Slum Life Essay

6 May 2016

Dharavi slum Thomas Leuthard under a Creative Commons Licence

This is something that even middle class Indians have no clue about, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

In 1994, my husband Stan and I were invited to the UK by Hilary Blume, founder of the Charities Advisory Trust and Michael Norton, founder, the Directory for Social Change, to record our observations on UK poverty, as people working with the disadvantaged in India. The report was called 'Across the Geographical Divide.'

Our first visit to Easterhouse near Glasgow, considered one of the poorest and largest 'slums' of Europe, was a shock. The houses we visited seemed like middleclass Indian homes with hot and cold running water. Bathrooms with bathtubs and wash basins, were found only in elite Indian homes in 94. I didn't have hot and cold water in my bathroom at home. Hot water involved turning on an electric geyser or using an immersion heater plunged into a metal bucket at bath time. The Easterhouse people, mostly unemployed at the time we visited, had a piped gas cooker and refrigerators. In other words, the kitchens of the wealthy in India. We redefined our notions of poverty finding similarities between the poor in our adivasi villages and the poor in Easterhouse quite soon.

But to the uninitiated, which includes middle class people from the poorest Asian or African countries, not merely from the western world, an Indian slum is another world. Which is why, reading about relocation for some residents of Dharavi, Asia's biggest most well known slum, based in Mumbai, was for me, another story of hope for folks who've had a raw deal most of their lives.

There are a range of slums in India, starting with shacks, made of cardboard and tin sheets on Mumbai and Kolkata streets, to organized slums like Dharavi where residents pay pretty high rents to slumlords for a tiny amount of space. It’s common for a family to live 10 to a room. Often several people are working, so it’s not an income problem. The slum room might have a refrigerator, bottled gas stove and even an air conditioner for the blazing summer. All these count as luxuries, not essentials, in India. Every home will have a TV with a dish or fancier connection. What is most difficult is the total lack of privacy. Often the women have to queue up for hours to fetch water. And worst of all, most have to queue up for a long time to use a row of public toilets and to bathe. Most urban Indians, even the poorest, bathe every day if they can. It’s essential in a climate where summer temperatures can reach 40 degrees and it’s hot, humid and sticky all through the year. In Kolkata and Mumbai you will see rickshaw pullers and homeless people bathing at a roadside water hydrant in full view of the passing public.

It’s difficult for the elite to even begin to understand the humiliation of a life with no privacy ever and no bathroom or toilet. Having been introduced to slum life as a student in Kolkata and as a writer, I've always been acutely aware of how privileged I am, though my parents were never wealthy.

So it was immensely moving to read the stories of residents of the Mumbai Dharavi slum who have for the first time been relocated to flats. One 66-year-old woman described having worked as a maid in Dubai in order to educate her children. She saw them only once in two years when she was allowed a holiday back home in Mumbai. She was reconciled to having been born poor in a slum. And was sure she would die there. Moving into the privacy of a flat is almost impossible to imagine. Other people felt this move gives them status. Takes away the stigma involved in living in a slum. Can we, the readers of this blog ever imagine the enormity of having your own toilet to use, for the first time in your life, in the middle of the night aged 66? Some things cannot be described in mere words. It’s probably beyond our capacity to even imagine such an experience.

The Dharavi project took a very long time to implement. Reading the details was a good news item to wake up to on a sweltering May morning in Mumbai.

Life is tough living in the slums, but I’m used to it now so it’s not as hard as it was when we first moved here. Especially considering we were looking to come to the city for a better lifestyle, and to have a better chance for my parents to get a job, and for my siblings and I to go to school. My name is Anikal and I’m 13, I have 3 older brothers, and one younger sister.

Para 1: living conditions and hygiene and population density Moved to Mumbai 4 years ago looking for a better life- ended up in slums It is basically a tip where we live
It’s so crowded- 56% of residences have 3 or more people living in a single room It’s so dirty, it smells (although we are used to it now)
People evacuating their bowls in the middle of the streets- 5 million residents don’t have access to toilets We don’t have showers we have to find little pools to clean off in- they’re generally dirty water It is a tough life to get used to- nothing is easy

We were playing cricket on a big stretch of concrete and the police came chasing after us- we had to run and weave through the slums

Para 2: work and employment opportunities and school and exploitation of children We originally moved to the city for the reasons of work and schooling My siblings and I get to go to school twice a week as that’s all we can afford We all have to work to get enough money for our family to eat, and to go to school It can be tough labor a lot of the time for little amounts of money We are working towards starting a business selling stuff- we aren’t sure what yet There aren’t many opportunities in the slums for work, so you have to take anything you can get We thought there would be a lot of opportunities in Mumbai

There are in the main city, but very few in the slums
We have to go around asking everyone if there’s anything we can do for them to earn a little bit of money We don’t get to keep that money for ourselves, we give it to mum and dad, and they use it for all the things we need

