Monthly Archives: July 2018

#EndChildTrafficking – Twitter Reflections On The Trafficking Of Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018

While many hail the arrival of the Anti-Trafficking Bill and hoot at its approval in the Lok Sabha, many others criticise it for being neither clear not comprehensive, calling for a rethink and relook at a Bill that can potentially change the lives of millions of victims, perpetrators, implementers and law enforcers.

Activists, law makers, NGO’s and common man took to twitter and shared their reflections on this highly contentious bill. Now, raise your voice to the Rajya Sabha to not pass this Bill in its current form. Ask for a Parliamentary Select Committee to discuss the Bill.    

#EndChildTrafficking – Priti Patkar’s Personal Memoir On Working With InterGenerational Trafficking In India

An Early Start

Born in a middle class home, I grew up in a neighbourhood of government employees. For the most part, I had a very sheltered childhood, with my father guiding me through my early years. He viewed education as essential to my learning, quite contrary to the times where becoming a doctor or engineer was the norm. He was forward thinking, different and a great support in the choices I made, shaping my personality and outlook to life immensely.

My professional, and formal social work education provided me with adequate exposure to human rights, understanding of gender issues, the problems that plague our society and approaches employed to tackle them. I knew that this is was my calling.

The Genesis Of Prerana

In the year of 1986, the world came together to discuss the rights of children, with the UN recognising the significance of defining the rights for every child. Shortly after the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was globally adopted. Yet, years of discourse leading up to this Document of Declaration of Child Rights excluded the children of the Red Light Areas (RLA). None of the dialogue around child rights looked at issues pertaining to children born to prostituted women, and their social problems. Global discussion were focused on child trafficking, but almost no discussion on inter-generational trafficking.

I distinctly recall my visit to the RLA in Kamathipura as a 22 year student, right out of college. What I saw gave me the conviction to start Prerana. The image of innocence lost, generations wound up in a vicious cycle of exploitation; children made to buy condoms or alcohol and sleep under the bed, as their mothers attended numerous customers. The deeper we looked into their lives, the more we realized that every child born in the red light area would end up in the sex trade or allied activities unless we brought to light their plight and provided them with support. That is why Prerana was born – to break this cycle of exploitation and inter-generational trafficking.

Initial days were difficult. The laws that prevailed for the protection of children three decades ago were not as well defined. We witnessed a total absence of several focal areas to cater to the needs of these vulnerable children. Furthermore, every time we tried to bring up the topic for discussion, whether it was with civic society, stakeholders involved in implementation of the law or policy makers, the response often received was, “What else do you expect of these children? Prostitution is a necessary social evil; who better to substitute their mother than these children born to prostitutes?”. Our efforts were met with apathy. We had to build and amplify their voices for the judiciary and police to discard their indifference and address their issues head on.

In 1996, a mass raid was conducted in a brothel because of a suo moto writ petition filed by the then Chief Justice of Maharashtra. The entire experience made us realise a very essential thing – there was no systematic provision for or any attention given to what happened to the victim post the rescue! This meant, the chances of women and children victims being re-trafficked post rescue were a high possibility, and in many cases a reality. The need was to take a hard look at the existing provision in the law for when a person was rescued from the sex trade. Our attempt to understand the situation led us to realize: a lot of these women and girls did not cooperate in the prosecution of their traffickers due to lack of support post rescue; there was no victim witness protection or support system for victims or intimidated witnesses. The women did not trust the system or the law for their protection. There was no way to get them to testify as the society blamed the women and girls; they perceived them as perpetrators and not victims.

This experience brought determination with it; to advocate and amplify our voices for the rights of the victims pre, during and post rescue, leading towards sustainable rehabilitation. We understood that livelihood training has to be creative, current and market oriented. We also talked about alternatives of rehabilitation. For generating sufficient awareness around the situation, processes and laws, sensitization, training, advocacy and scaling-up of post rescue reforms, was the approach that we felt the need for, and also what we practiced.

One can’t deny that, changing a mind-set takes a lifetime. Of many arguments that came our way, one that we often heard was, “These women already make a lot of money in the sex trade, so why should we spend money on such women and their children? These women fail to take care of their children, so why do they have them in the first place?” Some argued that by starting services for children of the prostitutes, we were absolving them of their responsibilities. Some came with a ‘guarantee-wanted’ board, they needed assurance that this “investment” will not be futile, and that the children would eventually not end up in the sex trade or any other criminal activities. What they could not understand is – Rights are for all, irrespective of to whom they are born, where they are born and when they are born.

In the development sector, service based interventions are extremely crucial, however the impact is much larger if best practices, approaches or systems translate into policies. Hence, with a strong service base, our next step was to address the glaring need for resources on this issue. The outcome was the first Anti-Trafficking Centre (ATC) in South Asia. The ATC was a knowledge hub, a medium to share and disseminate our learnings on the field or in research about Human Trafficking and its destination crimes. We also conducted trainings of duty bearers and other positive stakeholders.

Stories Learnt & Told

When our programs gets replicated, adopted or scaled up, by peers working to drive the Anti-Trafficking movement, it feels like victory…a step forward, a step closer to achieving our vision. But what seems like a bigger more defining milestone is every time a woman recognises her right, her child clears his/her board exam or takes his mother out of the RLA and into the mainstream… an unmatched sense of joy and accomplishment.

There are so many stories etched in my memory… some of battles lost and many of barriers crossed. A while ago, a group of girls was rescued from a brothel and placed in a government shelter home. A session to help them open up was conducted, but no one shared a thing. To break the silence, I asked, “Why don’t we talk about our lives?” No one responded. Then I asked, “Why don’t we talk about our likes and dislikes?” There was still no response. So I volunteered to tell them about a day in my life. I told them about my daily life undertakings and activities. Still, no one opened up. Suddenly, one girl stood up and said she wanted to share something. She told me, “You sleep at night, but I lay wide awake. You switch off the lights at night, so it’s dark, but for us, it is a world of darkness despite the light running as electricity. You women sleep with one man at night, we sleep with 4 to 5 men every night. The man you sleep with, the age difference may not be much; but the men that we sleep with often are as old as our fathers. Your home is probably big, but my home, my universe is ‘6 by 4’. You probably enjoy a meal at your table, but our lives are customer controlled. The customer is the king.”

Despite happening 2 decades ago, and having seeing all the trials and tribulations this sector possibly could, this incident shook me. It hit us how we are with our own children, yet how different we are towards the children in the sex trade. We don’t even have a proper understanding of multiple rapes!

Yet another anecdote I recollect goes back to when I was sitting with a group of pre-primary (Balwadi) children. I was pregnant at that time. Of the lot, there was a child around six and a half or seven, who was still in the Balwadi. A child aged around six said, “so-and-so boy so-and-so girl pe line maarta hai” (so-and-so boy is hitting on so-and-so girl). I feigned ignorance and pretended like I didn’t understand. A point came when one girl said that it meant the boy loves the girl. Still, I kept up the charade of being ignorant, and said, “Love is good. We should all love each other!” Then, the boy aged around seven asks me, “Are you really this ignorant? It is impossible that you are pregnant without understanding the kind of love they are talking about!”

That was when I realized how shy we are as adult caregivers and change-makers around the whole issue of sex and sexuality. It also struck me that because these children speak about sex, we as a society view them differently. But here is the point – Their only exposure, day in and day out has been this, of course they will speak about sex!

If you will see Prerana’s work, it is more about scaling deep for us. What it means is adding numbers to our program does not matter, what matters is handholding children throughout – till she or he is out of this space and develops into a responsible and financially independent young adult, away from the darkness of the Red-Light Area. Scaling deep for us, even then, wasn’t just about protection issues or giving them a place to stay, but about getting the children to channelize their understanding of sex and sexuality and getting society to understand why they were speaking about it.

Crossing Hurdles

During our initial years, our biggest challenge was social indifference, apathy and the lack of trust. For the outside world, we were ‘experimental and adventurous’ and they wouldn’t invest in children who, as per their assumption, were most likely to end up in the sex trade.

As and when we discovered problems in the Red-Light Area, we structured services that tried to offer solutions. The Night Care Center (NCC) was not just our first, but also a pioneer model globally. The NCC offered mothers a safe place to protect their children from dangers of the red light district during the critical night hours. Initially, even finding a space for NCC was difficult; people were not willing to give us the place because it would be frequented by prostitutes. Today, we have 4 NCCs providing a comprehensive package of services on a 24×7 basis such as: protected shelter, wholesome nutrition (3 meals in a day), free medical and health facilities, and education and recreational facilities.

The challenges posed by the traffickers and the pimps came much later. Initially, they were happy that we were educating the children. For them, higher education meant richer clients. However, the moment they recognized our struggles were to ensure these children walk the path towards freedom and a career beyond the sex trade, they began seeing it as an affront.

