Monthly Archives: November 2017

Little Humans of M-East Ward- Faizan Khan

Like most millenials, this 16 year old uses his smart phone like an extension of his body. His swiftness with taking and showing photos extends itself to gathering proof of before and after actions achieved through the Bal Panchayat.

Pulling us to the side, as if to share a secret, he starts ‘Hum hain na, mera dost Shahnavaz aur main, gandagi pe kaam kar rahe hain!’ Street no 19 and 20 in Indra nagar, Ward 2, were terribly dirty, he opens out his phone to show evidence of his work done.

So we put a letter at M ward, got the number of Abdul bhai who told us everyday ‘Kal ayenge, kal ayenge! Yeh kehte kehte ek hafta ho gaya!’ The place was infested with smells and deadly mosquitos. Then we got the number of Hasan bhai who actually helped us. He came and got the whole place cleaned. ‘Dekhiye!’ he says with pride.

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.

Little Humans of M-East Ward- Rizwana

She’s shy and reserved, but 16 year old Rizwana has a lot to offer to the Bal Panchayat with her behind-the-scenes work. The youngest member of this group, uses her thirst for knowledge and numbers for fact finding, before she takes action on any issue.

Main paani ke mudde pe kaam karti hoon,’ she starts, holding evidence of her hard work in her hands. Noone knows what goes into getting a legal water connection in our community, especially the expenditure. To fit one pipeline, you need a minimum of 5 people working to set it up. You also need an Aadhar card, ration card and voting id to get started. And all the people who request this connection, need to be living on the same street. Also, the tap for the pipeline cannot be on one persons name. I have been doing a survey to find out details on this. Firstly, I am finding out the difference in cost for setting up this pipeline both legally and illegally. So an illegal connection costs 21,000 rupees and a legal connection costs 11,000 rupees. Be it ration card, gas connection, electricity or water, there are a lot of middlemen who come and do the work and charge extra for it…that’s the prevalent system. All the officials are part of the racket… they put up toilets illegally and charge money, and do not put them up legally because that way they don’t make any money. To set this up legally would take a month, that’s why I want to create awareness amongst the community so that we can raise the money and get it started.

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.


Little Humans of M-East Ward- Dilnawaz

His crisp white shirt and somber demeanour are telling of his turning into a young man. To 17 year old Dilnawaz, his analysis and action taken through the Bal Panchayat mean serious business.

‘Main chawl development pe kaam karta hoon,’ he immediately cuts to the chase. The chawl is filled with kichad, stone and dirt, where children play and fall sick all the time. In chawl no 40, lights don’t work at night, so I have written to the people at MS ward(M-east ward’s Sanitation department), and called them multiple times to resolve the issue. I shall continue to follow up until they come and work on it.

My plan is to approach the Masjid too, to get things cleaned up and remove all the garbage and dirt. ‘Jab Maulana ka speech khatam ho jayega, tab mein yeh letter lekar unse baat karoonga.’ I am also going to involve the Corporator, to develop this place more and to show them the filth we live in. The space is so little that ‘koi mar jaata hai, toh us jagah se janaza bhi nahi nikal sakte.’ The Corporator gets a fund in his bank account, for various things. Based on the requirement he disburses the money, and takes his cut. ‘Hum RTI file karenge is bare mein.’ We want to know whatever financial audits happen for this corporator, because he says there are no funds. ‘Kis fund ke baare mein baat kar raha hai?’ How many times does it come in a year? When was the last time it came? How did he make promises to people without knowing what the fund is for?

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.

Little Humans of M-East Ward- Kulsum

A resident of Indranagar, Kulsum is articulate, mature self-assured, despite being one of the few children who doesn’t attend school. For this 16 year old, the Bal Panchayat is a place to learn, imbibe and find her own ground.  

Here is the letter I drafted. I have been taking it back and forth for 4 days now. I work on the gutters in my area, and finding a way to clean it up. The overflow of the dirty sewage from the gutters, finds its way into the homes. As per the Dattak Vasti Yojana that is to assist slum dwellers, they are to keep these gutters clean for us. Yet, they come and collect money, Rs 20 per family, to clean it up and still never show up. ‘Paisa leke, aadha kaam karke, aur aadha kachra chod ke, who chale jate hai!’ I then took my letter and went to the BMC, who gave us a number to call on. The number turned out wrong. After follow ups with Jadhav Sir from BMC, he gave us a number of someone at M-ward who came over to take a look. He said that if anyone tries to get into the galli they will get stuck, and only one person can go at a time. So their suggestion was, all the garbage should be collected from the back entrance of each persons home, instead of making way through the narrow lane. We went to each home and tried to convince them. But there was so much piled up, that this method was impossible. All the community members have started asking us why this hasn’t yet been done, because they face many issues in cooking, cleaning and bathing due of the overflow of sewage. Repeated follow ups give us the same answer, either the officials are busy or avoiding our calls. ‘Sab mujhpe chilate hai..tum toh kuch karo!’ Now I am going to start taking all their signatures before I take the letter again.

