Slum: “a squalid and overcrowded urban area inhabited by very poor people.”
There is something fundamentally wrong when that is the description used for the lives of 41 per cent of a city’s residents; residents who are the backbone of the burgeoning economy that Mumbai is. Community Correspondents Zulekha and Amol, both residents of different slums in Mumbai, have been documenting the travails of their neighbours through videos with a view to change that definition. They were recently able to get proper drains constructed in Jai Hind Nagar and Vikhroli Park Site slums benefitting nearly 500 people.
“I was told by some of the residents of Jai Hind Nagar about a half constructed drain in the area which was causing all kinds of trouble for the residents—one woman had contracted malaria, another had slipped and injured herself. It was awful just going and looking at it. So I went and filmed the fetid water that was gushing through and got interviews of the women who lived in the area,” says Amol.
His intervention however wasn’t welcomed, he recalls what happened next, “When I returned home that evening I got an anxious call from one of the residents telling me that the Corporator of the area (who has been elected three times from there) had gotten really pissed off that I went and filmed a video that showcased his blatant neglect. ‘Why did you people have to go call a journalist? You should have come to me first,’ he had told the residents. Anyway, I had been summoned but I refused to go because I didn’t want there to be any drama; I didn’t want to get beaten up or want my camera destroyed. All of those scenarios were highly possible because this guy is pretty powerful,” laughs Amol with an audible sigh of relief that nothing actually went wrong. The mere threat of the corporator’s presence had scared the residents and they refused to cooperate any further with Amol. The Corporator was however quick to send workers to finish the construction of the drain that had been left incomplete.
As is often the case with videos our correspondents make, just the act of filming is enough to get the authorities moving. While some officials don’t appreciate the work and feel threatened by it others like Dr.BhartiBhaudane, a Corporator, go out of their way to fix the problems reported by correspondents. On seeing the video that Zulekha had made about how a single drain served 1400 residents in Vikhroli Park Site Slums, Dr.Bhaudane took it upon herself to address both the problems—the lack of a proper garbage disposal system, which resulted in clogged drains; and the lack of other drains to channel the water.
“She was very encouraging from the time that I met her first. Though I had raised the issue of only one drain, after her initial inspection visit, the Corporatorsanctioned the construction of at least 3-4 drains in the area. I now understand that it is vital to use my videos to approach officers because that is the only way our problems get solved,” says Zulekha about achieving her first ever impact.
Mumbai’s ailing drainage system is at the heart of discussions every monsoon when the various leaks and cracks in the 100-year-old pipes result in streets flooded with sewage water. For Amol, Zulekha and their respective communities, walking through sewage is not limited to the monsoons. But their problems seem to not bother too many. When I asked both what the reasons are for this systemic breakdown, their answers shed light on two vital aspects.
While Amol rests the blame squarely on corruption, Zulekha feels that everyone must share the burden, including residents who refuse to speak up about the challenges they face. Says Amol thinking of solutions, “If these goonda type of corporators were held accountable for their job, things would get fixed faster. Right now everything is incomplete, the drains, the roads, the electricity supply, are all half-hearted attempts. We should have committees to look into how much money is being issued for public works and how it is being spent. Everyone has the right to know.”
“We need unity and sometimes just dogged-determination to get what is rightfully ours, a dignified life. We can’t keep sitting and waiting for other to fix our problems, we have to be a part of that process,” explains Zulekha even more cheerful than usual self, still high on achieving an impact and ready to make her next one.