Para 3: buildings and structures and infrastructure and police and security There are so many buildings in a small area in our slum
Over half the population lives on 12% of the land
When you are walking around there is only a small gap for sunlight to get through All the buildings are right together and the roofs hang over the footpath- if you can even call it a foot path There are some buildings that are more than one story, but they aren’t very safe For some people it doesn’t matter how unsafe it is, they just need somewhere to live The security isn’t all that great in the slums

The police are sort of against us, when ever we go places we aren’t supposed to they’re straight onto us and will chase us for ages With people in the main city, they will politely tell them off, but us, straight into a full chase. Our house is substandard

When it rains torrentially it sometimes leak
We have hardly any access to hospitals and medical attention

Conclusion:
Life in the slums is tough. We moved to the city with the intention of starting fresh, and having more opportunities but we ended up in the slums. We’ve been here for four years and it’s been hard. I’m used to it now though. It is very unhygienic and packed. The population density is ridiculous. It’s been a hard run in terms of work and school, we only get a small education, and don’t have a job, we just have to try help out with same labor work for some money. There are so many buildings in such a small area, and we don’t have any security, and the police are just out to catch us doing the wrong thing. Our house is very small and squishy, but it’s the life I’m now used to, whether I like it or not, it’s how it is.

Essay

Life is tough living in the slums, but I’m used to it now so it’s not as hard as it was when we first moved here. Especially considering we were looking to come to the city for a better lifestyle, a chance for my parents to get a job, and for my siblings and I to get an education. My name is Anikal, I’m 13, I have 3 older brothers, and one younger sister. I’m live in the slums of Mumbai.

My family and I moved to Mumbai looking for a better lifestyle, but ended up in the slums pretty quickly. It is basically like a tip where we live, it’s terrible. It is so crowded, people everywhere, and in 56% of the residences there are three or more people living in just one room! It is all so dirty, and smells (although we are used to the smell now). People just go to the toilet in the streets, 5 million people don’t have access to toilets, and in Dharavi there is one toilet per 1440 people. We don’t have access to showers- not many people do, but we have to use the water we have, or find pools of water we can clean off in. It’s a tough life to get used to in the slums, nothing comes easy. We were just playing cricket out the back of the slums on the concrete on someone else’s land, but no one was there, we weren’t affecting anyone, and the police just chased us on motorbikes with sticks and all, and we had to run back into the slums, on the roofs trying to get away. We eventually got away then ran back the other way passed them on the roof, we saw them though the gap in between two houses.

We originally moved to the city of Mumbai in search of better work and schooling opportunities. My siblings and I only get to go to school twice a week, and get a small education as that’s all we can afford on our very small budget. My whole family has to work as much as we can helping people out, doing laboring work just to get enough money for the things we need. We are working towards trying to start up our own small business, and hopefully then have a steady income that we can live off. There aren’t many opportunities in the slums of Mumbai, so we have to take any work we can get. There are many opportunities if you’re in the main part of Mumbai, but unfortunately we’re in the slums. My siblings and I don’t get any pocket money, any money we go out and earn goes straight to our parents so that
they can buy all the things we need, like food.

There are so many buildings and other structures in our small area of the slums. It is packed, over half of the population lives on only 12% of the land. When you are walking around through the slums, there is only a small gap for any sunlight to get through between the roofs of buildings, over the footpaths- if you can even call it a footpath. There are some buildings in our slum that are more than one story, they aren’t very safe though, but for some people, thats their only option. We don’t really have any security in our slums, and the police are just out to catch us, whenever we are doing anything wrong, even the smallest thing that would normally just be a warning for others, they chase us all through our slums trying to catch us. They’re just constantly out to get us. Our house is very substandard, it’s just like a little hut, with two rooms that we’re all squished into. When there is torrential rain it can sometimes get in, but it’s usually pretty good. We have hardly any access to any sort of medical care, and hospitals, so when we get sick or injured, we just have to hope its not too bad and that we can get through and come out better in time.

Life in the slums is tough. We moved to the city with the intention of starting fresh, and having more opportunities but we ended up in the slums. We’ve been here for four years and it’s been hard. I’m used to it now though. It is very unhygienic and packed. The population density is ridiculous. It’s been a hard run in terms of work and school, we only get a small education, and don’t have a job, we just have to try help out with same labor work for some money. There are so many buildings in such a small area, and we don’t have any security, and the police are just out to catch us doing the wrong thing. Our house is very small and squishy, but it’s the life I’m now used to, whether I like it or not, it’s how it is.

Bibliography:

“Living conditions in the slums.” Sites.google. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. .

Marotta, Stephen. “Slums – mumbaiindias jimdo page!.” Introduction –
mumbaiindias jimdo page!. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. .

Slumdog millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. Jamal Malik. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2009. DVD.

hallam, james. “Dharavi – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2013. .

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