Tag Archives: Mumbai

‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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High Court order

Hospital Navi Mumbai 2

Hospital Navi Mumbai

Transit Camp

Transit Camp 2

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.)

North-East Yes! ‘Chinkies’ No!   

Even as the Mumbai makes room for diverse people from North-East India, it needs to learn how not to stigmatize and stereotype them.

Text by Aditi Saraswat

When identities and  histories of an entire people are ignored, and their geography and rich culture conveniently gets relegated to the margins of our books and memories – as is the case of the North Eastern states of India – then stories of exclusion and racial discrimination spring everywhere. Naga youth Nido Tania’s murder in Delhi in 2014 because he was ‘dressed differently‘ and the mass exodus of North-Eastern people residing in Karnataka and Maharashtra in 2012 fearing attacks on themselves are stories screaming of intolerance and irrationality exhibited by ‘mainland Indians’. Though Mumbai has largely been untouched from such a taint, and young people from North-East India are thankful for this city’s welcoming embrace, finding a place to call home here is still not the easiest task for them.

Church and Region/Tribe based associations like Assam Association Mumbai and the North East Catholic Association do their bit to let the newly arrived take root in the new city. Many find Mumbai much better than their experiences in other cities like Delhi. Padmaja Swargiary, is an Assamese housewife living in Navi Mumbai. She and her husband bought their home in an apartment complex seven years ago, and have not had a single complaint since. “I think Delhi makes you aware that you are an outsider like no other city does. Mumbai on the other hand has been an easy ride, but I do not think we can rule out the fact that I am a married woman. The respectability that having a family brings you makes the brokers/landowners view you differently. We also now do not have to deal with the monthly rent-hounding by landlords and our neighbours aren’t too nosy.”

Zingkhai Nathan, a Tangkhul Naga, carries a bit of his land in the tie he wears with his suit. Photo Credit: Kiningkambe Riame
Zingkhai Nathan, a Tangkhul Naga, carries a bit of his land in the tie he wears with his suit. Photo Credit: Kiningkambe Riame

Mercy Kamkra, 23, stays with her working professional brother in Kalina, and has a happy picture to paint about Kalina, the Santacruz-East locality now ironically famous as ‘China Town’ because of the many North-Easterners who make it home. Even as Kalina boasts of a predominant Naga presence, this Manipuri girl cannot stop gushing about the warm experience that the city of Mumbai has proved to be after her experience in Shillong. “The landlord here has been extremely considerate; my landlord in Shillong was extremely strict. He did not allow boys to enter the apartment and was against partying too.”

Real estate brokers in Kalina vouchsafe for the easy exchanges and mostly peaceful environment there. Maybe it is the strength in numbers which makes the youth confident, or the long history of them living here which makes the locals more receptive to them. According to Santosh Shahane, who has been running Raien Real Estate since 2007, “I have never faced any issue in this business and many of my clients have kept in touch because their friends or cousins from the North-East keep pouring in year after year.”

“I think Delhi makes you aware that you are an outsider like no other city does. Mumbai on the other hand has been an easy ride, but I do not think we can rule out the fact that I am a married woman. The respectability that having a family brings you makes the brokers/landowners view you differently.”

Mercy’s thankfulness to the accepting culture of the city does have a rationale with respect to the young from the North-East who like to let their hair down at the end of a hard day’s work. Niglun Hanghal, a young journalist from Manipur who has written about the discrimination faced by North-Easterners on many platforms, has an interesting insight to share. “Boys and girls from our region are politically more aware, so when there is a problem, they rise and make a noise. So when they have parties, landlords might have a problem with it, though this is an issue with young people from all ages,” he says. “Additionally, while boys get beaten up or get into brawls, the nature of discrimination against women is more sexually charged.”

While young people from states like Manipur and Nagaland run away from insurgency and unstable conditions, there are also states that do not see a lot of people move to bigger cities. Lalrinmuana Ralte, a Masters student from Mizoram studying Criminology and Justice at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, testifies to this observation, “My state is peaceful and there are opportunities, hence you will not find many people from my state in these big cities. So I do not have the same extended network of people that an average Naga or Assamese person will have, and hence my support systems have to be my mainland India friends, who have never let me down.”

While young people from states like Manipur and Nagaland run away from insurgency and unstable conditions, there are also states that do not see a lot of people move to bigger cities.

Single women struggling to make a name for themselves in the big city usually find themselves facing the wind from all sides, including when trying to find a home. Nika Chhetri, a BPO employee from the small district of Geyzing in Sikkim who now lives in Khar, says, “I did not settle on this space, I jumped at it because it’s owner was the only person who did not look at me suspiciously when I insisted on living alone. True, they would not expect such a thing back home but I had imagined a different treatment from Mumbai when I first arrived here.” When asked about why she did not take up accommodation in a friendlier place like Kalina, she rues that her office is close by, and her salary allows her only so much that she can pay for her two room shelter in Khar.

Chyau Chyi Naw (second from left), or 'Ting' as he is called by friends, from Burma enjoys a happy moment with his friends from the North-East on his 25th Birthday in Mumbai.
Chyau Chyi Naw (second from left), or ‘Ting’ as he is called by friends, from Burma enjoys a happy moment with his friends from the North-East on his 25th Birthday in Mumbai.

Rents are notoriously heavy on the pocket in metro cities, and Mumbai tops the charts in this department. Students and young professionals make up most of those migrating to the city from this region, apart from skilled and unskilled labour who end up becoming the backbones of the numerous ‘Chinese’ Beauty parlours’ and ‘Chinese’ food joints. This racist stereotyping perpetuates due to resembling facial features and it manifests itself in certain racial slurs and abuse.

David, aged 24, ran away from home in Nagaland seven years ago. Having worked as a glue paster, a battery mechanic and now as an employee in a small catering service in Santa Cruz East, he has developed a perspective on the city, “I have slept under the buses on the station and inside abandoned toilets. I now live in a chawl and I am not proud to give you that address. But I can tell you that not many days go by before I am called ‘Chinky’ or ‘Chinese’ or ‘red nosed’. On those nights I miss home the most.”

(Cover photograph courtesy Chyan Chyi Naw)