Falling in step with Govandi | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Falling in step with Govandi

ByJerry Pinto
Oct 30, 2022 12:49 AM IST

I meet Samreen and Priyanka under the watchful eyes of Roshni Nuggehalli of YUVA, an NGO that has done magnificent work in the M-East Ward

Yes, walking is good for you but what if you had to walk for an hour just to get to the station or risk your life with a shortcut? Welcome to Lallubhai Compound, Govandi. My guides for today are two eloquent and well-informed young ladies, Samreen Shah and Priyanka Pagade. They are part of the Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sanghatan (BASS) and their confidence, I think, comes from having made real change in the basti in which they live.

Indian poet and writer Jerry Pinto walks with two local girls as he interacts with them at Lallubhai Compound, Govandi, in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times) (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
Indian poet and writer Jerry Pinto walks with two local girls as he interacts with them at Lallubhai Compound, Govandi, in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times) (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)

I meet Samreen and Priyanka under the watchful eyes of Roshni Nuggehalli of YUVA, an NGO that has done magnificent work in the M-East Ward. “This is a ward that has traditionally had low real estate values,” Marina Joseph of YUVA says, “and so nearly sixty per cent of the city’s 45 slum resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) projects are located here.”

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She adds: “It is wrong to think that these people got free housing. The private developers have earned a lot through this. When they put up the buildings here, they get Transferrable Development Rights (TDR) which they can use in other affluent neighbourhoods. And so there are even buildings that stand empty; they have been built, the TDR has been disbursed and the buildings stand empty.”

As we walk, Samreen and Priyanka will show me such a building. Samreen says: “It should be the government’s responsibility to house people or to seal it. Now it is used by antisocial elements who use it as a drug den.”

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We began at the Buddha Vihara which does double duty as a school. Samreen says that it was built by the residents.

“They gave us nothing, no markets, no schools, no buses, no transport,” says Samreen who was born here. Priyanka moved here in 2016. “So whatever we now have -- temple, market, we have built on our own.”

In the evening, the Vihara welcomes the faithful; during the day it serves the community as school room, meeting hall, discussion room. Our next stop is the school and junior college that came up after sustained demands from residents. Here too the young people of BASS intervened. “Many unemployed young boys would hang around outside and trouble the girls. We talked to the police and they promised to patrol the area once a day, but they would come and mark their signatures. And so, we got a barcode put in and they now make their rounds regularly and girls don’t drop out as much as they used to.”

Before I began this exercise, I asked a friend of mine who has worked in the child rights space to imagine herself as a child in the city. She came back saying that a child would feel safe in the city.

When YUVA conducted a workshop with the children to map spaces in the area that were safe for the children, they discovered that there were only two areas of safety for Lallubhai Compound’s children: home and school. Standing at Samvidhan Chowk where a small seating area has been constructed, Priyanka and Samreen explain how BASS worked with the government, demanding street lights and police patrols; how they worked with their parents to get them to send their girl children out to school and to play; how they started sporting tournaments and insisted on the girls being represented.

“Now we are known here as the Bal Adhikar children,” Priyanka says.

“That makes us feel at home and feel safe,” Samreen adds.

Then we walk the walk that many people make to Mankhurd Station. We cross slushy patches that get worse in the rains, we climb down precarious steps that run by a filthy nullah and then Samreen shows me the death trap: under the bridge. If you are walking on the tracks and both trains pass, you must jump into the gutter. Or die.

My guides tell me how with the help of MP Rahul Shewale, BASS mounted a campaign to get a bridge across the railway tracks in another area so that children could get to school. “We want one here too but there is a community living there and so it is going to be difficult.”

These young women were a revelation. They seemed to understand much more about the Development Plan than most teenagers I know, pointing out an open area that will be erased by it. Confronted with a problem, they know they must sit down and think about it, they must brainstorm, they must get buy-in and then they hate to settle down for the long haul to get even the simple things that other girls their age take for granted.

Playgrounds? Both Priyanka and Samreen give me a wry smile. They tell me about how another R&R tower and parking cannibalized one playground. They talk about ‘Cement Maidan’ which seems like something out of a dystopia. They tell me about another playground which is okay by day but at night, the drinkers and the addicts take over and when they’re done, they break their bottles and leave their needles behind. They tell me about a playground promised in the run-up to the election but when the elections got over, the plan was abandoned, and the thin layer of red mud spread over the concrete was allowed to lie there and, in the rains, became a mosquito trap. All this because the BMC and the MMRDA keep passing the buck about who is responsible for developing gardens here. But BASS isn’t giving up hope – they are currently working to ensure at least one playground is developed.

And then school lets out and the children come running out and little Ayaan, cheerful charmer, wants to wish everyone a Happy Diwali. When he is done with his buddies, he turns and says: “Happy Diwali, School!”

Truly, we do not deserve our children.

(Thank you for your notes to jerrywalksmumbai@gmail.com. And for the time after Diwali, a line from Bharat Vyas: Jyot se jyot jagaate chalo…)

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