‘Aur doosri taraf, woh log garebo ke ghar todkar office bana rahe hai! Kaha jayenge?’ They face a lot of problems. Many people live in broken homes, with no bathrooms. They have to go into the jungle to use the loo, and to top it off girls like me get harassed. ‘Raat ko ladkiya bahar nahi nikalti, nahi toh kuch ched-chad ho jati hain.’ The government claims that this is their land, while these people have documents that prove that the land belongs to them.. they are being told that the documents are illegal. The agenda is to build a highway in this they want to get rid of all the poor people living there.

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.

Little Humans of M-East Ward- Sufiyan Ansari

Sufiyan’s face reveals his innocence, but conceals his age. This 17 year old has a glint in his eyes and a power in his sing-song laden voice that he modulates at the speed of light. His childlike mischief and enthusiasm to get things done, make him a valuable member of the Bal Panchayat.

I am Sufiyan Ansari, I come from Shanti Nagar, I study Commerce in the 12th grade in junior college,’ he rattles off. I recently joined the Bal Panchayat. So recently the pipe burst in the toilet near our homes, with dirty water gushing all over, and children playing in that. The first thing I did was come to our centre and learn to write a complaint letter. After writing it, we went to M-East ward, where we were told ‘Tum pehle apne Nagar Sewak ke paas jao!’ So we went to the Nagar Sewika, Saira Shaikh who said we haven’t received any fund yet, so I cant help you. ‘Par yeh funding hota kya hai? Aur saal mein kitni baar aata hai?’ we wondered. So we wrote another complaint letter and took it to the M-East ward’s BMC office ward to get answers. We waited for a few hours. After which we were told that the concerned authority was at lunch and a while later we were told that he was on holiday. We then went and took a stamp from a room below and were told to return post Diwali. When we came back, the official was still on leave and we were put in touch with another person, who told us to come back on the following Monday and tell him about our concerns, only then would he give us a contact number that would help us.

‘Fir hum bade commissioner BMC officer sahab ke paas gaye, jo humara sab jaante hai. Hum apna address aur sab unko diye.’ After sharing all the details, the Commissioner BMC officer put us in touch with 2 people in charge of dealing with this, at the ration office children visited Sanitation office which is located inside Ration office. They made us wait for 2 hours, before they took details from us, including photos etc, sent them to the Commissioner BMC officer and said they would come the next day for a vigilance check. When the Nagar Sewika saw that people from the ration office Sanitation office had come to take a look, she said that she would help clean the chali up, but still didn’t have funds to repair the pipe. This Sunday, 2 people arrived to clean up the place, so I called the Commissioner BMC officer to check, but he mentioned that his people don’t work on Sunday so I figured that the Nagar Sewika had sent her people. ‘Lekin kuch safaiye nahi ki.. sirf upar upar se..!’ They just wasted some time and said once our time is done we will leave. Today, the gutter is as dirty as before…its just covered now.

We called them again. They said they would send someone the next day…who came, saw and left. After calling them thrice they said, we are not the people to make a new chali for you, so you will have to contact the ration office Sanitation department in BMC office for that.

Today, we’re still waiting on them, and will keep going till it gets done.

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.

Little Humans of M-East Ward- Ibrat

This 11th grader of Indra High School has the confidence of a Ted Talker and the zest of an activist. She has answers to every question, and solutions to every problem. She’s quick, clever and empowered. This young girl battles gender barriers at home and outside, but nothing diminishes her spirit to take on the road less traveled. Ibrat wants to grow up to be a journalist and report stories from ground zero.

When I joined the Bal Panchayat I had no idea what it stood for and what is was. ‘Yeh Bal Panchayat hota kya hai? She thought. Slowly when I started attending meetings and the training in particular I became open to things like body parts, life skills, the Indian Constitution. My mind started opening. Earlier I wouldn’t even pay attention to things like this. But now I want to know more, I spend time ruminating over it analysing it, understanding it and only then I take action.

