge dent in her meagre income, Chandrakala feels it’s a better option. Of course, what she dreams about is a house of her own with an attached toilet. Till then she will contend bravely with people’s stares and rebukes. “Sab logon ka soch to ab hum badal to nahi sakte? (Now, we can’t change all the people’s thinking, can we?)” she asks.

Sarita*, a 27-year-old transgender who works as a sex-worker, also lives on the street. “Ghar kya hota hai hamein kabhi pata hi nahin chala (What is a home, we never really got to know),” she says while eating her dinner at a roadside hotel. She would prefer to cook her own food but all her utensils were lost during the rains when she was out for work. With no family to look after her belongings when she’s not around her jhopdi, she feels the need for a permanent roof over her head. She has a sister and her children, but she says, “They harass me a lot, so I prefer living on my own”.

Humare community ke logon ke pass option hi kya hai?” says Shri Devi…“If I have to live in this house, I will have to listen to what they tell me”…She is not allowed to wear clothes which are ‘feminine’ nor put on make-up. Simple desires of having the freedom to express oneself through one’s clothes is denied to Shri.

“It’s most difficult to survive during the rains,” explains Sarita. Work is difficult to come by especially when water fills up to the knees and it becomes difficult to walk to the areas where she solicits her clients. Besides, finding a dry space to store clothes, mattresses, food materials and cooking items is the toughest.  All her neighbours face the same problem, but as they live in families they learn to do things for each other. During the rains, many of them suffer from dengue, malaria and other water borne diseases. Sarita says she cannot afford to fall sick as she earns and lives on her own and also supports her sister.

What Priya, a 33-year-old transgender who works as a make-up artist, finds particularly annoying is that many people assume her to be sexually promiscuous just because she identifies as transgender. Thus, she prefers to always have a male friend with her when she has to meet a new person. IMG_6687

Priya came to the city when she was in Class 8. It had become difficult for her to stay at home with her parents. The family was ashamed of her, neighbours would ridicule her, and in school other students would tease her for being ‘feminine’. For her, everything about home was bleak, and suffocating. She liked to hang out with girl-friends but was forced to play games that supposedly boys play. Thus she preferred to run away to Mumbai. “Bohot suna tha ki Bombay sabko apnaati hai (I had heard that Bombay accepts everyone),” she says. She started looking for jobs in the film line and ended up as a make-up artist. She lived in an assortment of slums but was regularly abused and teased. Therefore she constantly moved in and out of several slum colonies and in between took shelter at a few friends’ houses. Recently, a dancer friend abruptly asked her to leave her house. She is now living with another friend but the insecurity of not having her own home always haunts her. To find a room in a building society has proven an impossible task. People judge her, assume her to be involved in sex work and often exploit her. Some landlords have even tried to take advantage of her by asking her to engage in sexual relations with them.

A real-estate broker in Chembur, who did not wish to be named, explains that “we do not rent houses to hijras as their presence in a building society causes property rates to fall.” The brokers if approached either completely ignore their request, or send them away to places on the outskirts of Mumbai to find flats. Here too, they are forced to pay higher rentals due to their third sex identity.

Priya has lived out of a suitcase and vanity box for most of her life yet she refuses to give up her dreams: of finding a partner to spend the rest of her life with, of buying her own house and of opening her own make-up training academy.IMG_6481

Humare community ke logon ke pass option hi kya hai (What are our options)?” says Shri Devi, a 31-year-old make-up artist on being asked why she doesn’t wear sarees more often when she enjoys it. “If I have to live in this house, I will have to listen to what they tell me,” says Shri who lives with her parents, grandmother and three brothers in a one room-kitchen house in Parel. The flat was allotted to her parents under the Slum Rehabilitation Act, 1995. She is not allowed to wear clothes which are ‘feminine’ nor put on make-up. Simple desires of having the freedom to express oneself through one’s clothes is denied to Shri. Recently friends and neighbours have been asking her to move away from her family and begin a life for herself. “They tell me once my brothers get married, who will be with you but I ask, who will look after my mother if I go away,” says Shri.

Triveni Kendra in Malad is a non-profit organisation that is run by transgenders for increasing awareness and help for HIV and AIDS among hijra sex workers. Vashi, a worker says, “Even under MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority), we don’t get houses. This is why we end up in slums.” She thinks there should be separate housing societies for hijras and the government should help them provide a better standard of living and more protection against exploitation. Shri and other transgender women are hopeful that now that they have been recognized as the third gender in India by an order of the Supreme Court, things will change. They are looking forward to welfare schemes for their development, better job opportunities, reservation in education institutions, protection against sexual and mental harassment, allotment of houses under government schemes and a separate board – with at least fifty per cent transgender community members – to look after the interests of transgenders.

Will India’s third sex finally get its dues?

*Name changed on request

(The photographs in this article were shot in Kamathipura during the 2014 annual festival of the Goddess Yellamma, traditionally worshipped by devdasis and transgendered Hindus.)