Eventually, we started our Educational Support Program, strengthened our Post Rescue Operations programs, set up a shelter home as a model for minimum standards of Care for girl children between the age of 8 to 18 years, expanded our work with children in need of care and protection, initiated an After Care project , a comprehensive program to address child sexual abuse and a project working for the protection of children rescued from beggary.

Amidst all this, the challenge that has persisted is the treatment of these children and women as criminals and not as victims. These are people suffering the worst form of exploitation, refused a chance to reintegrate with the mainstream. Of course, we continued to strive.

Let’s acknowledge that the recent decade has seen quite a change in the treatment of the issue by the government and policy makers. Human Trafficking is being viewed as a serious offence and child friendly laws and systems are being sought out in our provisions. However, that approach has still not rubbed off on to the civic society or the implementers of the law as it should. We are still struggling to adopt the law in its spirit. The stakeholders involved in the implementation of laws need to undergo sensitization and law trainings.

The bottom line – it is a long battle. We have just touched upon the surface. Although, what has been so crucial to all our accomplishments or the little work we have done is the collaborative support provided by the other NGOs, our partners, the police officials, the Child Welfare Committee and other stakeholders working with Children in Need of Care and Protection. Collaboration and unity is the key to working in this space.

The Evolution Of Technology & Society

Over the years, we grew and so did technology. We noticed the widening gap between the availability of and access to resources. This realization led to our latest development – the creation of an online Anti-Trafficking Resource portal – a knowledge hub focusing on research, publications, advocacy and policy in context with the broader human trafficking issue and its destination crimes, a platform to carry our advocacy efforts to a global level.

Recently, a young full bright scholar came to work with us, who asked what many people have been discussing and debating… What role does technology play in the trafficking cycle? Her argument was that with the advent of mobiles, people are able to reach sex workers faster, and manage to create awareness on HIV Aids prevention, on treatments available, monitor the ART etc. In ours years of work, and even recently, what we realised was a key factor to understand the impact and use of technology was the level of literacy…none of the girls or women we worked with had been to school or learnt how to read and write. Their level of usage of their phone was limited to handing over their phone to you and asking you to give yourself a missed call from their phone.

Leaving all biases aside we also new that technology was the new way of life. So we decided to test this theory and called 15 women from the community( redlight area) to ask them what they use their mobile phones for (we also called in a Times of India journalist to ensure this exercise was transparent and riddled with no biases). The responses were astounding… we learnt through conversations that mobile phones are giving pimps and negotiaters the power to control these women more than ever before. If they don’t answer their phones or respond immediately they get beaten up. Earlier they could hide before the pimps came, but today they are being traced with mobile phones.

Another aspect we decided to explore was online sex abuse and since we work on commercial exploitation of girls and women, we brought together data of 37 minor girls who had been rescued from the sex trade, to understand this side too. When we talk of technology, accessibility and proficiency are two key factors. What we learnt was more than 90% of the girls were not literate, and unaware of how to use mobiles and laptops, and 100% of them had no access before they were sold into the trade. One case stood out, of a young girl who befriended a woman on facebook, got invited to her birthday party at a restaurant and got rescued due to a police raid that happened thereafter.

One cannot deny that recruiting women and girls online or through mobiles will happen (and is happening) because of our growing dependency on technology and the so-called natural progression. But to say that today in a village of 24 Parganas girls are being recruited online, is not true. If we don’t capture the problem for what it is, we wont treat it right. We see trends across the world of more and more girls getting trafficked through online and through mobile apps, but that is hugely due of their literacy levels. In reality, technology has not reached the last mile in India.

Having been part of the work on sex trafficking for over 30 years, I have to admit that things have changed. The first case I ever took to the police station was of a child of a woman in the sex trade being raped within the brothel. When we tried to file an FIR the police said, “This is not rape, this is grooming…because girls born in the brothel will eventually end up there.” Today, when we go to the Police station they understand the Juvenile Justice Act, they understand why you need to respond immediately (in the golden hour) when a child goes missing. We no more need to beg the Police to protect these children under the Juvenile Justice Act . The CWC’s themselves are aware and apathetic to these cases today. While things have evolved slowly, the recent Bill to be tabled in the Monsoon session might be a step back for us.

The Last Mile – The Anti-Trafficking Bill

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill to be tabled in the upcoming Monsoon session contentious and debatable. As of where it stands today, it will only end up complicating the existing legal framework on trafficking and its enforcement, and needs to be re-looked at immediately. There are 3 areas that come to mind as I try to visualise how this Bill can potentially play out- Designated courts, Rehabilitation and Prevention.

There are numerous destination crimes and they have been put under one bill. Firstly, how can implementers and stakeholders be expected to understand the nuances of these different dynamics? Secondly, courts today are over burdened and there is serious backlog even under POCSO etc. Now imagine the same court has a host of trafficking case for labour, both child and adult, adoption, sex trafficking/trade, trafficking cases for organs trade …each of these issues has it own set of layers and dynamics that do not get addressed through the Bill. With the already overburdened courts adding all these cases on to them is going to further delay justice .The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act had the provision of special courts. Why have special courts? So that the legal team i.e the judge, the public prosecutor over time become specialised in that particular issue, be able to identify victims and perpetrators who keep coming back again, to identify re-trafficking and as a result be able to deliver justice effectively.

Then there is an entire section on Rehabilitation proposed under the bill, making provision for rehabiliation homes, protection homes amongst others. The bill titled Human Trafficking In Persons, includes both children and adults. There isn’t much thought given to this portion..Where are they going to keep the male adult victims? Along with the children and women? Riddled with biases, when one takes a look at this blanket bill on trafficking, meant to provide clear provisions for each type of trafficking, one can relate to the bill only in context to sex trafficking, but not to adoption, or organ trade. Call it a bias, but intergenerational trafficking has been severely neglected. If you look at any policy on trafficking, discussions, there is no mention of this, while in reality, there are thousands of children born into brothels, and they are the MOST vulnerable to be trafficked. They are easy, definite and free recruits for traffickers. The need of the hour is different prevention and interventions strategies for different types of destination crimes but this bill provides a one-solution-fits-all approach, highly regressive for the times.

Having worked on sex trafficking through Prerna, one is aware of the multi layers and angles involved even in sex trafficking. The whole issue of girls being recruited and sold from the community itself can be prevented. Recruitment through “legitimate” fronts like beauty parlours, event management, escort agencies, placement agencies, dance bars is happening . The issue is that the traffickers are using legal fronts to traffick girls, and our challenge becomes to strategise differently and prevent it from happening. There is technically nothing illegal about running a beauty parlour now.. is there?. Every establishment must follow norms/regulations/registrations and every establishment must be monitored by the government, and only with scrutiny/due diligence can we identify the illegal work happening under these businesses.

Prevention as a word and with intent has been mentioned in the bill, because it has been found to be important, therefore it needs to be given the right amount of weightage. Within prevention, it does not look at how to strengethen communities for prevention. It does not look at communities where culturally selling of girls into sex trade is a norm and how to prevent this from happening. What exists in the bill is a sweeping statement to include prevention, but not much emphasis on solutions and ideas on how. We need to look at faulty development policies and how they are hindering prevention. For example – The BMC opened its doors of municipal schools premises for NGO’s to run services for the underprivilged community in the neighbourhood. With the advent of the RTE, as child rights activists we pushed for inclusion of the 8th standard under the ambit of that legislation, which was turned around and used as a way to push NGO’s out of the school premises because the newly included 8th standard students would require facilities like science labs, and would therefore need all the rooms in the school. Decisions/ Policies like these leave already unattended communities even more vulnerable. While they received visibility, once again they are left vulnerable. Intergenerational trafficking in particular, the core of what we look into at Prerna today boasts of every child (who has grown up in this community brothel) in school. This has been our achievement in the red light area by the development of a community strengthening program being made accessible and available to children in the neighbourhood. We created a safety net, through a night care centre. Today those rooms are being taken away from us. What does it create? Vulnerability, yet again. Where is the government making provisions to tell all small and big government bodies that everytime you make a policy decision, ensure it doesn’t leave communities vulnerable.

Mobility, vulnerability and migration is the perfect ground for traffickers to fish their next prey. Pertinent aspects like these have been left out of the bill, highlighting that prevention has not been included in the true sense. Prevention cannot be limited to awareness, street plays during ganpati, start an anganwadi centre, start a adolescent program..prevention needs more depth and meaning. What we have been saying is the minute you strengthen prevention, the irreversable damage created by the entire trafficking process will be reverted. We are also saying that invest in prevention, because protection is far more expensive than prevention. Since there are always limited resources, why not invest in prevention first?

#EndChildTrafficking- How Leena Kejriwal Is Using Art & Technology To Create Awareness On Female Trafficking

Have you spotted a life-sized black coloured silhouette of a girl on your city walls yet? The MISSING Art Project founded by Artist Leena Kejriwal has been making noise in the city of Delhi (and others) for the right reasons – challenging status quo on trafficking for sex and seeding conversations on demand for minor girls in the commercial sex industry. Influenced by her proximity to Sonagachi, and her photography expeditions in red light areas across India, Leena uses her visual might and the innovative technology to draw attention to the all-pervasive issue of female trafficking.

