Fellowship trains slum youth to fight for their right to basic services
18-year-old Varun Chandalia fought for water connections in Mumbai's Siddharth Nagar slum. Now, he's part of a fellowship to fight for basic services.
Mumbai: Varun Chandalia’s slum or ‘basti’, Siddharth Nagar in Andheri West, spent a long decade fighting for water connections before finally achieving its end in 2022 with the help of the Pani Haq Samiti. His memories of this begin at a young age: when he was 12, he started lending a hand in fetching water from the buildings in Lokhandwala where his father worked as a housekeeper. As he grew older, he helped in the struggle by helping people fill out the forms required for a water connection.
Now 18, Chandalia’s fight has moved to other basic services for his basti. He and eight other youths from city bastis were chosen for the ‘Doston ki Duniyadari’ fellowship by the Centre For Promoting Democracy (CPD). The two-and-a-half-year-long fellowship seeks to get the youngsters geared up to fight their own battles for a dignified life. “There are so many bastis in the city which lack the basic services of water, electricity and toilets,” said Vishal Jadhav from CPD. “We will train the participants to unite their bastis and fight for their rights.”
The fellowship started with an orientation workshop in Mahabaleshwar, giving the participants an opportunity to introduce themselves and get to know each other and the issues they faced in their lives. CPD was then introduced, and many discussions and debates on social issues followed.
“We tried to ensure diversity among the participants: there are girls and boys from different bastis, different religions and castes,” said Jadhav. “We showed them Kung Fu Panda, which is a film that breaks many stereotypes, and had discussions on it.”
Komal Khade, a 17-year-old doing a Bachelors in Mass Media from Bhavan’s College, Andheri, said, “We were told to discuss the issues in our basti, and then tasked with finding solutions to the problems ourselves. Ambedkar Nagar where I live, is on forest land and we have illegal water and electricity connections we have to pay extra for. The water from the public toilets collects outside and dirties the area. There’s no proper system for garbage collection, so there’s trash everywhere.”
The first leg of the fellowship has participants helping in voter registrations in different bastis. “We’re helping people register new voter IDs and make corrections too,” said Khade. “Through this, we’re learning about the issues in each basti and are also gaining confidence by speaking with people and officials.”
Abrar Salmani, who has worked with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, is one of the mentors. “We will teach them to apply for water and electricity connections, how to complain if they’re being overcharged, how to complain about garbage, how to deal with the BMC and other similar issues,” he said.
The collective is slowly sparking a sense of purpose in the lives of the youth. Salman Shaikh, an 18-year-old who studied till Class 10 and then stopped due to financial issues, said, “We’re also working towards ensuring that others in our basti don’t go astray, towards alcohol or drugs. The fellowship has been really good for me.”
Salmani reiterated that the mentors would equip participants with the tools to fight “the baseless labels of illegality put on people who live in the slums”. “We are also citizens of this country,” he said. “On what basis are we called ‘illegal’ and discriminated against?”