Women from illegal slums narrate their legal woes

BMC’s continued denial of providing water to the citizens of “illegal” slums renders women and children unsafe.

BMC’s continued denial of providing water to the citizens of “illegal” slums renders women and children unsafe.

The ramshackled hut in Ambujwadi slum is a space bustling with activity. With more than 40 kids, this Aanganwadi is filled with toddlers waiting for their ‘khau’. However, after the children pack their tiffin boxes with nutritious food, the Aanganwadi workers send them home instead of making them eat at the Aanganwadi. The reason— no water!

Pic: American Center Mumbai / Flickr CC Attribution

Ambujwadi is an illegal* slum in Malvani, Mumbai. It has about 12-15,000 houses. Owing to its illegal status, it does not have access to water at all from BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Thus, in Mumbai, there is a situation of Aanganwadis, which have a legal status, present in so-called “illegal” slum. Pushpa Pawar, who is a supervisor at one of the Aanganwadis in Ambujwadi says, “We have no water to give our children. There is no water to wash their hands as well. So, we give them food and then send them home.” According to rules, the children are supposed to eat inside the Aanganwadi. Simantini Dhuru, an activist who works with the children of the urban poor, says, “Aanganwadis are in a poor state in Mumbai. They are not sufficient and the ones that are, are in a pathetic state, with no water and all other basic amenities.”

Aanganwadis running without any water supply is just one of the various manifestations owing to lack of drinking water in the city. However, this situation is not restricted to Ambujwadi alone. All the “illegal” slums in Mumbai face the problem of lack of water supply.

In the beginning of 2013, the urban poor of Mumbai, under the aegis of ‘Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao’ movement strongly demanded for access to water supply from the government. Lack of access to drinking water is an official policy followed by the BMC. According to a circular issued by the Urban Development Department of the Government of Maharashtra, there would be no water supply to any illegal construction built after 1995, including common water taps.

Where do they get their water from?

Long plastic pipes and 200 litre barrels outside shanties are a common feature in almost every non-notified slum in Mumbai. An average family of five ends up spending about Rs 700-1500 on water alone. They purchase drinking water from private water vendors. Private water vendors also supply water using bicycles because tankers cannot enter the narrow by lanes of slums. This water is procured from private tankers or from areas where water is available, which is usually at least 2-3 kilometres away from where they live.

Providing water to the doorstep also involves more costs. Naseem, a resident of Rafiqnagar, a slum near Govandi in Mumbai, helps bring a tanker inside the slum so that water can be provided to the residents of her basti, at their doorstep. “The tanker guys have to be paid extra for this work. I charge Rs 10 per house for this service. This is my source of livelihood”, he says.

According to a survey done by Yuva, an NGO on water consumption in Mumbai in 2011, an average family in an illegal slum ends up spending Rs 700-1000 every month on water alone. Sumitrabai, a social worker, working in the slums of Ambujwadi says, “On an average, a family of five need six gallons of water every day. One gallon costs Rs 5-7.” The cost increases during summers. In contrast, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation charges a ‘legal’ citizen’ living in apartments, 3.50 for 1000 litres of water.

Effect on children

Children are one of the most affected by water shortage. In most homes, children (most often girls) contribute to the household by fetching water from long distances. According to the survey by Yuva, children in non-notified slums easily spent about 3-4 hours each day to fill water. The study also showed young girls confessing the problems they face with lack of water affecting their menstrual hygiene.

A scene from the Academy award winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

One of the main after-effects of lack of access to water is absence of students in school. Pushpa Pawar, who is the supervisor at the Anganwadi says, “Having lived in and around Ambujwadi for so long, I know what it is like. When I was a student, not very long ago, I have missed many classes because I was responsible for storing water at home. I had to walk long distances to get water and I ended up missing classes or getting late for the same.”

Sitaram Shelar, an activist who works with Yuva says, “In our consultation with children of various slums, they pointed out their difficulties in having to procure water every day. They shared with us that they use less water since procuring it is such a difficult process.”

Water and women’s safety

Women either have to pay to use the toilets or defecate in the open. Noor Jehan Ansari, a resident of Malvani, says, “Men have followed us so many times when we go to relieve ourselves. There have been times when men and women both have had to relieve themselves squatting next to each other, with no privacy whatsoever. Quite often, there is no water even in the common toilet. We all have to go out and relieve ourselves in the open every day.”

Shilpi Syal of Yuva shared her experience when they went to the slums to conduct the research on water. “When we went to conduct a study, we saw that the public toilets were in such a bad shape that they just could not be used. Left with no option, women go out to relieve themselves there only.”

Avani Jaiswal, a resident of Ambujwadi and a woman in her early fifties says, “We often go to access the toilet in the neighboring basti. The people always pass snide remarks. What to do? We just listen to their angry and snide comments but keep going there.”

It is common understanding that water is a basic right and necessity. On July 28th, 2010, India supported the resolution when the 64th General Assembly of the United Nations recognised “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation” as a human right. But ask the urban poor of Mumbai and they would narrate a different story. Several efforts are currently on to fight Mumbai’s urban poor’s right to water. The beginning of 2013 saw the urban poor under the banner of Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao movement walk for more than 30 kilometres marching to Azad Maidan demanding for water among other basic essentials. There is also a Public Interest Litigation in the court of Mumbai challenging the BMC’s policy of not providing water to non-notified slums. The Government promised the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao protestors that water supply would be regulated by the end of January. It remains to be seen how much the Government stays faithful with its promises.

*All slums that have come up after 1995 are considered ‘non-notified’ slums or illegal in colloquial parlance. The slum dwellers are considered illegal encroachers on the land and hence are denied basic necessities by Brihamnmumbai Municipal Corporation.

Pic: American Center Mumbai Flickr

Also read:

Slum rehabilitation through In-situ Housing

Slum rehabilitation and the true cost of ‘free’

Dunu Roy: Slums are a best practice

Shobha S V is a journalist, sociologist, feminist (she doesn't hate men, she clarifies), traveller, Hindi film enthusiast and much much more! more


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Shobha S V is a journalist, sociologist, feminist (she doesn't hate men, she clarifies), traveller, Hindi film enthusiast and much much more! more

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