Why migrant Dalits in Mumbai continue to live in the same ghettos | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Why migrant Dalits in Mumbai continue to live in the same ghettos

ByMrudul Nile
Apr 15, 2024 12:38 PM IST

Barring marginal numbers, the majority of Dalits continue to live in the same ghettos for at least two generations

Mumbai: While the general elections are around the corner, it is important to assess the economic well-being of the Dalits in Mumbai. Why Mumbai alone? With more economic opportunities and higher per capita income in the city, it is likely that the socio-economic conditions of people living in Mumbai is assumed to be better than the rest of the state.

Thane, India - April ,14, 2024:On the occasion of the 133rd birth anniversary of Bharatratna Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, followers celebrated the birth anniversary by saluting the statue of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Court Naka in Thane at Saturday night ,in Thane, in Mumbai, India, on, Sunday, April,14, 2024. ( Praful Gangurde / HT Photo )
Thane, India - April ,14, 2024:On the occasion of the 133rd birth anniversary of Bharatratna Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, followers celebrated the birth anniversary by saluting the statue of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Court Naka in Thane at Saturday night ,in Thane, in Mumbai, India, on, Sunday, April,14, 2024. ( Praful Gangurde / HT Photo )

The Dalits are the migrant community in Mumbai. With Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s call to leave the villages, traditionally the sites of discrimination and oppression, many migrated to Mumbai. They migrated with the aspiration of ‘liberation from the caste system’ and, with a new occupational and social identity. Urban spaces were considered to be more accommodating and equal. However, those families, though migrated for two generations, seem to have no spatial and economic mobility. Barring marginal numbers, the majority of them continue to live in the same ghettos for at least two generations. This article examines the urban political economy of Mumbai with special reference to the Dalits. It also examines the occupational patterns and continued deterioration of the Dalits’ economic condition in Mumbai.

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For the purpose of this article, a survey was conducted in the Dalit ghettos of Matunga Labour Camp, BDD Chawl, Worli, Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, Ghatkopar, Siddharth Colony, Chembur, Kannamwar Nagar, Vikroli and Sion Koliwada. While the first four are low-income group ghettos, Kannamwar Nagar and Sion Koliwada are slightly better off than the former four ghettos. A sample of 495 households was collected to assess factors such as education, employment, occupation, and gross family income and disposable income.

Dalits were essentially engaged in class IV employment in the government, especially at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Railways. BMC employed them as conservancy workers in Zadu Khata, which means cleaning work, and they have been picking up the garbage in the city for decades. Others are engaged in unorganized labor like driving, delivery boys, ward boys, and other sundry employment and often live hand to mouth.

Spatial Distribution and Demographics

Mumbai was earlier called the city of the working class. Many people migrated from various parts of the state to Mumbai to build this city. The BDD Chawl was inhabited by mill workers from all over the state. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, too, began his struggle for social justice from the same BDD Chawl. Right from the days of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar to the Dalit Panther, BDD Chawl has remained the bastion of the Dalit movement.

Similarly, the Matunga Labour Camp was essentially a colony that housed labour from the railways and textile mills. Most of them migrated from Nashik, Nagar, and Satara. Even today, this settlement houses people working in government and BMC.

Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, one of the largest settlements of the Dalit community, stands out from the other two settlements. Unlike the Matunga Labour Camp and the BDD Chawl, which housed migrant laborers working in government and textile mills, Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar is a ghetto primarily inhabited by low-income groups. The residents are predominantly engaged in unorganized work, living from hand to mouth.

Kannamwar Nagar and Vikhroli house the earlier middle-income groups. These apartments were built in 1976-1977 and house the migrants from Nashik. The first wave of social and spatial mobility was seen from Matunga Labour Camp to Kannamwar Nagar. After that, Dalit community mobility was never observed in Mumbai. Similarly, the Sion Koliwada’s municipal colony housed people working in the municipality. However, their condition was not as good as that of the people residing in Kannamwar Nagar.

The condition of the Dalits in these ghettos was more or less the same. Though they migrated to Mumbai, but with a limited economic resource at their disposal, it was impossible to meet the ends. Additionally, educationally, the community could not compete beyond a limit. Mostly they were at the mercy of the state sponsored education, mainly in the municipal schools. Very few have had the opportunity to attain graduation.

The upcoming 2024 elections hold significant importance for these marginalized communities. With limited prospects of public employment, an evolving educational system, the influx of new migrants in Mumbai, and the challenges of adapting to the new economic model, it is crucial to evaluate the well-being of these communities and their political representation.

Occupational Profile of the sample population

According to the survey sample, the population engaged in government jobs in Class I and II is 5.7%, so we can say they have gainful employment. The middle-level management is just about 2.8%, which means only 8.5% of people are engaged in gainful employment and decent work. Executives in the private sector accounts for 11.78%, which could be assumed to be working in the private sector and are in clerical work in the private sector. Since the vocabulary for such employment is essentially executives, it is quite likely that the respondents replied in that manner. Also, the combination of those employed in class III and class IV - 23.3% - and any other work that could not be classified - 38.3% - account for 61.6% of the population. These categories are at the lower rungs of the employment market. The other employments, including conservancy workers, gig workers, peons, retail sales, etc., constitute another 5%. This means more than barring the government employees in all the class I-IV categories 63.83% are in unorganized and insecure employment scenarios out of any social security net.

Nature of Employment

To examine the link between education and employment, the study fits an ordered logistic regression model for the nature of employment based on education, gender, and age. The findings show that the probability of being a temporary worker is highest amongst Dalits in Mumbai. Additionally, the figures also reveal that the probability of being in temporary employment is highest for Dalits even after a graduate degree. This is startling given the general tendency among marginalized communities to prefer employment security and, therefore, aspire for public employment. Overall, these findings suggest that the affirmative action policy has yet to yield the fruits it desired in one of the early Dalit neighborhoods in Mumbai.

Gross Family Income

As the survey focused on the economic well-being of the Dalits in their ghettos, it becomes imperative to examine the link between education and family income. The data reveals that the probability of being in the 1L-2L income bracket is the highest. This is much below the bare minimum to sustain and live a minimalistic life in the country’s commercial capital. This can be attributed to the economic and social factors that force them to accept temporary jobs. Education is typically a medium for them to qualify for employment. Hence, the premium of higher education is mostly never experienced.

The condition of the Dalit community seems alarming, with deteriorating economic opportunities. It appears from the data that they are pushed out of the formal labour market with marginal income in hand. The redevelopment project of BDD Chawl will offer them better living conditions in the new apartments, but with bleak chances of better employment opportunities, whether they will avail themselves of such facilities is a major question. The same is the case with the Dharavi and Matunga Labour Camp. Along with the housing facilities, the slum dwellers must get opportunities to sustain their living in better housing as planned by the government.

Considering the alarming situation, a Dalit manifesto must emerge from the community and intellectuals for the upcoming general elections.

Mrudul Nile is a Professor in the Dept. of Civics and Politics

Priyadarshi Amar is a Ph.D Candidate in University of Wisconsin--Madison, USA

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