 In conversation with the artist cum activist, who is engaging the public on their role in choking the demand for the trafficking of girls in India.

1. Tell us the story behind how and why you were inspired to work on the issue of female trafficking in India?

Ans: It is very difficult to say. This is an issue that shakes me, moves me. Multiple people have asked me this question, so I do try to take them through my journey as a photographer where I entered a red light area.. an experience that didn’t leave me. As I look back to my childhood.. I lived in a house on the main road to Sonaganchi (also known as India’s largest red-light district) in Kolkata and I do remember being told as a child..“That’s the place where they catch girls and take them away… Don’t look that side!” The sheer horror and mental imagery of girls being caught, the stories of their abuse, and having heard them so early in my life leaves an indescribable feeling within me… that’s why my visit and experience to the red light area was so intense. Today, it allows me to use that intensity in the work I do now.

I truly believe that as women with more privileges and freedoms, we should be more vocal about our friends who are suffering. This has been a topic close to my heart which is why I have been driven to talk about it through my art.

2. 2 million young girls are trafficked each year. How has the Missing Art Project contributed to awareness and intervention on this issue? Share with us a few examples.

Ans: In my journey on working on the issue of female trafficking, first as a volunteer in red light areas and now on the Missing Art Project, I realised that the demand was the primary issue that most people working in this space were facing. Every time there is a demand, there is a new girl standing, being made available. That’s what I saw too… the flow of girls was always there, it never stopped. That’s why I felt that the public had to be spoken to…why hasn’t anyone does that yet and why isn’t anyone approaching this in a more systematic manner? That’s led me to think, I want to make some art that will make people think and make them more aware of the issue.

I began with making very complicated artworks and showcasing them within gallery spaces, mainly in Europe between 2010-14, but it was also the time I realised that it wasn’t my audience…. I wanted to speak to the Indian public! That was my initiation in the public art space, pushing me to create public artwork to engage the public on the issue of sex trafficking and highlighting the role they play in curbing it and the role they play by creating a demand, so that every time there is a new girl standing. That was the most basic premise on which was built the MISSING Art Project – to create awareness and sensitize the public on sex trafficking and the role they play in the rising numbers of girls being trafficked today.

3. The ‘cut out’ girl has become synonymous with the Missing girls art project. What have been peoples reactions and responses to the stencil project? How have you managed to engage the public with this tool?

 Ans: The cut-out girl was actually a by-product of the bigger installations which were launched at the India Art Fair. These larger than life installations were made of fibreglass, iron and steel, set against the open sky with black holes cut out into it, but, with a larger objective of being cut out and still lying in the foundry. But because the main aim was not for an artist to put out an installation in a public space, rather about public engagement, I started a social media campaign to engage the public and undertook crowdfunding to create my own army of people who believed in what we said. This pushed me to create the stencil project which was an easier, more doable version … we put it out on our website as a DIY kit, easily accessible and downloadable to all.

Through June, July, August in 2015, when we were focusing on crowdfunding, we undertook the exercise of creating your own stencils with schools, high schools… they took such joy in becoming part of this campaign and lending their voice to our protest. Today, we have people downloading the kit, tracing it on cardboard, cutting it out, going into the neighbourhoods and and putting it on their walls, taking pictures with it and sending it back to us… saying “We are with you!”. It has been an immense partnership with individuals, artists and schools.

4. Does the Missing Art Project engage children/ young people on the issue of trafficking? What role do you believe they have as change makers for this grave issue?

Ans: It has…of course it has engaged the youth! Our main engagement starts from high school onwards. We start talking to children above 13 years old, because that’s when your body is changing, you’re hitting puberty, sex education in India is poor, young people are looking at pornography as their only form of sex education. Girls bodies are changing too, they are developing new feelings, emotions…and at that point of time, when you are unaware and unfamiliar with what is happening to you, when a trafficker approaches you, you are gullible and naïve to believe when he says “Hey! I like you.” Therefore, our main target group has been school and college students, anyone between 15-35 years. Our recently launched MISSING Game also targets the youth, putting boys in the shoes of a girl and making them realise the fear and frustrations that go into being in the clutches of a trafficker. The youth are an integral community that we have built and continue to build on, and they will be the future change makers because they shall be making new fabric for a new society.

5. Recently you showcased your art mural at the #chokethedemand initiative- Delhi’s first interactive mural experience on the demand for children in the sex industry. Tell us about it.

Ans: #Chokethedemand is a campaign we did in collaboration with change.org to collectively address the rise in figures of children getting trafficked for sex in India – our fit with them was perfect. Our work has been focused on missing girls, stopping trafficking, and curbing demand…so #chokethedemand was brilliant. Also, since we believe in art and technology for change, we created interactive murals and installations, in order to reach out to the youth. Our work for Delhi was particularly more graphic because they already have beautiful street art by other organizations. We used monocromatic art with just a hint of colour, in order for it to stand out. What was unique about our mural was that it had a chat pod with it, which we did in Kolkata too. In Delhi our primary theme was violence against women, for which we took infamous quotes from politicans saying “boys will be boys, they make mistakes” ,“90% of all rape is consentual”, “rape zabardasti nahi hota, ho jata hain”, things like these (we found so many of them!)… so the fonts and text were gripping, making people take a second look and wonder what these quotes were really saying. That’s been our ploy for Delhi and its worked very well.

6. In your words, “Art is activism”. How has your work of art pushed the discourse on child trafficking in India? Illustrate with examples.

 Ans: Art can also be activism, it is not only activism. Art is a powerful tool to engage the public. The MISSING Art Project’s purpose has only been to push the discourse on child trafficking. We have already engaged quite a big community. In fact, we have 70+ countries who play the MISSING game, not only in India. I have been called to talk about the impact and significance of the MISSING game to New York, Korea, Berlin, and to illustrate how I have used art and technology as a tool to push the conversation on trafficking. Interestingly, we are waiting for more Indians to play the game…we have 12 vernacular versions out. We are keen that people from rural, semi-rural and semi-urban areas of India, play the game, engage with us and get more informed about trafficking and the roles we all play. The stencil project too is an example of how we push the discourse on child trafficking through art.

7. The MISSING game is an innovative approach to exposing the player to the dark world of human trafficking and raising awareness. How do you believe the advent of technology has been instrumental in driving social change? On the flip side, apps like whatsapp are opening new avenues for trafficking. Highlight the pros and cons of technology in relation to the issue of child trafficking.                               

Ans: You can’t ignore technology today. Everything has a flip side, and so does technology. When I started the campaign, I did not think of technology in a big way. When someone said to me “Leena you have to embrace technology,” is when I actually started doing that. Technology allowed me to talk to people about trafficking through social media and build a community, just sitting at my desk. The crowdfunding, the MISSING game are all technology products, and a very integral part of my dialogue on trafficking. It allows us to reach millions, on their personal phones, create awareness and push them to take action. Of course one cannot ignore the flip side, where children and girls get exploited for sex and other things. But we also use technology to create awareness on its negative side, through MISSING we are engaging young girls about the threats online too. We have undertaken a systemic school program reaching out to adolescents on the issue so that they are equipped if approached through different media. I recently heard of Sweden passing a verdict against ‘online rape’. How brilliant is that? Technology is a space we cannot and must not ignore.

8. Recently, the cabinet approved the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. What do you believe are the positive outcomes and shortcomings of this bill?

Ans: The Bill is very broad, it tries and covers many things. It it supposed to be ‘THE” Bill which the whole of South East Asia is supposed to look up to and follow. They have worked very hard on it… awareness on the issue forms a huge component of the bill which is brilliant, but, they have not addressed prostitution, exploitation of children for sex as a separate agenda, which is very sad. They have spoken of hormonal injections and body changes of children but for what? This gives people a lot of loopholes to work around. The bill needs to be tighter, more direct, less layered, because the more the layers the more difficult it gets for us to nab the traffickers. The situation is already so slippery and this way traffickers get leaner outlets.

 

9. Tell us about your work in India and overseas. How differently are countries handling the issue of child trafficking? Illustrate any international model for anti-trafficking that you believe has been successful.

Ans: We totally believe in the Nordic model, we believe that there should be criminalization of buying of sex. We believe in what Sweden and the Nordic countries have done, we love France and Ireland for it! In India, the laws are in a grey area, though buying of sex is decriminalised, red light areas function very openly, and the laws need to get stricter, and the laws against traffickers needs to be stricter too. Most importantly, the public needs to be more aware of what is allowed and what is not. At the moment, they don’t know much!  