Right now I am working on the issue of violence. ‘Look at this list!’ she opens out a scrolled up chart with boxes and text marked in different colours. It talks of all the different kinds of violence faced by girls and women here. The reason I chose to work on this topic is because in Shivaji Nagar this is extremely common. A girl walks in broad day light and get teased, still people on the streets watch on and don’t do anything about it. ‘Ghar mein maar-peeth hoti hai, biwi ye kehkar reh jaati hai ki yeh mera pati hain, uska haq hai mujhe maarna!’ I want to work on this to decrease the prevalance of this is my community.. this shouldn’t be happening! ‘Meri soch hai ki jitna haq aadmi ko diya ja raha hai, utna haq aaurat ko bhi diya jaana chahiye! Yeh jazoori nahi hai ki ladki aapke saamne chale toh chedna hi chedna hai!’ It’s also being said in the community that those girls who wear a burkha/ head covering will not be harrased, but those who don’t will be! Not that this is real either… every girl gets harassed anyway. That’s the reason I want to address this.

This has happened with me too. Once I slapped the boy who misbehaved with me..and he didn’t do anything after. While this has stopped happening with me, when I went and told my brother about it, his reaction was ‘Naqab pehen ke ghar se nikal, toh kuch nahi hoega!’ I retorted by telling him that this happens irrespective, with out without a Naqab. Touching a girl, trying to hold her hand, calling out names… ‘Yeh ched-chad nahi hain, yeh VIOLENCE hain!’ Ibrat moves on to quote sections under the constitution used to address these issues – Under section 249, one gets jail time upto 3 months, but if he repeats the offence he can get upto 3 years time.

Earlier in my house, it was the same. It was best for the girl to sit at home and not get out of the house. My mother told me, its pointless for you to participate in these Apnalaya activities, where you run from here to there. But I told her, this is not meaningless work, changes are happening for us! Slowly I convinced her and she lets me come now. She looks at the work I do and gets convinced to let me continue. Most girls in the community think ‘Jo family bole, woh hi sahi hai!’ But that’s not how I think.

There was a case of a man who was beating his wife up everyday. And everyone in the neighbourhood knew about this, but didn’t do anything saying ‘Yeh unke ghar ka mamla hai!’ Today he is in jail, but still many people think in the same way. I did too. After enroling with the Bal Panchayat I understood – ‘Yeh violence hai, aur iske upar action lena hi lena hai!’ I am currently planning a street play that addresses this issue, and we will enact it in those places where harassment is most prevalent like barah number road, 14 number plot aur Indra nagar mein. If I go to each home and talk about this, no one will understand. ‘Sabko lagega ki faltu hai!’ An act will help gather groups of people to listen and understand that harassing girls is not okay. But you know..whenever I have an issue and I complain, no one help me. I help myself. But if it goes out of hand, I have one brother who I go to. ‘Lekin main khud ke bhai ko nahi keh sakti kyuki woh samaj ki soch ke saath chalne wala hai..aur mummy papa bhi.’ But after my mind opened and I joined the Bal Panchayat, I have slowly been able to change the thinking of my parents too. I believe if I continue working harder, one day I will definitely see a change in their views.

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.

Little Humans of M-East Ward- Arbaaz Shah

Dressed in all denim, with hints of gold streaks in his hair, and a silver bali on his left ear, this boy has swag like any other 17 year old in Mumbai city. Meet the lead volunteer of the Bal Panchayat in Sanjaynagar, M-East ward, whose way with words, keeps you hooked.

 I am 17 years old. Besides being in the 11th grade at Narang School, Chembur , I also look after the Bal panchayat in Sanjay Nagar. From the issues that prevail in our community, we have collectively selected the issue of ‘toilets’. Where we live there is an approximate population of 2000-2500 people, and not even one toilet! Some time ago, there used to be one toilet, which was broken down under the pretext of it being illegal. This causes serious issues for us. ‘Humare ma-behen ko toilet jaane ke liye bahut door jaana padta hai, road ke us side par, aur kafi problem hoti hain.” Small children don’t know where and how to go, so they do it wherever they are.

To deal with this issue, on 6th October, we decide to run a campaign, by speaking to people of the community to know how many of them agreed on having a toilet built within our vicinity. When we started collecting signatures, we got 1390 of them! When we asked them why? They too revealed many problems they faced around not having access to a loo.

