Category Archives: Home

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.

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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.

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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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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.)

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.

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“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

…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.