#EndChildTrafficking-The Child Trafficking Challenge Addressed Through Public Campaigns

There are a startling 21 million victims of forced labour and sexual trade around the world, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Children and women fall prey to traffickers, some due to their circumstances and many due to false promises, force and deceit. Human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar trade, affects deeply every country in the world, partaking as places of origin, transit or destination. It was the sheer magnitude, scale and severity of this global concern that the United Nations in 2013 declared World Day against Trafficking in Persons, to acknowledge and act against this heinous crime against humanity.
With almost a third of trafficking victims being children, this World Day against Trafficking in Persons, United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) focuses on ‘responding to the trafficking of children and young people’, whose liberty, dignity and essential rights have been stolen, and its time we did too.

While many of us remain unaware of what falls under the ambit of trafficking, the process, people and places involved in making it possible, and its proximity to our lives and the lives of our children, here are some anti-trafficking initiatives and campaigns that attempt to make a place in our minds and hearts and push us to join the crusade against it.

Good Father Campaign

The Good Father Campaign is the result of nearly 18 months of ground-work and research by the Operation Red Alert team and a research paper by the Behavioral Architects TM of Final Mile, Mumbai. Launched in 2016, and supported by MS Dhoni, the underlying belief of this campaign is that a father is key to prevention of sex trafficking. When fathers are urged to ensure that decisions are made in favour of their daughter’s safety and well-being, they can curb the demand and make the business of trafficking less lucrative for traffickers.

The 3 pillars of this campaign include exposing the issue of trafficking through mass media, empowering people to take action by providing a national helpline that addresses trafficking and eradicating the issue by grassroots level education of families that are vulnerable to trafficking.

Snippet: The Good Father campaign partnered with Oculus VR for Good and filmmaker Jayisha Patel to create the first Virtual Reality documentary focusing on sex trafficking in India. The film shares the true story of a daughter and father, and how, working together is the only solution to prevent sex trafficking. 

Demand an End

Started in Kansas, United States, this campaign by Street Grace is aimed at cutting the demand for prostitution as a way to fight child trafficking. Their belief is that just like every business, child sex trafficking too operates on the economic principle of supply and demand – the supply being children who are frequently abused and exploited at a young age, and the demand coming from individuals seeking to buy children for sex. Till date, responses to child sex trafficking have been focused almost exclusively on the supply side of the equation. Providing rescue and rehabilitation services to survivors is crucial, but this approach only addresses half the issue. It does not target what perpetuates the industry: Demand. To prevent further demand, the campaign’s focus is on protecting children before they are exploited, raising awareness, as well as arresting and aggressively prosecuting the traffickers and purchasers and also bringing together local, state and federal resources with private organizations so that each stakeholder can play their part in thwarting child trafficking.

Snippet: The Attorney General of Nebraska launched the demand an end campaign in his constituency, followed by many others who joined in to support the cause to put an end to trafficking of minors.

Not a #Number

Not a #Number, an interactive, five-module prevention curriculum designed to teach youth how to protect themselves from human trafficking and exploitation through information, critical thinking, and skill development, was developed by Love 146, an international human rights organization, working to prevent child trafficking and exploitation. Using the most relevant and current information in the field of child exploitation, Not a #Number focuses on respect, empathy, individual strengths, and the relationship between personal and societal pressures that create or increase vulnerabilities.

Targeted to empower youth who are vulnerable to trafficking, this initiative is used by schools, child welfare, juvenile justice agencies and youth organizations. The curriculum was developed for the age group of 12-18, including male, female, and youth that identify as LGBTQI, also applicable across gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Snippet: The Co-Founders of Love146 traveled to Southeast Asia on an exploratory trip to determine how they could serve in the fight against child sex trafficking. In one experience, they were taken undercover with investigators to a brothel where they witnessed children being sold for sex. Here’s the real life story that sparked their abolition movement.

Missing Art Project

Using art and technology to create social change, the Missing Art Project works both locally and globally, transforming public perceptions, educating individuals, communities and policy makers, and inspiring action to put an end to modern day slavery.

With art as a tool for activism, this creative initiative has used large public installations – black silhouettes of young girls in open public spaces constructed from iron sheets that represent young girls who have disappeared to various forms of exploitation, an activity that was simple and engaging, spoke to everyone and transcended language and space and encouraged the public to take on the stencil project in their own communities. Today, this project uses wall art, interactive murals and hard-hitting narratives to engage people on the issue of female trafficking.

Snippet: Recently, Leena Kejriwal, Founder of the Missing Art Project launched a role-playing game – MISSING – designed to put players in a decision making seat and giving them a subliminal experience of what a missing girl goes through. You can play the game here.

Red Light Campaign

The Red Light Campaign supports survivors of slavery and works to raise awareness about the occurrence of slavery in the world today. A visually appealing campaign, it is made up of young volunteers, working to provide rational solutions to victims and survivors.

Their aim is to address child sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children by pressuring governments to enact or amend legislation to address the issue more effectively and allocate more resources towards enforcement of laws. The Redlight Children Campaign Manifesto focuses on advocacy efforts relating to Internet chat rooms, child pornography, sex tourism, and extraterritorial enforcement that it believes should be passed in every country in the world.

Snippet: A way to get involved with this campaign is through the Cube movement, a new and innovative social network against human trafficking and modern-day slavery, building global online chains of communication between individuals and communities based on real world interactions. You can pass on the cube here.

Blue Hart Campaign

The Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking works to raise awareness on the plight of victims and to build political support to fight the criminals behind trafficking. This global initiative works in support from several countries across the world. The Blue Heart represents the sadness of those who are trafficked while reminding us of the cold-heartedness of those who buy and sell fellow human beings. It also aims to make the Blue Heart into an international symbol against human trafficking (like the red ribbon for HIV).

The Blue Heart Campaign is currently supported by governments, private sector, NGOs, goodwill ambassadors and concerned individuals around the world.  It encourages involvement and inspires action to combat human trafficking.

Snippet: An initiative of the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime)the theme for 2018 is  ‘responding to the trafficking of children and young people’ since a third of trafficking victims are children.

Free a girl India

Free a Girl India aims to fight against human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. We do this by raising awareness about the problem of child prostitution and the impunity of offenders of child prostitution. We believe there is a need to change the conversation, to mobilise society to rally behind the girls that have fallen victim to this crime, and to demand justice. It is important to break the silence in many countries about child prostitution and the need to prosecute the offenders. Free a girl is a coalition under Free a girl international, partnering Sanlaap, Freedom Firm, Transforming Lives Foundation, Equal Community Foundation and Odanadi.

This initiative focuses on creating awareness about commercial sexual exploitation of children and the impunity of offenders of child prostitution and mobilising the support of local society to fight against this crime for sustainable change.

Snippet: Free A Girl India works in close collaboration with School for Justice, an institution where girls rescued from child prostitution will be educated to become lawyers and prosecutors with the power to prosecute the criminals who once owned them.

#EndChildTrafficking- Why The Public Needs To Join In On #ChokeTheDemand

Delhi’s first interactive mural experience was created in collaboration with Change.org and The Missing Art Project to shake the status quo on the current conversation (or the lack of it) around the commercial sexual exploitation of children in India. Through the use of art and technology, massive wall murals were created in 3 locations across Delhi, with the aim to to trigger conversations about the high demand for children in the sex industry, missing from the public narrative. 

What #ChokeTheDemand achieved that many other public engagement initiatives couldn’t was that it drew participation from many potential collaborators for the protection of children – police, filmmakers, activists and celebrities, all came together to generate awareness, curiosity and empathy on the looming issue of child trafficking, and discuss solutions to “choke” it, understanding well that we are all part of the solution. 

Many, took to twitter to share their thoughts and further spread the message… You can too!

#UprootedChildhoods

Kanche Aur Postcards – A Heartfelt Childhood Adventure

Kanche aur Postcards, a thirty-minute short film, is a nuanced perspective of what a child’s journey looks like in the world of adults. Set against the colourful lanes and by-lanes and river banks of Udaipur, film maker Ridham Janve might as well be taking a jog down the memory lane, to revisit his childhood memories in the city he grew up in. However, he does more than just that. He explores the innocence of childhood in all its complexities and the dynamics of power in a child’s life through the themes of caste, class and control.

Vipin, the protagonist in the story is a little boy from Mumbai who is spending his summer holidays with his beloved grandma in Udaipur. We are introduced to Vipin’s uncle, who is a strict disciplinarian and someone who is seen as aspiring to climb the ladders of class in hopes for a better, more prestigious lifestyle. This ambition is played out in a clever metaphor, through the location of his house on the upper storey of a lower middle class mohalla, and his relationship with the residents and their children who live on the ground floor. He regards them as uneducated, tardy and a bad influence on his nephew, Vipin. He strictly forbids his nephew to have anything to do with these children. The children spend their afternoons playing with marbles, and like any other child, it is Vipin’s greatest wish to be able to own a few of those colourful objects and play them with the rest of the children in the mohalla. The story revolves around Vipin’s thwarted efforts at trying to own a few marbles, until he exhausts all his honest ideas, and is forced to resort to a dishonest way to be able to buy them.

