Category Archives: Slums

City of God

Ishwar Nagar, a slum in Borivali, represents one of the many clusters of people being left behind as Mumbai makes its tenuous claims to global cityhood.

Text and Photos by Sujata Sarkar

Leelabai Anumangta was a young girl when she came to Mumbai with her husband. She had dreams of a comfortable city life but the bubble soon burst when she realized that all her husband could afford was their one room in the slum. In the 66 years of her life, she has seen many changes around her but the one thing that has never changed is the fact that she still lives in Ishwar Nagar, a slum in Borivali. She looks longingly towards the sky hoping that the incessant showers of rain would abate giving them a little respite from the leaking roof. Shalini, who works as a domestic help, Ranganath, a taxi driver, and Sunita Rathore, a stationery shop owner, are her immediate neighbours with whom she has to share the limited amenities provided.

DSC_0007A closer look into Ishwar Nagar and its neighbouring colony of Abhinav Nagar in suburban Borivali, situated 18 kilometers from the airport, reveals that there are still raging issues regarding housing which include the problems of segregation, legalizing land and illegally constructed structures, connectivity, water issues, sanitation and drainage. In most instances the problems are highlighted only prior to an election and forgotten as soon as the local councilors, MLA’s and MP’s are elected. “We only see them
during election time. They give us assurances and then they disappear. Every time before voting we hope that they will do something but we are disappointed every time. We are under the municipal responsibility of Shilpa Chogle, an MNS leader. We have never seen her after she has been elected,” says Ranganath the taxi driver, who is also secretary of the Ishwar Nagar Rahivasi Sangha housing committee. The block they live in is a series of rooms interconnected by a common passage through which both humans and rodents scurry by and sadly even on a scorching day, sunlight never filters through into their dark homes.

“Often we all, and especially the kids, fall ill because of the mosquitoes. The gutters are not cleaned, waste is dumped around us. The municipal fumigation squad comes on its rounds but to bring them here is an additional hassle for us. They only come after repetitive calling and pleading. But that does not help much because the breeding grounds of mosquitoes and flies are not being cleaned regularly.”

The affluent Abhinav Nagar and the derelict Ishwar Nagar exist side by side, separated only by a boundary wall; the wall almost reiterating the fact that proper housing and living amenities are available only for those who belong to the so called ‘upper class.’ Ironically the slum at Ishwar Nagar exists as a paradox of our times where on the one hand there is talk of India ‘cleaning up her act’ and moving on to become a power to reckon with and on the other hand, we see three-fourths of the population still struggling to live in better conditions. In fact for a long time, Ishwar Nagar did not have proper toilets and open drains were used by inhabitants for their daily ablutions. The local municipal corporation turned a blind eye and it was up to the residents to make their own arrangements for improved living. “We have built a toilet ourselves without any help from the government. We also pay for its maintenance. Not just the toilet, the entire colony’s roads and houses have been constructed by us,” says Ranganath.

Monsoon is a time of heightened struggle with the added challenge of keeping their belongings and homes dry and habitable. In most cases, there is waterlogging, the roofs leak and there is an increase in both water and air borne diseases. Clogged gutters with breeding mosquitoes are yet another cause for worry as both children and old people are vulnerable to diseases such as dengue and malaria. “Often we all, and especially the kids, fall ill because of the mosquitoes. The gutters are not cleaned, waste is dumped around us. The municipal fumigation squad comes on its rounds but to bring them here is an additional hassle for us. They only come after repetitive calling and pleading. But that does not help much because the breeding grounds of mosquitoes and flies are not being cleaned regularly,” says Sunita Rathore who runs the stationery shop. When the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation inspectors were contacted to comment on the situation they refused to specifically comment on the matter. The general idea conveyed by them was that though the basic civic amenities are provided, the population and unplanned habitation are a hindrance to proper management.

DSC_0013

The journey through Ishwar Nagar is synonymous with struggle and as one walks along, one cannot help but feel anguished at seeing the living conditions in which these slum dwellers reside. While some of them like Sunita Rathore own their own small business establishments and can afford to send their children to school, most of the others such as Shalini are domestic workers who are employed in Abhinav Nagar.

Shalini, Sunita, Ranganath and Leelabai are just a few of the faces which represent the agonizing helplessness and desperation that comes from facing tough circumstances, where everyday life is a battlefield. A new battlefront has now opened – the local government is eyeing the land for further development. As Leelabai says, “We have been living here for decades and each one of us has a voter card, an aadhar card and ration card! Why did the government give us all the cards if they want us to leave now? Yes, we do not get all the facilities but no one can ask us to leave overnight and that too without compensation.”

The struggle to retain their living space and at the same time to make it more habitable continues for the residents of Ishwar Nagar, who hope for better times even as they continue to combat a city that denies their very right to exist.

Advertisements

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?

photo 2 for article
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