The recent demolition-drive in Mumbai has, once again, brought the plights and anguish of slum-dwellers in the fore. It is that part of urban reality, which we like to ignore. It is treated like that dirt, which we slip beneath the carpet. That brings us to the question of who is a Slum-dweller? We call any person, a slum dweller, who do not have any formal housing facility, access to basic necessities like shelter, food and water, and who do not have a fixed source of income. In short, they are the cause of our embarrassment because although we feel pride in our civilized society, yet allow people to live in such degrading and inhuman conditions. Go to any city and finding slums is definitely not a hard task.
Following is an interview with a slum-dweller, who lives on Footpath near the Corporation, Pune:
There are two women, busy with their household work near their “homes”. Their homes are a small triangular arrangement (like a tent) with plastic sheet.
Ques: Do you speak Hindi?
Ans: (One of them) Yes, I do but a little bit—only bits and pieces.
Ques: That would do. Would you like to talk with me for a little while?
Ans: (Unsure) OK
Ques: What is your name?
Ques: How long have you been here?
Ans: Since always. I was born here.
Ques: What about your parents? When did they come to Pune?
Ans: No idea.
Ques: Have they come from village or somewhere else?
Ans: Don’t know.
(A few people make a crowd around me; perhaps they were wondering what kind of enquiry is it. So I make it clear that I am a college student and have come to ask about the problems they face in their day to day life—problems of staying on the footpath, problems of water, problems of eviction and problems thereafter, etc. Most of them leave after that, barring a few children).
Ques: Who stays with you here?
Ans: My parents, my husband and my daughter.
Ques: What do they do?
Ans: My father works as a lights man with the Municipality, while my husband works???
Ques: Does your husband smoke or drink or creates any problem?
Ans: No he does not drink but he does smoke. He never creates any problem whatsoever.
Ques: How much does he earn?
Ans: No idea. He does not tells me.
Ques: Does Corporation’s truck bothers you?
Ans: Yes it does. Sometimes it comes once a week, sometimes once a month.
Ques: Where have you been living since your birth?
Ques: Here? Didn’t you face problems staying here, Corporation’s truck bothering you every now and then?
Ans: Yes, there were problems, but cannot help it. There is no place to go from here.
Ques: Do these trucks take your stuff?
Ans: Yes they do, and then we have to get it back by paying Rs 500.
Ques: You have to pay Rs 500 every time? That is a lot of money!
Ans: Yes. But there is no other alternative.
Ques: Why don’t you get yourself a house, cemented one?
Ans: How would we get that? They say that only those would get houses, who have stayed here since before 1995.
Ques: But when they find you staying here for such a long time, after they have evicted you; don’t they ask you to vacate this place?
Ans: They ask us to vacate this place and live near the river.
Ques: So there must be other people staying there? Are people allowed there?
Ans: There are people staying there but they are also about to be evicted.
Ques: Then why do they ask you to stay there, when they would anyways evict you from there also?
Ans: No idea.
Ques: By the way, since you said that you have stayed here since the time you were born, so you are definitely here since before 1995, then why don’t you get a house?
Ans: They say you would have to pay Rs 7,000 then only you would be allotted a house.We cannot pay that much.
Ques: Any other problem? What about water? Where do you get it from?
Ans: There is water problem, you can say. We get it from there. (Across the road, near by there is a tap in the neighbouring locality, where there are a couple of little cemented houses.) But the women there stop us from getting water. Although they have taps in their houses. Somehow we get it.
Ques: So every day, over the years, you have been living with this problem?
Ans: Yes. Can’t do anything about it.
Ques: But isn’t it a problem staying here throughout the year? Don’t you have problems in the summer or winter or may be during rains?
Ans: No we have got used to it. We put this plastic sheet to protect from the rains.
Ques: What about education? You have a child you said, right?
Ans: Yes, a girl. She studies at a school nearby.
Ques: In which class?
Ans: (Confused, asks from the daughter. The daughter starts to answer) In class 4.
Ques: Where is your school?
Ans: It is in 14 No., near Congress Bhavan.
Ques: How are the teachers? How do they teach?
Ans: There are many teachers, and they teach well.
Ques: Do other kids go there?
Ans: Yes, several.
Ques: What about food? Do they provide you with lunch?
Ans: Yes, they do.
Ques: Only rice?
(Again I turn my attention to the mother of the girl, Ranjana.)
Ques: What about your marriage? When did you get married?
Ans: It has been a long time.
Ques: Still, what age were you at that time?
Ans: I must have been 18 years of age.
Ques: What about your child? When did you plan to get her married?
Ans: Now she is too small.
Ques: Of course, not now! But when do you think you would get her married? What age?
Ans: Not until she is 19 or 20 years old.
(I thanked her and left the place.)
After I had taken the interview, I was a little ashamed and uncomfortable about all this. I felt that we as students go and ask them various things, about their lives, their problems, to get an understanding; but at the end of the day what do they get? They remain in the same misery ever after. What difference did this exercise made to her life? To her, I might be another student, who came to make a mockery of their lives! For us it is a subject of study, for her it is an everyday life.
There are some things, which make us look helpless and stuck in the various systems. It is not that our legal system did not think of it. Every one is equal before Law, but we are smart enough to establish loopholes in our Laws and our systems. There are laws, which say that a notice has to be put up or circulated before eviction or demolition. Besides, there is a provision that people, who have stayed here since before 1995, should get a proper house. But look at what this Law actually turns out to be in actual life. Corruption in rampant, and nobody can do anything bout it! And we are part of this system. Look at the very case of trucks, which come to lift vehicles parked in non-parking areas. Most of the money, they pocket themselves; and we like it that way because it relieves us of paying more and the unnecessary trouble of going to their office.
Everyone knows that these poor people cannot file a case against the unauthorized evictions and demolitions, and the partiality and injustice met to them.