This simply, yet beautifully made movie makes you think about all the ways we have been controlled as children. It also makes you think if we have been socially conditioned to perpetuate the same kind of control, albeit in varying degrees, on children ourselves. The movie is a thought provoking exploration of the various ways that power dynamics manifests itself. All the relationships we are shown on the screen are a testament to this. The relationship between Vipin and his uncle, Vipin and the other children, and the relationship between his uncle and the other residents of the mohalla; all of these relationships are governed by the invisible, yet unfathomable and unbreachable boundaries of patriarchy, caste, class and differences in culture. The hopelessness and anguish the little boy goes through in undoing what he did to be able to buy the marbles, out of fear for what he might have to face at home, is a heart rending depiction of a certain ‘everydayness’ about how at times children are forced to do things against their better judgment, but adults often leave them no choice.

Janve takes care to preserve the innocence of how children are ever-accepting, and non-judgmental in their interaction with each other. Vipin is forbidden by his uncle to engage in unintelligent play with the children downstairs. He comes across as the obvious odd-ball, the boy from the city who hesitates to engage with children from the small town, despite his deepest desire to play with them. Regardless, the children continue to ask him if he wants to play with them. The witty word play by the child actors at different points in the movie gives it an authentic flavour of the innate cheekiness present in children.

Watching Kanche aur postcards evokes a gush of nostalgia and stirs up the bitter-sweet emotions of childhood. It brings to life memories of the several trials and tribulations of navigating the adult world as a child. The movie stays true to its main plot, and creates the magic of making everything seem real by using simple frames which capture the everyday life in the city, more so, the lives of children in a small town household. It does so in an effective manner which is relatable and evocative of childhoods in India, in general. Every scene in this short film is a peak into precious childhood moments and lessons that shape our early years and help us discover ourselves. Regardless of where and how you grew up, you will find bits and pieces of your own childhood in this movie.

 

#UprootedChildhoods- Children Demand ‘Liveable’ Homes In Lallubhai Compound

Children are vulnerable to a range of threats when their right to an adequate home is not fulfilled. But here’s a children’s collective that is driving change through their own efforts. Sparking conversations on their rights and requirements, including that of housing, they are compelling their communities and local authorities to stand up and take note. Having participated in this change maker group has been a rewarding and empowering experience for most of them who have seldom had a platform to voice their concerns. Meet the members of Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (BASS) at Lallubhai compound who vision for lasting social transformation is teamed with participatory action.  

A collective of, for and by the children

BASS meeting at CRC in LBC, Mumbai 2018

It’s a busy afternoon at YUVA’s Child Resource Centre, Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, on 18 June 2018. About 15 children (between the ages of 8–18 years) are gathered in the room, seated on the floor in a circle. They are all members of Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (BASS), a collective of children working on community-based child rights issues, who have convened for a meeting. The group is collectively owned and run by the children themselves. YUVA initiated this collective almost two decades ago in communities where interventions are with children, and since then generations of young ones across the city have joined hands to fight for and claim their rights. We’ll get to the discussions of the Lallubhai Compound BASS meeting, but first a little prelude about the homes in this community which foreground concerns.

Inadequate homes

One of the many buildings of Lallubhai Compound

Lallubhai Compound is a rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) colony of 65 buildings, often described as ‘vertical slums’, housing over 1 lakh individuals in Mankhurd, Mumbai. The people living here were resettled from various parts of the city (such as P. D’ Mello Road, Sion, Koliwada, Matunga, Parel etc), displaced in the name of development projects, especially the Mumbai Urban Transport Project 2002.

The buildings here are five to seven storeys high with no functional lifts, especially affecting the elderly, disabled persons, those unwell, and children. The narrowly packed buildings flout fire and safety norms. Water supply is scarce, and waste management methods are inadequate.

The corridors in the building are pitch dark, making it unsafe and unhygienic. The distance between buildings is just three metres, making it difficult for ventilation and light in the house, stunting children’s development. Infact, a recent report highlighted how this area has an abnormally increased incidence of tuberculosis; the buildings are described as those ‘designed for death’.

Buildings packed closely together at Lallubhai Compound, waste littered in between.

The size of houses in this colony are 225 sq. ft., consisting of a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and a kitchen. Families, ranging from 5–15 members, reside in this space, leaving children with no space to play or study and no privacy either. They are the most vulnerable and voiceless in the family, often unable to articulate their demands adequately. Young girls, especially, face more issues from lack of privacy, especially during the time of menstruation.

Given the cramped nature of home, and a child’s inability to be heard through these concrete walls if needed, the issue of child sexual abuse has assumed serious proportions here. Children are also addicted to drugs, and begin drinking and smoking from a young age.

The duality of lack of space at home and in the community often results in complexes developing early in children. They grow up without adequate mental, physical, and emotional well-being, feeling extremely marginalised in a community that cannot care for their needs. In such a space, BASS hopes to empower children, helping them find a voice to articulate their needs and fights for their rights, in turn inspiring other children to join hands and drive change.

BASS over the years

BASS aims to develop child leaders and encourage the formation of children’s groups from socially marginalised communities. Since its formation, BASS groups in different areas of the city have held up a mirror to society, talking about eve teasing, child abuse, drug abuse, unclean surroundings (with problems of open drains, garbage management), child labour and other issues. It has functioned as a democratic forum, helping children discuss these issues and the violation of child rights in the community.

In Lallubhai Compound, YUVA’s Child Resource Centre is a space the children can freely use to study, play, conduct meetings and discussions, to build solidarity, highlight issues and actively work towards addressing them in the community. BASS focuses on spreading awareness on the community’s housing crisis, an issue that personally impacts each of its members. The collective also seeks solutions from the current state and actively intervenes to usher transformation.

Facilitated by YUVA, BASS groups from across the city and other children’s collectives presented suggestions and objections to the Proposed Draft Development Plan for Mumbai 2014–2034, requesting for an adequate home for each of them.

Children’s suggestions/ objections to the Proposed Draft Development Plan for Mumbai 2014–2034

They also made recommendations to the same Plan, meeting the MLA to present a petition to build a pedestrian bridge over the railway line which they need to cross every day to go to school, often resulting in accidents.

At YUVA’s Bal Sabha on 18 November 2017, children across the city belonging to different BASS groups and children’s collectives spoke against the many injustices they have to tolerate, their right to an adequate home and the impacts on them when their rights are violated.

Children speak at Bal Sabha 2017

The children expressed their need for privacy, spaces to be made available to them for studying, recreation and playing, and for rehabilitation to occur within the same area, as school and livelihood opportunities are adversely impacted when families move far off (as in the case of Lallubhai Compound).

Over the years, the BASS groups have spread awareness through the medium of street plays. They have built networks with their own cooperative society members (articulating the need for a mobile Child Resource Centre for those children who can’t attend the existing space) and the need for library and recreational space within the buildings. They have also engaged with the police and other civic authorities, taking forward the dialogue on housing and demands for better living conditions. Their demand for clean and safe child-friendly communities is critical, and their participation is important for the effective functioning of the Community-level Child Protection Committees (CCPCs).

At the meeting

At the BASS meeting on 18 June, apart from the concerns on housing and the community voiced by the children, they also discussed the upcoming Peoples Convention on Infrastructure Financing – A Response to Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to be held in the following week. The children were keen to attend this convention and better understand people’s concerns to exclusionary infrastructure development being pursued. BASS members were also looking forward to the Consultation on Safe and Child Friendly Cities from Evidence to Action: Mumbai Suburban District on 28 June where they were scheduled to perform a play.

BASS continues to participate in children’s movements and activities, in the community and the city, to drive change and usher social improvements, and take ahead the struggle for children’s rights.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Vinay Murlidhar Gupta

‘I live in Lallubhai Compound, Building 17, with my family. The light goes off in our house anytime, coming back after an hour or two’, says Vinay Murlidhar Gupta. ‘There have been some improvements in the community in recent years, but much more needs to be done’.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Usha Bisoi

“People in school behave badly with me because I live in a basti (informal settlement). I can’t stop fearing for the safety of our house at all times. What if we get evicted again?” says 17-year-old Usha Bisoi from Shanti Nagar FCI Colony, Bhubaneshwar.

Class X student Usha doesn’t live in a pucca (permanently constructed) house. She doesn’t have access to a toilet at home. “It becomes a problem, especially at night”, she says. “We need a toilet in every house, and the home should be built of strong, durable material. I would like to build my own house on a secure plot of land, with a latrine, a tap, and other facilities available inside”, she says. At school, Usha faces discrimination because she lives in a basti (informal settlement). “People behave badly with me. They think that those in bastis are up to no good. I feel really bad”, she says. Even when she is at school, Usha can’t help worrying about the situation at home. “I worry in case there is an eviction. I am scared of the police”, she concludes.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Priyanka Shivnure

“Mere sapnon ka ghar building mein hoga, jisme bada hall aur bada room hoga,” beams Priyanka Shivnure of Belapur, Navi Mumbai, from ear to ear at the thought of a dream home.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Madhuri Dedhe

“Jab policewale aate hain, humme bahut dar lagta hain.. Woh bolte hain…Kal yeh ghar tootne wala hain…tomorrow we are going to break down this home,” narrates 12 year old Madhuri Dedhe of CBD Belapur, Navi Mumbai.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Khushboo Borasi

“Baar baar aate hain…Todo! Todo! Chilate hain.” Meet Khusbhoo Bosari of Bhuri Tekri, Indore who misses her neighbourhood friends who are looking for a new home to stay in after theirs was razed to the ground, “Acha nahi lagkta hain…hum saath mein khelte hain, lekin majboori thi toh unko jaana pada.”

