Everybody’s been talking about Slumdog Millionaire reaching the Oscars and going gaga over the film and its exceptional direction, story and music. But the life of the real ‘slumdogs’ (no offense intended) isn’t so easy. They have to fight for basic amenities such as proper space to live and water for daily use.
My colleague and I had gone to Dharavi for a story on water scarcity and we unveiled some rather interesting facts. An NGO called SHED helped us in getting through the place and making some contacts with the residents. We went to Sion and the ‘little’ world of Dharavi was waiting for us. Finding the place called Social Nagar was not very difficult as a policeman helped us with the directions. The NGO person was waiting for us and after meeting her, the world of reality hit us.
In her office were two women, who had come to give her a ‘report’ of happenings in their area. To combat their problems, these women have formed Mahila Samitis in their area and they have a monthly discussion and meeting. The major problem in Dharavi which is more serious than water scarcity is the contamination of water. Getting a legal connection of water is difficult and one has to wait for months and visit the BMC office for umpteen number of times and to add to it pay a heavy amount of 35,000 Rs. Therefore, the business of illegal connections is flourishing. They give a connection for just 4000 bucks! So who will opt for the legal one? ask the residents.
The illegal connections also come with a risk of contamination. The clean water and the sewage water pipes run parallel and the illegal connection is inserted to any pipe. So there is a high chance of mixing of water and contamination. Some people are aware of boiling water but some only strain it with a cloth. A resident doctor told us that around 4000 people are affected due to water daily!
I have to mention this. While we were passing through the narrow gullies jumping of gutters to avoid slipping, we saw a well. Well, you must be thinking, what is so different about a well? But let me tell you that this well was not the normal water-only well. It had scary looking fish which has moustaches (something which looked like them), remains of watermelon and dozens of other vegetables, plastic bags and other garbage. A woman came there with a bucket and started filling the same water. She said that they use this water for washing clothes and utensils (thank god, not for drinking!).
The narrow gullies, some houses clean some dirty, 12 people staying in a house of 300 sq ft, people struggling for earning livelihood….is a common scene here. What new did Slumdog show? It could have projected the ‘never say die’ spirit of the Mumbai slums. People of all castes and creed stay in harmony here. There are problems, fine but they know how to tackle it and how to survive. A westerner will never see beyond the filth in the slums… we have to show them what a country like ours is made up of. A trip to Dharavi made me realize that we are a strong bunch of people struggling for positive portrayal of our country in the Western world.
(-- Seen in the photo above is a woman drawing water from the well filled with garbage and fish.)