Without Walls: Bringing humans of Mumbai’s sidewalks to focus | Hindustan Times
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Without Walls: Bringing humans of Mumbai’s sidewalks to focus

We pass them by everyday. But who are the people living on our streets? An exhibition titled Without Walls offers a rare glimpse into their lives.

art and culture Updated: Apr 26, 2016 18:37 IST
Kanika Sharma
Three generations of the Kharva family — Radhi, 80; her daughter Lali, 40; and granddaughter Sonia, 17 — have lived on the streets for more than 60 years.  Mumbai sees many generations like these spend all of their lives living on the streets.
Three generations of the Kharva family — Radhi, 80; her daughter Lali, 40; and granddaughter Sonia, 17 — have lived on the streets for more than 60 years. Mumbai sees many generations like these spend all of their lives living on the streets. (BIND Collective)

They call Mumbai home, just like you and me. But instead of a living room, bedroom and kitchen, they have a road divider, a nook under a flyover; or a corner of a railway platform.

A multimedia exhibition titled Without Walls focuses on how families and specifically women live and earn a living on the streets, and the challenges they face.

Put together by an urban researcher, Carlin Carr of Megapolis India, the show is in collaboration with Studio X, an urban research space that is run by Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The exhibition includes contributions by the NGO Pehchan that fights for the rights of the homeless population and BIND, a photography collective. The show hopes to interrogate three key aspects of homelessness: experiences; dignity of labour; and the city’s infrastructure.

Read: Where are the roofs for migrants and homeless in Mumbai?

On display will be 30 photographs, audio interviews with seven women, and maps of street dwellings in south Mumbai’s A to E wards, with a special focus on Old Bodyguard Lane in Tardeo. It also highlights a 2010 Supreme Court order that mandates the government build 125 homeless shelters — currently, there are nine, and none for families.

“Homelessness is a neglected issue. People in the city face abysmal conditions with a scarcity of shelters, and affordable housing options,” adds Carr. “A vicious cycle of rising prices, illiteracy and low-level employment exacerbates Mumbai’s unique situation of inter-generational homelessness. We are raising funds by selling postcards and doll key chains by them at the exhibitions to build them the city’s first family shelter.”

Read: Sweating it out | Homeless prefer roads over govt tin shelters

What: Without Walls, an exhibition on homeless women in the city

When: April 22 to May 13, 10 am to 6.30 pm (Closed on weekends)

Where: StudioX, 192, 4th Floor, Kitab Mahal, Dadabhai Naoroji Road, Fort.

Log on: https://www.ketto.org//mumbaihomeless to contribute to the campaign

Email: StudioXMumbai@columbia.edu


A struggle to keep her kids in school

Meera Yadav has lived near JJ Hospital all her life. From collecting scrap to cutting vegetables, she gets by on Rs 1,500 a month. (BIND Collective)

“We don’t like to stay on the footpath, but if you understand our situation and our sorrows, perhaps we can find a solution for it,” Meera Yadav, 36, says. “This is where we were born and raised, where our children were born and raised — where will we go, even if you chase us away?” Meera has been living on a street near JJ Hospital all her life. Her parents came from the Bihar-Bengal border in 1980 to find work. Meera cuts vegetables and washes dishes for a catering business, and hopes to educate her two children from her monthly earnings of Rs 1,500 to 3,000. She says she faces sexual assault attempts on most nights but has remained safe somehow.

LISTEN: To Meera talk about Mumbai is her motherland.

Scared, forced ourselves to sleep

55-year-old Radha Laxman Rajput was born on the streets of South Mumbai. Her paternal grandfather had walked from a village near Ahmedabad to Mumbai to find work. She depends on her family for money. (BIND Collective)

“At night, we would get very frightened. There were no people around. We somehow managed to force ourselves to sleep, scared. As time passed, we ended up staying here until we turned old.”

Radha Rajput, 55, has been living on a street near Charni Road for more than 50 years, a stretch famous for rail accidents after coming from a village near Ahmedabad. Her paternal grandfather stayed at CP Tank initially, making garlands, until taxi drivers protested and authorities chased them away — since then, they have settled at Charni Road. Her family of three makes Rs 12,000 per month by selling key chains and flowers.

LISTEN: To Radha talk about witnessing rail accidents every night.

When home was under a tree

Tulsi Thakur has been living at Girgaum Chowpatty for more than 50 years and makes sea-shell figurines to get by on an income of Rs 100 per day. (BIND Collective)

“At times, I wish that even I have a home and even my kids get everything to grow. But what will happen if I think like this? Nothing will happen. So, I sit quiet, cry and drink in my tears.”

Tulsi Thakur, 60, spent several years living under a tree on Chowpatty beach. She had a roof over her head earlier, when she lived with her family in a Girgaum chawl — she went to school till Class 8 too. After her father’s death, she sold toys in Walkeshwar, fell in love with a man with no means and a drug habit, and had to save bit by bit, selling figurines made out of sea-shells. Eventually, the couple could move to a roofed home in Nalasopara as she saved from Rs100-a-day earnings. However, with rent, bills and transport expenses, they were forced to move to Chowpatty, to live under the tree.

Refusing to give up, though, Thakur, who writes poetry and short stories in her free time, salvaged enough funds to move back to Nalasopara, along with her family of six, just four months ago. She has also written a letter to the government asking for opportunities and hope for her children and grandchildren’s generation.

LISTEN: To Tulsi talk about her hope of having a home.

‘My niece should not have my fate’

Anita lives in the compound of a residential complex and has taken up the responsibility of getting her niece educated. Anita Kharva, 21, has lived her entire life on a footpath near Mumbai Central station. She earns daily income from buying and selling old clothes. (BIND Collective)

“My younger sister has a daughter. That girl, ever since she in her mother’s belly, I have been looking after her. I’m the one who has raised her, she’s two years old, I raised her. I want to make her better. I want to give her a life. I don’t want her to be the way I am. I’ll teach her good English, I’ll make her something good. I’ll do anything, vessels, I’ll make garlands, flowers, I’ll do work for someone, even if I get Rs 20, I’ll save it up. But I’ll make her life better. Tomorrow, she won’t say, “My mausi [mother’s sister] left me an illiterate.” It should be, “She was illiterate, but she didn’t let me be that.”

LISTEN: To Anita talk about her desire to teach her niece

‘We stay up till 3 am, to avoid sexual assaults’

32 -years-old Sangeeta Ramesh Vaaghri has been living near Mumbai Central Station for 32 years. (BIND Collective)

“I get fits [seizures]. I got a fit while cooking food, and got burned. So my marriage hasn’t happened. I get those attacks sometimes, but now I’m taking medicine for it. Even to get the medicine, it’s very expensive. What are we to do, there’s a debt on our heads as well. See, I have seizures. And with seizures, you can’t do much. You can’t go outside; you can get them anywhere, at any time. That’s why I don’t go out much. Even if I go out, I always keep my younger sister with me,” she says.

“Sometimes there are drunkards that roam around here at night, but we swear at them and chase them away. Sometimes they are extremely drunk. Maybe there is a party or something, so at night we have to sleep at 2 am or 3 am, because you can’t trust these drunkards. He’ll come next to you and sleep. That’s why we have to stay awake. Even for my sister, I have to stay up.”

LISTEN: To Sangeeta talk about epilepsy and how she watches out for her sister.

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