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Ganesh Jha

“We don’t have a single light or water in our home, not even a toilet. We worry a lot when they break our homes, because we don’t have money to build new ones,” says 10 year old Ganesh Jha of Ambujwadi, Mumbai who smiles even at the thought of a ‘dream home’.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – The Question Of Adequate Homes In A Rehabilitation & Resettlement Colony

Adequate housing for children is more than just a roof over one’s head. While many children may live within the four walls of a home, and not a makeshift structure in an informal settlement (basti) or on the road, if their living conditions are scarce, unhealthy and unsafe it is hardly a conducive environment to grow up in. Here’s assessing the living conditions at Vashi Naka, a rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) colony, against indicators of adequate housing.

A view of some of the R&R buildings at Vashi Naka

The R&R colony at Vashi Naka consists of 175 buildings containing 225 sq. ft. flats each. It rehouses people forcefully displaced from their homes by four major infrastructure projects—Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP), Mithi River Development Project (MRDP) and Mahatma Gandhi Pathkranti Yojana (MGPY). Many of the families have been resettled here about 10–12 years ago. While the older children retain some memories of growing up in other neighbourhoods, the younger children have only known one home.

The Handbook on Children’s Right to Adequate Housing by HAQ states, ‘The right to adequate housing includes security of tenure as well as access to public goods and services, a safe and healthy environment, adequate food, health care, education, livelihood for adults, etc.’ Let’s take a look at how this R&R site compares on some of these basic indicators.

On home
18-year-old Rushabh Krushna Shinde grew up in Panjarapol in a two-storeyed house. In comparison, the 3-room home at Vashi Naka where the family was rehoused, is cramped, with a bedroom, toilet and kitchen for the 4-member family.

His friend, 15-year-old Prashik Shivaji Gaikwad, finds his house lacking in space too. A keen dancer, he attends classes daily and practices afterwards at home. “I have to make space for dance at home, moving furniture from the living room to the kitchen”. This makes the kitchen inaccessible for a while every day.

Accessing basic services
9-year-old Jasmeet Kaur Ubee mostly spends her time indoors, either studying, helping her mother with household chores or watching TV. “The electricity goes off very often for long phases,” she says.

Her cousin Simran agrees. “The electricity and water supply is irregular here. A few days ago, the electric supply went off and didn’t come back for 3 days! We tapped another line and have been using that since then. Even water supply is there from only 7 am – 4.30 pm daily,” she says.

As per General Comment 4 of the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, ‘The right to adequate housing includes a duty on the State to provide all basic amenities including access to public services such as electricity, water, sanitation, etc.’ However, the supply of basic services is often disrupted in these spaces.

The issue of play spaces
Rushabh fondly remembers the big field outside his house in Panjarapol, and its vast open spaces. Since moving to Vashi Naka, when he was 3-years-old, he has not had access to any play spaces. “Sometimes we end up playing on the Eastern Express Highway”, he says, adding how many a child has gotten into an accident in this way. “There is the RNA park ground nearby, but it is already full of other groups who play there. When younger children want to use these spaces, they are often bullied by the older ones. Nowadays, in the evenings, we just sit downstairs and chat,” he adds.

Children enjoy a game wherever they can

12-year-old Simran Kaur Ubee doesn’t even step out of home to play. “It’s not safe. There are a lot of people in the neighbourhood who engage in addiction and abuse, and we want to stay away from them,” she says. She downloads games from the internet and plays them indoors with her cousin. On rare occasions, she ventures out to play hide and seek.

A recent report Promoting Safe Communities, based on 3 urban poor settlements of Mumbai, mentions how “no organised play and recreation spaces/facilities exist for girls and boys of different ages, or for disabled children within the community”. In the absence of play, children’s physical, emotional and social growth are severely affected.

Poor sanitation
20-year-old Sayeed Niloufer says, “The drains are often clogged and society members blame each other for the dirt instead of helping solve the problem.

While a few dustbins have been provided to the colony, their use depends on the discretion of the society members. Many of them remain upturned and unused. People regularly throw garbage out of their windows. It falls straight to the ground, filling up the narrow passages in between the buildings and bylanes with filth and leaving a perpetual stench in the air.

Space between buildings, with garbage piled in-between

The problem of waste management becomes acute during monsoon. At times, the gutter has overflowed and dirty water has stagnated for 1.5 days. “The BMC hardly comes here. Eventually, we have to pay bribes to get the issue resolved,” Rushabh says.

Poor sanitation facilities increase health risks, and children are most vulnerable to its impacts.

Access to healthcare
Rushabh rues the lack of a hospital in the R&R colony. There is just one community health centre for the entire block of buildings which people don’t access much since the doctors are only present for limited time. “We have medical stores, but so many times girls/ladies are uncomfortable buying sensitive items from there because the stores are run by men,” he says.

Niloufer talks about the mosquito problem in the colony. “One of my relatives died of dengue recently, and her child now lives with us. There are no hospitals here for our treatment,” she says.

Rehabilitation to far-away, poorly maintained areas has often cost people their health, and children have often been its worst sufferers. Promoting Safe Communities highlights Mumbai’s score near the bottom on the health security indicator (which mentions how cities maintain physical environment and extend care to citizens).

Safety issues

Dark unsafe corridors inside the buildings

I was in class IV when we moved here. We used to live in a chawl in Vashi Naka. It was safe there; we could reach out to friends and neighbours more easily if we needed to! Life is different here. A man had raped his niece in this neighbourhood, but noone came to her assistance and no complaints were filed either,” says Niloufer.

Rushabh adds, “If girls are roaming around alone, especially in the late evening, boys tease them. The girls live in constant fear, and find it difficult to share these issues with their families.

Promoting Safe Communities mentions how boys and girls across the three settlements surveyed reported feeling unsafe due to ‘rampant public sexual harassment, substance abuse … street fights … and police inaction.

Prevalence of substance abuse
At Vashi Naka, many teenage boys and children sit around taking drugs, drinking and smoking. It has become very easy to buy these intoxicants. In his own way, Rushabh tries to combat the issue by talking to his friends who are addicted to substances. “I ask them to come and play with us, go to school and make better use of their time.

Prashik says, “Many people my age and younger are addicted to substances and alcohol. I know over 20–30 such youngsters myself! In schools too, children enter classes in a state of intoxication. I didn’t encounter such things in Panjarapol.

Niloufer adds, “Girls often lack freedom … those who get a taste of it have often taken to smoking and bad habits, which results in other parents putting further restrictions of their children.

On education
What we need in this locality are BMC schools. We have 3-4 schools that are privately run, and only up to the primary level. People can’t afford the fees charged by them,” says Rushabh. He had to change schools after moving to Vashi Naka, and once again when he returned to his village for a few years. Rushabh wants to study more after completing class 12. But he feels guilty that his brother and mother work so hard to pay his fees. “I want to help them out by working somewhere, and save up for our sister’s marriage expenses!” he says.

Displacement often leads to loss of schooling, with children pushed off to far-away resettlement sites that are far from their schools. With the family’s income coming under threat too after eviction, children tend to drop out of school and start working.

Long commutes for livelihood
Rushabh’s parents worked close to home earlier, but since moving to Vashi Naka his mother needs to cross the Eastern Express Highway daily, to sell fish in the older neighbourhood. “I feel very worried thinking about her crossing that road with cars and trucks speeding by,” he says, wishing there was a direct road connecting their settlement to Panjarapol as many others relocated here still go there for work.

The main thoroughfare leading in and out of Vashi Naka (a two-lane road) is chock-a-block with cars and traffic jams are a regular occurrence. People also park their cars here and there, leading to traffic pile-ups; more time and money is spent in daily commutes.

R&R does not ensure adequate housing
Within the human rights perspective, the right to ‘adequate housing’ includes not just the housing structure but all conditions that help an individual live in security and dignity and help them exercise their rights. Given the poor performance of different indicators at Vashi Naka, we can clearly see that the R&R settlement has not been able to function as an adequate home for its children. The findings are in contradiction to the widely held assumption that resettlement is the answer for displaced families. As stated by Late Justice Rajinder Sachar, we need to “view housing rights within a holistic and interdependent framework which transcends the outdated ‘four walls and a roof’ view of housing.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – 5 Childhood Stories From Vashi Naka

Recently, we caught up with 5 children at Vashi Naka, a rehabilitation and resettlement site in M-East Ward of Eastern Mumbai, to talk to them about their home and environment. Here’s what we heard.

