The Tata Institute of Social Sciences falls under the ‘M’ ward, one of the poorest in Mumbai. Since the institute completes its platinum jubilee this year, TISS decided to give back to its surroundings by conducting a three-layered area study of the ward, with video interviews of residents, photo essays and written features that give a sense of the issues the residents face.
The project, undertaken by the MA in media and cultural studies students, will focus primarily on health and access to education, but will also include other problems that students think need attention.
“The material that the students collect will be available to the public via various media for further exploration, or to aid research,” says Anjali Monteiro, chairperson, Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, TISS. “There is a certain invisibility to the lives of the people in this ward. For instance, if the same issues were faced by more affluent neighbourhoods, they would have got much more coverage and solutions would have been drafted eventually.
The M ward has high infant mortality, a low access to education, and dismal healthcare options. We will also focus on issues with livelihood, midwives, zari workers, child labourers, etc.”
Here are excerpts from some of the students’ findings about the residents’ lives.
1. Nothing ideal about our SRA housing, say residents
Mirabai wakes up and climbs down seven floors to fetch water every morning, since the last five years. She also makes five trips to buy vegetables each week. She is 60, and lives in Lallubhai Compound, a slum rehabilitation colony in Mankhurd.
Lallubhai, a cluster of 65 buildings, was created under the Slum Rehabilitation Act (SRA) in 2005. It houses people who lived near the Matunga, Chembur and Kurla railway stations, as well as slum and pavement dwellers. “We lived on P D’Mello road for 35 years. Due to a railway project, we were displaced here. But this is worse,” says Mirabai.
The colony has five- and seven-storey buildings; none of which have lifts. The streets are lined with garbage, creating hazards. “No one from the (municipal corporation) disposes the garbage. Several cases of malaria and typhoid have been reported. In the past five years, almost 25 people have passed away from such illnesses,” said Bada Rasal originally from P D’Mello road. Every household spends about Rs 3,000 for maintenance, electricity and water per month.
Lallubhai is considered a ‘successful’ project, ‘ideal’ for replication. But residents point to the issues in planning and the absence of their participation in the process. Kaka, a 70-year old, says, “We did not come to this place of our own will and we are in a sorry state here. What kind of ideal compound is this?”
*Names have been changed to protect identities
2. dwellers face severe water crisis in Wasi Naka
If you happen to visit the slums of Wasi Naka in Chembur in the afternoon, it’s impossible to miss the fights breaking out among women carrying steel and aluminium water containers from the lower to upper reaches of the hill. The area suffers from a severe water crisis due to a shockingly low number of taps that supply water from the municipal corporation. Women and children often carry containers and climb as much as a kilometre uphill.
“People who have taps in front of their houses often sell containers for Rs 2. There is a scramble for water as the supply is only from noon to 4 pm. People often pay more just to get an extra conmtainer for themselves,” says Sunanda Dinkar Thoran, a resident who has been living in Rahul Nagar in Wasi Naka for almost 20 years.
“Children often miss school because they have to carry water from the taps to their homes uphill,” she adds.
Since the entire cluster of slums in built on a hill, the houses in the higher regions are the worst hit due to the water crisis.
Residents living in the lower areas who have a BMC water connection often fit pumps to get water for themselves
“The BMC should put a powerful pump in place that will supply water to the top of the hill and have shared connections with a metre so that the poor do not end up getting exploited for a basic need like water,” says , Mina Mohammed Ali Shekh, a resident of Sahyadri Nagar.
3.Supplementing income with cottage industries
When we first visited Shashikala Shirke’s house, we immediately noticed the ceiling where rows of large sheets of paper were hung to dry. A faint smell of gum pervaded the air. Her daughter, Sarika, 18, explained that this was how the family earns their living: they paste netting on envelopes to help them withstand persistent rough usage. The leaves are supplied by a local envelope manufacturer.
The Shirke family is one of many that supplements their income with these home occupations in Baiganwadi, a locality in Govandi. Shashikala washes vessels at a nearby house, and her three college-going children tend to the business in her absence.
There is much potential for pathos in Shashikala’s story. Her husband used to physically abuse her, to the extent of attacking her with a knife, trying to “skin me like a goat”, as she put it. The scars are still visible. The last assault occurred in 2002, after which he was admitted to the Thane Mental Hospital.
Shashikala and her family have determinedly worked their way out of poverty and dependence. She is now a regular mediator at the Apnalaya Centre, an NGO works for empowerment. A vocal woman, she has led morchas to the local BMC ward office to complain about poor water supply and to the BEST depot against buses leaving late. She says, “Women should have knowledge of the outside world. As long as she is inside the house, she cannot do anything to change her life.”