Armed with signatures and determined to take this initiative further, on 9th October, we went to the M-East ward and spoke to the concerned Adhikari in charge about our problems, asking him to help us with a solution. He heared us out and asked us to return in a week. Eagerly awaiting our next visit, we promptly reached the office hoping for an answer. The Adhikar told us to call and meet BMC Officer, who would come and inspect the location, to see how and where a toilet could be built. For 2 days we tried his number, but couldn’t get through. On the 3rd day, he picked up and we explained our situation to him. Thereafter, everytime we called he would ask us to call back the next day. This went on for sometime, where he evaded our questions and kept promising to show up the next day. 2 weeks ago when we called, he said ‘Diwali aa rahi hai’ and he was on leave, and to contact him only after it was over. On 26th October, we called again and pleaded him to come. He finally showed up! We then took him to a predecided location assigned for the toilet that was of convenience to all in the neighbourhood, but he insisted the toilet would be built near the ‘gutter’. ‘Jaha bhi banana ho, banaiye…lekin, banaiye!’

‘Aapka kaam 10-15 din mein chalu ho jayega,’ he said with a lot of confidence. It’s already been 12 days and there is no sign of it. After numerous follow ups he said it will still take 15-20 more days to take some action. ‘Sir, please hamara kaam jaldi shuru karvadijiye, hume bahut problem hoti hain!’ to which he hung up mid sentence. Despite trying his phone multiple times, Rathod sir continued to cut our calls. This is also the treatment we get everytime we go to M-East ward. They only allow few of us in, the rest have to wait outside. We’re shunned around and asked questions about what we are doing there and who we have come to meet. We don’t like this at all.

We are desperate for this issue to be resolved soon. At night when we want to use the loo, we go over to the dumping ground, which is dark and dangerous. There are hoards of people doing ‘nasha’, people flash lights on you when you use the loo, and abuse small children too. There was recently a case of a small girl who got abused by the goons who hang around at the dumping ground, when she went to use the toilet…and noone can identify who these people are in the dark. We only use the dumping ground because we have no choice.

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.

The Little Humans of M-East ward

The city of Mumbai’s well kept secret, opens up like a can of worms when you step into the M-East Ward, Mumbai. It reveals how little it fulfils the dreams of people, who have to busy themselves with making real their most basic rights, quite contrary to its epithet of ‘city of dreams’.

A 2 km walk to the toilet on the other side of the road, or finding a corner to defecate at the dumping ground, boys doing nasha and ganja in shady by lanes, young girls preyed upon at every crossroad, overflowing gutters and heaps of waste making their way into every home, dirty drinking water, diarhhoea, malnutrition, and a recurrent cycle of illnesses, inadequate medical facilities, slums, settlements, 100 sq ft homes and the looming threat of eviction, school drop outs, low literacy rates and no avenues for secondary education, labourers, drivers, tailors and dismal livelihood opportunities, a place where child marriage, gender inequality and everyday struggle is the norm.

Buried in a cycle of poverty, M East ward confesses the poor picture of Mumbai’s unequal development.

“M East ward has been a place where people don’t demand their rights. They have resigned to their realities and make no attempts to change it,” says Hasina Shaikh who has spent her childhood at M-East Ward and is now a field officer for Apnalaya. “But things are changing,” she adds and looks rather optimistically at the little humans in the room.

At the Apnalaya Centre in Shivaji Nagar, a common space where children of the community gather, a group of 10 boys and girls sit ready to meet with us. These children are part of different Bal Panchayats, an age-old concept created across societies to encourage participation, involvement, self governance and their own development. This democratic platform allows children to engage directly with duty bearers in order to elicit their attention and action on issues that concern them.

Ranked 24th – the last among the 24 municipal wards in Mumbai – M-East Ward lies at the bottom in terms of Human Development Index (HDI), leaving upto the Bal Panchayats of M-East ward to address a multitude of issues. Comprising 73 adolescent children, each member of the 2 Bal Panchayat has an equal say in selecting issues of priority and planning action towards it. They maintain records through charts, and dated notes in their dairies, tick marking as they move forward in each task. What makes these Bal Panchayat’s stand apart is the enormity of problems they deal with, the perspective they lend to handling each problem and the ripple effect they create by their enthusiasm and zest, in changing mindsets and not giving up until they see results. ‘Shayad hume bhi karna chahiye,’ say parents and community members who see the younger citizens of M-East Ward leading the way to a better life.