Prashik Shivaji Gaikwad, 15 years

In conversation with Prashik

Prashik lives in the A Wing of Building 20 at Vashi Naka. “We shifted here when I was 5-years-old. We had a small home at Panjarapol earlier … but life was better”, he says, adding, “I miss the grounds outside our house where we used to play. Here, many people my age and younger are addicted to substances and alcohol too, including 20–30 of my friends! I have even heard of children entering their classes in a state of intoxication. I didn’t encounter such things in Panjarapol. People drive their bikes fast in the colony leading to accidents, school is further away, there are garbage management issues in the community too … !” he trails off.

There are four of us at home—my mother, father, brother and myself. While at Panjarapol, my father worked at a company called Twinkle. Now he runs a bike showroom in partnership at Chembur Camp. My mother is a housewife.

My day goes like this … School is about 30 minutes away, my father drops me in the morning and I return by the school bus. I am in class IX at Matoshree School, Deonar. After school, I attend dance class for an hour every evening. I love to dance! My parents have always encouraged me. I joined the Phoenix dance classes in Deonar about a year ago, learning Bollyhop dance (a fusion of Bollywood and hip hop), I practice at home for 1-2 hours daily after classes. But since there isn’t enough space at home, I have to shift the table from the living room to the kitchen to make space. I want to perform at shows in the future, but I don’t find any platform to showcase my skills and take them forward”, he sighs.

Buildings lying empty – unsafe spaces, especially for girls

For me, my family means a lot. My mother is the sole earning member of the family, selling fruits and vegetables. My father was an electrician, but after undergoing an operation recently, he can’t do much work.

I was studying B.Com at Rajiv Gandhi College in Vashi, but had to leave after the first year as we couldn’t afford the fees. To lend a helping hand at home, I started working while I was in college, which resulted in attendance issues and having to repeat the year. I have worked in hospitals as a receptionist and also assisted a physiotherapist. But even after six months, due to the lack of formal training, I was not given an experience certificate, and the salary was very low (INR 5,000 for working from 10 am–4 pm daily). I had to travel quite a distance to reach there, so I gave up the job. I wanted to pursue a degree in nursing… but nowadays all colleges ask for donations, and they ask for interest if you can’t pay it at one go.”

Now my marriage has been fixed…and my in-laws don’t want to me study more or work.

Anurag Sharma, 13 years

Anurag talks about life at Vashi Naka

I was 3 years old when my family was resettled in Vashi Naka. I study at Jawahar Vidyabhavan in Chembur Camp. After school I attend tuitions from 4-9 pm (except for Sundays) because I take tuitions in all subjects. You know math is my favourite subject.

When I’m back from tuitions I watch TV or play games on the mobile,” almost sounding like every other millennial. “On Sundays, I play cricket or hide and seek in the compound with my friends…we never step out of RNA Park.

Cramped homes; buildings closely stacked together at Vashi Naka

“Sometimes I wish we are able to move to a bigger home; right now we are 10 people living in the same house… I want more space to myself.”

Jasmeet Kaur Ubee, 9 years

I have lived in Vashi Naka all my life,” says Jasmeet. “I study at National Sarvodaya High School, Chembur Camp. My mother drops me to to school every day, along with a few of my friends and my sister picks me up from school. I love math class and EVS class the most in school. Every day, after school there is tuition. I like studying at home because my mother helps me with my lessons.

I love spending time at home, with my mother, sister and younger brother. I had an elder brother but he died while he was playing. He was hiding behind a wall and it collapsed on him,” she says. “I help my mother sweep the house and keep in clean. My favourite part of the house is the living room, where I lie down and watch TV, sometimes even for 2 hours at a stretch. I love watching Doremon,” she says happily. “But the electricity goes very often, so the lights and TV also go off!

In conversation with Jasmeet (left) and Simran (right)

When I grow up, I’d like to work in a bank. I would like to live near where I work, it will help me manage my home and work better,” she says.

Simran Kaur Ubee, 12 years

I live with my chachi and chacha and help chachi around the house, arranging vessels and keeping the house clean,” says Simran, who lost her parents when she was very young. “My cousin Jasmeet also stays here in Vashi Naka. But we mostly stay at home and play at home, because it is not safe. There are a lot of people in the neighbourhood who engage in addiction and abuse, and we want to stay away from them. You know, we have a WiFi connection, that’s how we download games and play with each other. But sometimes we play outside, hide and seek and carrom with the other girls of the same building. Whenever my chacha sees me playing outside, he asks me to move indoors. I haven’t really interacted with the girls living in the other buildings. After 4.30 pm, I go to my cousin’s house. I only come home around 11 at night, escorted by my chacha. Recently a child was kidnapped and murdered in the locality, it’s not safe for us to venture alone.

At Jasmeet’s house, with her mother (centre) and Simran (left)

I go to National Sarvodaya High School, Chembur Camp. I travel together with some of my friends to school. I love my maths teacher… I want to grow up to be a teacher like her,” she says sounding certain of her life choices.

The electricity and water supply is irregular here. A few days ago, the electricity went and didn’t come back for 3 days! So then we tapped another line and have been using that. Even water is not there the whole day, only there from 7 am – 4.30 pm daily.

Our landlord wants us to leave by July since he wants to give the house to someone else. We are trying to negotiate for some more time, because it’s very difficult to find another place to stay. I have always lived in this house.

When I grow up, I want to stay in a big two-story house with a staircase inside the house, there should also be a terrace – but what’s the point of dreaming? We don’t have the money to build such a house,” she says, keenly aware of their realities and the difficulties in overcoming such situations.

Sayeed Niloufer, 20 years

Niloufer tells us about her life at Vashi Naka

I was in class IV when we moved here. We lived in a chawl earlier. It was safe there. We could reach out to friends and neighbours more easily if we needed to! Life is different here. There has been a case of a man raping his niece, but no complaints were even filed.

Girls lack freedom … those who get freedom from their families have often taken to smoking and bad habits, resulting in other parents putting further restrictions on their children. Given the current environment we are growing up in, younger people don’t have respect for their parents. That’s something I hope will change. Friends my age and younger smoke and do drugs openly in the area, and don’t listen to anyone.”

By no means do these five interviews represent the views of all children of Vashi Naka. They offer a slice of childhoods being experienced in R&R sites. Those children who have known another house, another neighbourhood are wistful of what they have seen and what they experience now. Others are innocent of other realities, adjusting to the situation around them.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Claiming Spaces For Play: Mumbai’s Children & Youth Lead A Promising Movement

Children at play in Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd

Children’s right to an adequate home comprises of not just the four walls of a home, but the environment they grow up in, and the basic amenities and facilities made available to them. Within this framework, the right to play is an inalienable requirement as accorded within Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1992). No discussion on right to housing is complete if the right to play is not addressed, as the latter helps children and young people (CYP) explore and interact with their surroundings, helping in their physical, mental and social development.

However, discussions on the right to play invariably need to take into account not only need for access to play spaces, but also the existence of such spaces in and around their homes, and the free use of such spaces without any discrimination, bullying, or risk of harm. In recent years, however, access to play, both in and outside the house, is increasingly under threat. Against these circumstances, CYP collectives across the city of Mumbai have been leading a powerful moment to claim their rights.

Changing city realities
Over the past few decades, homes are becoming more cramped and open spaces are shrinking at a rapid pace in Mumbai. With the increasing concretisation of the city, space has become a luxury. In fact, a recent study calculated Mumbai’s open space per person at just 1.1 square metre, 31x lower than in London and 26x lower than in New York.

In the absence of physical space, the city’s real estate developers have been wooing customers by developing spaces vertically with amenities such as swimming pools, gyms and squash courts in plush gated societies. While these services may offer an outlet to explore physical activity in accessible open spaces, they are only enjoyed by a small minority who can afford them. India’s vulnerable children (estimated to be 40% of the total child population) are not so lucky.

No room for play
In informal settlements (bastis) and resettlement sites, children are most vulnerable, exposed to a host of dangers. They spend hours indoors, either glued to their mobile phone screens, watching television, or helping their parents with chores. There is hardly any space for play within the confines of a small house where family members are cramped together. Play in spaces outdoors exposes children to more threats – bullying from miscreants, exposure to hazardous substances, fear of accidents and so on. Parents prefer, therefore, that children remain home but are unable to offer them any alternate play opportunities. This stunts the child’s growth, adversely affecting health and well-being. Girls are most affected. Even in areas where children have some opportunity for play, a study discovered how boys continue playing till they are 20, while girls stop when they are around 12-years-old.

‘All the UNCRC signatory nations, including India, have obligations to recognise children’s right to play and provide safe and adequate spaces for children to play,’ says Sampat Mandave, Programme Coordinator, Terre des hommes Germany – India Programme. Implementation of this has been far from ideal. However, in Mumbai, there has been a budding movement to claim spaces for play by CYP who are seeing this as an essential part of their growing up years. They are demanding accessible spaces for play near their homes, and connecting it with their adequate housing requirements.

