09, Mar 2018 | Sushmita
This International Working Women’s day, March 8, 2018 saw over 100 women from slums across Mumbai come together at a temporary shed in Jai Ambe Nagar in Govandi, to share experiences and challenges faced by them. The public meeting was organised by Ghar Bachao Ghar Bano (GBGB) Andolan, a group engaged in advocacy for the rights of residents of low income neighbourhoods.
The women, who came from slums in Mandala, Annabhau Sathe Nagar and Govandi, revealed how even in Mumbai, which is known to be one of the safest cities in India, they were not entirely free from gender based violence and that their safety and security largely depended on the material structures they occupied and the area in which they lived.
A Woman’s Burden
Living in low income neighbourhoods could be challenging in more ways than one, especially when compared to the conditions of living in other regularised buildings. Women who live in slums, not only have to worry every day about managing basic amenities like water, that is not available at their door steps, but they also need to deal with the imminent threats of demolitions and sexual abuse and molestations, that follow almost as a pattern.
Speaking at the meeting, Sushila Gulab Kale, a resident of Jai Ambe Nagar in Govandi, said, “When we are evicted from our homes without notice, we are left on the roads, with no toilet facility. It puts our safety at risk in several ways, including possibilities of sexual molestation”
Additionally, pregnant women have to face more hardships. “My daughter gave birth to her child three days after our house was demolished by the government. We spent nights without shelter. No words can explain the pain that we went through after eviction” said Fatima, another resident who works as a sweeper on sub-contract with the Mumbai municipal corporation, present at the meeting. Fatima lamented on the tragedy and contradiction of her work and her living conditions, “I clean gutters throughout the day. But in our slums, we are forced to defecate in the open. Even then, people living in high-rise buildings adjacent to the open ground where we defecate throw stones at us. You tell us what are we supposed to do? Shall we not defecate and allow our stomachs to swell,” she asked. Fatima feels that even though people like her are the ones who are helping the government with its Swacch Bharat mission, it is they who suffer most, without any systematic intervention in their situation.
Several women from neighbouring settlements of Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, Mandala, Bheemchhaya and Sanjay Nagar came forward to give testimonies about similar difficulties.
In a press release, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) highlighted the perils of housing in Mumbai. It said, “Housing, which is a basic necessity, has simply been reduced to a commodity. It implies that if one can afford to buy a house only then he/she will have a house and if one cannot afford to buy a house then there is no provision to get the protection of even a minimum shelter.” NAPM says that the commoditization of housing is the reason for the existence of slum housing and closely linked to urban poverty. It draws attention to the terminology that is evolved around slums and said that it is meant to ridicule those who were living in it. It added that the demolition of these settlements was not eradicating poverty but, in fact, has forced people to become “homeless, voiceless and invisible” population of the city who actually help sustain it. This aspect was closely linked to the women residing in these neighbourhoods who face multiple levels of marginalisation due to their socio-economic situation.
Voicing the collective anger towards politicians who make false promises before elections, Maya Sutar, a dweller of Jai Ambe Nagar said, “We have spent several years seeing politicians come to us with folded hands and promise us better facilities. After the elections, everyone forgets us. The only things the politicians leave behind are words. Shall we hold the words, like we hold air? They simply betray us!”
The women resolved to fight for their rights, “Though we are suffering, we have not given up. We will fight and we will win”, said Jameela Begum of Sathe Nagar slum and who also moderated the public meeting. Girija Gupte and Mary Antony of Jagrut Kamgar Manch were invited as guests in the public meeting.