Squalor in the Maximum City

I wanted to started on a positive note, on something happy and chirpy, but ended up with a rather melancholic post. My work today brought me to the slums of Govandi ( a sordid locality in Mumbai) where I interacted with workers from Niramaya Foundation, an NGO supported by the organisation I work for i.e Concern India Foundation. The first half of the day was great. They had an intervention camp at a school in Shivaji Nagar. Reaching there was an adventure in itself because I had to change trains from Kurla, a station I detest the most. Govandi station is no better and with the constant rains…you can only imagine the situation. Anyway I reached the school and started observing the activities of the health workers. They were noting the height, weight of the children, de-worming them, and urging the extremely skinny ones to eat more food. One kid I met, her hand was as thick as my thumb.

The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. I could see that getting translated to numbers in front of my eyes. The health workers from Niramaya Foundation give folic acid and iron tablets to the children they find suffering from anemia. They follow up on the progress of such children, and usually in 3 months time, the children are healthier.

After the camp, I went with the workers to the Rafiqnagar community, where their health centre is located. That place shocked the daylights out of me. I could see a hill in the distance. When we came closer, I realized it was a hill made of garbage. All the filth from the entire city is dumped in this area and these hills keep getting larger. I was told the entire Rafiqnagar area is marked out as a dumping ground, therefore the multitude of people living there are illegal occupants, they don’t exist on paper! At the entrance of the lane, there was a huge crowd gathered, two women were crying and a whole lot of people were hurling abuses at each other…Why?…because a man had just been murdered. No big deal apparently for this area.

This entire community has been built on a sewer drain, in the monsoons, as in now, the water from the drains enters the houses of the people, the children go swim in the drain, and I couldn’t bear to listen anymore.

No water, no electricity and you have thousands of families living in the area. Chori ka bijli is rampant and you can get unlimited supply of electricity for a couple of hundreds a month. Water pipelines exist, but not a drop of water has flowed through that pipe.

The water mafia has nothing to complain as people spend close to a hundred rupees everyday to buy a drum of water. One drum for one house, that too if you are lucky. In that one drum, you drink, cook, bathe and wash clothes. There is only one sulabh shauchalaya in the locality, so naturally open defecation is the norm.

The residents are mostly rag pickers, whose daily work is to scavenge the hills and sort the garbage. Some people also work in one of the many karkhanas located there, since as I told you before they have unlimited access to electricity.

The workers from Niramaya Foundation and several other NGOs have been working tenaciously for the benefit of the residents and have achieved some success. Fewer people are now addicted to tobacco and gutkha, they are willingly accepting family planning methods in spite of it being a religious taboo, in fact women have come to the health centre and without any embarrassment asked for a condom – I was gobsmacked on hearing that.

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But these are little drops in the ocean. With no basic facilities and miserable level of hygiene, Rafiquenagar and the neighbouring areas are a ticking time bomb. I do not foresee any improvement in this area, but was astounded with the hope in the eyes of the people. They truly want to improve their situation and get out of this squalor. For their sake and for Mumbai’s sake, I hope their dreams come true.

Whereas for me, I rushed home and doused myself in Dettol. Thankfully I boarded my train from Ghatkopar and did not have to step into wretched Kurla again.

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