Survival a daily battle for migrants in maximum city

Survival a daily battle for migrants in maximum city
16-year-old Sakshi, standing outside her makeshift house.
By Vidhi Goswami

"There is no other place to go to, we’ll have to bear with the troubles … this is life, we’ll have to accept it,” says Manisha about her survival at her ‘jhopadi’ or ‘kaccha room’. There is a dark-truth behind this ‘city of dreams’, and it is `something that many consider more than a nightmare. ‘Roti, Kapda Aur Makan – these are all the necessities of life, if even one of them is missing, then life becomes very difficult.

In the financial capital of India, many don’t have the privilege of owning their own house. And the most unfortunate are individuals who belong to the lower strata. “I work at a factory and make necklaces, my husband is a mason … together make about 6000 per month, and trust me it’s not enough”, said Jyoti while swaying her grand-daughter in her arms and sitting on the concrete. It is only her husband and she who work, and take care of six members in their family. Hour/wage workers, housemaids, carpenters, masons, and watchmen are some of the occupants of these makeshift houses.

Living in a tin house is not easy during summer, “It is extremely hot, sometimes this table fan is also of no use … We just sit outside. Buying an A/C is out of my league,” says Manisha.

Rains also bring water seepage other troubles for them; sometimes the rainwater floods their homes, giving them sleepless nights and difficult mornings when they have to drain out the water. “We usually put some clothes over the roof in order to prevent the water from getting in, but still, we have water seeping in from the gaps …”, explains Saraswati, pointing out at the roof of her house.

Many living here migrated from their native homes in various parts of the country. “We came here from Nepal eight years ago, as there is no work there and my husband had seen really bad days,” says Rani.

According to Census of India 2001, about 14.7% of the population migrated for work/employment. “If there is no job, then there is no food … We also don’t have any savings that could help us, our condition was really bad during the 3-month lockdown. We don’t know how we managed to survive,” says Jyoti, describing the state of her family during the lockdown triggered by the pandemic.

Many people migrate to Mumbai for jobs because in their villages, there is no proper system in place that could provide them with food. It is not just work, but many migrants think they will get better schools and facilities in a large city.

“This room has been given to us by the builder, he does provide us with free electricity and water, but we are still fearful of our situation. If we say something against him or even if he misunderstands something we say, he’ll throw us out and we’ll have nowhere to go,” says Manisha.

The builder of a society owns the land on which there are at least 10 makeshift rooms, everyone living here has worked or is still working for him. There are no charges taken for electricity and water, but we are at his mercy. Something that keeps them going in life is the roof over their heads. They know that even if there is no food to feed themselves, they can always come to their ‘jhopadi’ for comfort.

Another pressing problem faced by them is menstruation. “I’ll tell you what we do of the used cloth during menstruation, I throw it in the bushes or the mud next to the half-constructed building, all women here do the same,” Manisha says as she points towards the bushes.

Teenage girls on their periods, avoid the use of common toilets here as they are poorly maintained and unhygienic. Sixteen-year-old Sakshi says, “Sometimes I feel that I cannot completely express my pain during those days; no one is there who I can share this with. My mother doesn’t let me talk to my father or brothers as well.” There is awareness about menstrual hygiene among the women living here. But the BMC, which provides them with sanitary napkins, has not been coming to help them during this pandemic.

Owing to lack of a proper garbage disposal system, they are left with no option but to burn their garbage. According to them, it the garbage fire doubles up as a repellent to kill mosquitoes.

“The common toilets provided to us by the builder are very dirty, and they stink really bad. Last year we paid Rs 600/- to get it cleaned, and look now it’s back to what it was,” saysManisha sharing her concerns about the unhygienic toilets in the area. These toilets are the only option for women, even though they are frustrated over having to to use them.

Aunshaya, who has recently given birth to a baby girl, says, “During pregnancy, I had to walk daily up to that toilet.” This sensitive issue is something that women here usually avoid telling their husbands, because they know that they are also equally helpless.

The three-month lockdown was a period that made their ‘struggles’ ‘intense struggles’. There was no food, no job, no money, it was came pilling up on these families. This was a storm that weakened many hearts and led many living there into depression. “My husband was almost on the verge of committing suicide because of lack of work,” says Saraswati, describing her family situation. The compromises people make here are more like sacrifices that even their children have to endure. Some days, there is no proper water supply from the BMC, while on other days due to heavy rains, their houses are filled with water and there are days when there is no food…

“Well, I don’t really know what/how our future will be… I just pray to God that everyone is happy and healthy,” says Saraswati with a smile on her face.
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