Today, the strength of the Bal Panchayat have grown from 30 to 73 members, making it the go-to place for any issues to be solved. Today, it stands for much more than a children’s parliament encouraging their participation, but for galvanzing the most precious resources of this community and making them self-assured, thinking and contributing members of society, something they had never imagined. While some issues in this community have seen success, and many remain unresolved, the spirit of these young Mumbaikar’s remains unbroken.

Meet the bandwagon of 17 year olds, at the cusp of their adulthood, serving the poorest and most under-served Municipal Ward in India’s wealthiest city and building hope in a once hopeless place.

Mission 24 is a civic initiative, aimed at bringing basic amenities to people in M-East ward – amenities without which a life with dignity and self-respect is unthinkable. As we know, of the total 24 wards in Mumbai, M-East ward is 24th, right at the bottom, with regard to all human development indices.

#Storiesfromthefield – A Day Does Not Begin in Eastern Maharashtra without Kharra

Every once in a while one chances upon instances of Indian ingenuity, colloquially known as ‘jugaad’. But in a perverse take on this ability to subvert challenges and find solutions, villagers in Eastern Maharashtra are participating en mass in the production, sale and consumption of a highly addictive substance, locally known as Kharra. It is a powdered concoction containing Betel Nut (Supari), Tobacco Flakes and Calcium Hydroxide (Lime/Choona). It is prepared using a jagged edged wooden contraption. All ingredients are ground and crushed together and then sold in pouches. The name Kharra in fact comes from the grinding sound made during the production of the powder.

I discovered Kharra on my first trip to Nagpur and Yavatmal region a few weeks ago. What caught my attention was that this ubiquitous wooden contraption was present at all paan stalls not just along the highway or in rural areas, but also inside Nagpur city! Paanwalas could be seen hard at work grinding the Kharra and it got sold within minutes! It begins early in the morning in the villages. I was taking a walk in Yavatmal and the entire neighbourhood reverberated with the KharrKharrKharr grating sound of Kharra being manufactured. Freshly ground kharra was selling like hot cakes!

Apparently freshly ground Kharra is in high demand. The heady mixture is known to give the consumer a ‘high’ and is highly addictive. So strong is the lure of Kharra, that even women and children haven’t escaped its temptation.

However, while there is a ban onpaan masala and gutkha, curiously kharraremains outside the purview of the ban and is easily available to even children and teenagers, many of whom have grown addicted to it. This is disturbing as the law is quite clear on the subject of protecting children. As per a 2015 amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act (Sec 77), “Anyone giving a child any intoxicating liquor or any narcotic drug or tobacco products or psychotropic substance, except on the order of a duly qualified medical practitioner, is liable for seven years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.”

What’s worse is that Nagpur is the Oral Cancer capital of the world! According to data with regional cancer registry in Nagpur, more than one third of total cancer patients suffered from oral cancers or Tobacco Related Cancer (TRC). According to a study by Indian Council of Medical Research, 50 per cent of cancers in men and 20 of those in women can be directly linked to tobacco use. Over 10 lakh deaths occur due to tobacco in India every year and Maharashtra accounts for 10 per cent of that figure. Experts say about 4 lakh new cases of tobacco related oral cancers crop up every year in just Central India with a majority of those being reported from Nagpur and adjoining areas.

My visit to the region was related to NGOs who are working in the area of child protection in rural/tribal areas, there we had chance to interact with the villagers and members of Village Child Protection Committee (VCPC). When I asked them if anyone in their village suffers from any kind of addiction or ‘nasha’, initially people declined as to them addiction is only related to alcohol or other drugs. Kharra is not considered a narcotic substance or drug by them.

I persisted and went on to ask those around me how many consumeKharra. Shockingly, most of the people raised their hand and accepted they chew Kharra. They keep it in the mouth or chew it for long time and the juice gets absorbed through the fine membranes of cheek, inside the lips and under the tongue. After chewing for anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours, they spit the residue. There were tell-tale reddish brown marks on walls everywhere.

Now, it is important to note that it’s not as if Kharra or similar substances are not consumed elsewhere in India. People in Mumbai and Gujarat are known to consume Mawaa, a version of kharra that is not ground, but rather crushed between the palms after wrapping it in polythene. Even Khainithat is popular in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Eastern India (and Nepal), is prepared by rubbing it together with lime, but without the Betel Nut.


This article was first published on Sabrang India on October 18, 2017 and has been republished with due permission.