Ashok is 19 years old guy living in Ambedkar slum(Cuffe parade). Yes, a slum. The place that everybody else would term as the ‘hell on earth…the curse of life.’ Ashok and I have been friends for a while. He is a social entrepreneur of his own kind. He takes football classes for slum children and teaches them life skills through this football coaching.
Through Ashok’s eyes, I take a look at the socially and politically crippled life in a slum.
Indeed it is not a heaven to live in. The popularity of Slumdog Millionaire has brought the popular worlds eye to their lives. Suddenly, poor and unemployed people living in cramped over crowded houses with no or little electricity and water have become the subject of human interest stories in newspapers and news channels. ‘So, here comes the mis-understood reality’, mentiones Ashok. ‘The rich media thinks that they are helping the poor by showcasing their reality to the world. They frame us as miserable people living in extremely miserable condition and further mention our true fighting spirit to live in such conditions. This gets them their acknowledgement as the helpers of the poor and they are applaused by the world for their compassion for us. Once, they are done, they leave. What happens next? Do we get better jobs? better houses and living conditions? better facilities by the governement?’
No. All this attention only gets more and more ‘bhediyas’ to the community. The builders and the ministers. So the deal is struck very clear. The builder tells the community leader or ‘mandal-adhyaksh’,
“Tum apna zameen do, hum tumko paise denge. Tum humko aur zameen do (houses of other residents)…hum tumko aur paise denge.” The bribed and avarice leader salivates to the offer and not only sells his space to the ‘bhediyas’ but is also ready to sell his Mandal letter Pad and registration certificate for a princely amount of one and half lakhs. The letter pad consists of blank pages with mandal’s stamp and Adhyaksh’s signature which the builder can use to frame and write anything to his favour legally and with authority. So the greedy community leaders become rich brokers and try and persuade others to sell off their lands as well. This process goes on and on. The Bhediya’s keep coming again and again and there are constant fights and compromises happening everytime in the community.
The second Bhediya lot is of those who unlike the builders come once in a while. Election times. Their work is simpler. They dont have much of ‘taam-jhaam’ like the builders. Infact, their work is reversed. The community goes to them. ‘mere paas 100 log hain…mane 100 votes…iska kitna doge’? The corporate nagar-sevak smiles and quotes his price. Negotiation takes place between both the parties and they settle on a price. As always, the congress wins. they really ‘work hard’…you see. But in recent times, a new party is also ‘working really hard’. Maharasthra navnirman sena. they come second to Congress. One hardly sees any party workers of these parties in those slum but you know they ‘really work hard’… during election times.
‘This reality of slum life has always existed’, says Ashok. It was there since I was 10. Slumdog millionaire and the wave of new indian media has just added to the flames. As a youth, my personal problem with my community runs far deeper than the poverty, unemployment, crime, food and sanitation problems we face. it is the problem of motive and integrity. As a community of several 1000 people facing similiar problems in life, if we loose our motive and unity and sell it off to these bhediyas…it definitely is the end to a culture. A culture where biharis and maharashtrians live together in peace. Where people from all over india come with same dreams of a better life and join the caravan. where Eid is not a pakistani festival and where ganesh utsav is everybodys festival. Where young people are getting educated and are taking social initiatives to make slums a better place to live in.’
So I hope that before bringing horrendous changes those slum dwellers lives, the world will sit back and think once…that slums are not garbages of a city. And if they are…uprooting them is not the solution.
watering and nurturing them…within them…will only bring the positive and desired change. And yet a culture will live…of good motive and integrity…