Resistance begins
In Jogeshwari, a neighbourhood in west Mumbai, there used to be six grounds for play at one time. As real-estate activities expanded, one space after another was wiped out. Finally, the Ismail Yusuf College ground was the only one remaining. In due course, it was also up for redevelopment into a manicured garden, a space that would only welcome certain sections of people. To protect this space CYP joined hands. They invoked their right to play here and organised a long march in 2016 all the way up to the local administrator’s office in Jogeshwari. Different sports groups, local organisations and networks extended their support. The collective voices lent strength to the movement. As CYP associated with this resistance in larger numbers, they also articulated their demands for other requirements, such as a meeting space, library, community centres, gymnasium, and these were gradually set up in the community in due course. The persevering efforts of CYP paid off, when the administrator accepted their demands to leave this space free for their use. This was a huge confidence boost for all the people associated with this movement. Currently, over 500 of them regularly play on these grounds.

Let’s shift our attention to the Malwani (Malad) ground in Block III now. This space was rampantly used by drug abusers. It was not a safe space for children. The open ground in the area was dirty, with garbage piled high. At first, CYP helped clean this area. The youth were even beaten up by the drug abusers once for trying to claim this space. They lodged complaints against the miscreants, and ensured that the police recorded the complaints instead of brushing it off. A long march to the police station was organised to place demands. Finally, a public meeting took place with the police, who demonstrated their support for CYP. This ground started being used by them for their play henceforth.

Children enjoy a race at the space claimed in Malwani, Malad

At first, the community offered no support to these youngsters. But once they saw the impact of the movement, they started using these spaces too. Cultural programmes started getting organised in this space. Currently, about 40–50 CYP regularly play on these grounds. Volleyball, cricket and badminton are some of the games played. In this way, spaces that were lying waste earlier, functioning as hubs of crime and addiction, have been integrated within the community and are being used for play and other recreational activities.

Claiming a place, play and much more
In 2017, youth groups across bastis through their city-wide forum facilitated by YUVA got together and decided to launch a ‘claiming spaces campaign’ that would run through the year. Some of the new spaces identified by CYP included Anand Nagar in Jogeshwari, and spaces under the Western Express Highway.
The success in Malwani helped ideate on how to claim the Moina Masjid ground in Ambujwadi (Malad). In a similar way, the youth cleaned the area and converted it to a kabaddi ground with their efforts. Girls who had no opportunity to leave their houses earlier also started playing on these grounds. In 2016-17, the children started kickboxing lessons in this space too. The youth have scouted for coaches to train them on various sports. The space is inclusive, being used by CYP, both girls and boys from minority communities too. A few of the children who have excelled at sports have also started training to play professionally. The families do not have the money to send these children for expensive training sessions. Girls from minority communities are being trained in football (12-16 years in age) and are playing at the state under-16 level.

The Malwani model also prompted the youth from other areas to place their demands before relevant authorities. In Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, a rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) ‘vertical slum’ where children have no space for play, the Cement Maidan, formerly a dumping area, started being cleaned up and was used as a space to play cricket and football. Both boys and girls participated in the games. In a cricket tournament organised, policemen from Shivaji Najar, Mankhurd and Govandi also participated to show their support for the children.

In Vile Parle, near the airport, there was no space for playing. Mentored by the youth, children started playing under the Western Express Flyover. Nowadays, women also use this space for their yoga and exercise, and CYP play here in the evenings. In Dharavi youth started asking for spaces. In Santacruz, the need for spaces to study and play in were highlighted. When couples started getting driven off from spaces, the youth protested about it and even took it to the city-level.

In this way, vulnerable children across the city have invoked their right to play and taken active steps to protect and uphold it, even when denied these spaces indoors. Their resilience has inspired others to join their movements. The demand for play spaces has expanded to include all needs connected to those for adequate housing, for instance the growth of safe spaces, community resource centres, garbage-free communities and so on. The movement seeks to empower not just CYP but the entire community. Inclusive spaces are developing in different areas, which can be freely used by all.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Fear, Footpaths & Football- Mary Fights Back

Born and raised in Mumbai’s Matunga, Mary has been living on the streets with the threat of eviction looming over her life from a very young age. Despite being eligible for rehousing, everyday poses a new fear. Amidst the odds of no permanent home, looking for new homes everyday – one day living under a tree and then next day some place else, changing schools based changing locations, poor access to nutrition and basic hygiene, Mary, through her love and dedication for football, made her way to becoming a football ranker in Maharashtra, and dreams of representing India one day.

Here’s the story of Mary Prakash Naidu whose kickoff with football gives her hope for a life off the streets, someday.

A life no less ordinary

17-year-old Mary Prakash Naidu is no stranger to fame. As one of Maharashtra’s top 20 female footballers, she has been playing for the Mumbai District Football Association and taken part in many tournaments so far. In 2017, she was felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi during the FIFA U-17 World Cup as part of the Centre’s Mission 11 Million Programme, an initiative to encourage football playing in schools. Mary had the best record in ball dribbling and shooting (only 13 seconds) at the trials for this event. She also got to meet her favourite player Sunil Chhetri.

The press flocked around us after the event. Some ministers reached out to us and assured help, but it has been months now and there has been no change in our situation,” says her father Prakash Naidu, a contractual staff working with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

The state at home

The street on which Mary lives. The bamboo poles on the right are what is left of her home in the face of yet another eviction.

The ‘situation’ is the state of homelessness and deprivation that the family has been facing for years now. For over 20 years, the family has been living on the streets in Matunga (Mary was born here), with the threat of eviction looming large over their life, even though they possess documents before the state cut-off date that make them eligible for rehousing. “I am not at ease even when I am playing. I keep thinking of my father at work, and my mother and two sisters alone at home. What if the bulldozers were to arrive?” she says.
Before the felicitation, Mary recalls the detailed rehearsal and the way they were instructed on how to receive their prize. “I was very excited and a little nervous,” she said. No one at the event, however, spoke about the challenges being faced by the likes of players like Mary, their state of housing, or the demand for and lack of playing spaces.

Evicted at will

On the day we meet Mary, the family has moved all their possessions from their makeshift structure to a spot beneath a tree nearby—there has been talk of an impending eviction again.

Mary huddles near their household possessions with her mother and sister

These threats have rapidly increased in frequency in the last eight years. “We have lost too many things to repeated evictions already,” says Mary. Two trophies stand gleaming, and Mary points out that these are just the few they have been able to save. “During an eviction, we lost a bagful of my trophies. My standard X books and certificates were also taken away,” she said. A wall of their house, comprising of a flex printed and bound with narrow wooden boards, flaps and falls face-down in the breeze. It’s a gigantic poster announcing Mary’s felicitation by the Prime Minister.

One of the walls of Mary’s house, a flex poster celebrating her felicitation. The walls around the neighbourhood are full of such posters about Mary.

Making room for play

Mary was introduced to various sports—karate, football, hockey, and boxing—about six years ago. Her interest in football grew as she got to know more about the game. That was about two years ago. At that time, there was only a boys football team in the area and she joined them. As her interest in the game developed, her practice sessions grew longer and she started playing at the nearby Khalsa College grounds every now and then with the support of a non-profit organisation. ‘’We play in between the houses often, as it’s not safe for girls to venture out here and there. Due to the lack of space the football gets spoilt easier; often it enters someone’s house, smashing into some items, and we get a round of scolding. No one’s ever stopped us though,” she smiles and says.

Mary enjoys a game of football whenever she can.

No respite from daily woes

There are no water facilities in the area. A few taps existed earlier but they have now broken, forcing the families to walk a long distance, queue up for water and carry it back. A pay-and-use public toilet nearby is accessed by the community. No formal electricity connections exist here either. Some tapped lines provide temporary relief. “We placed forward our demand for housing and a playing ground for the children. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis even sent a letter about our housing situation to the concerned ministry, but life is still the same here,” says Mary’s father.
Given their state of housing, Mary finds it difficult to study. Sometimes she sits under a tree nearby and tries to concentrate, but it’s very difficult to study for more than half an hour to one hour without getting interrupted. What hasn’t helped is the number of times she has needed to change schools, based on the changing fortunes of the family, and the help they have received from others. The family’s diet is also sparse. “As an emerging football player, she should get nutritious food. But how will I be able to afford it,” rues her father.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – In Conversation With Rouble Nagi On Misaal Mumbai & Its Vision To Make Better Homes For Children & Families in Informal Settlements

“All of us living in this world have a right to a neat and clean home,” says Rouble Nagi, founder of Misaal Mumbai. Why must families and children living in informal settlements (bastis) have to endure such dire conditions? Working with people in slums talking to them on sanitation, hygiene and education, and together, beautifying their homes with paint and murals, Rouble’s work with Misaal Mumbai promotes housing rights for children in these ways. Waiting until the Government provides permanent homes to each family, under the Housing For All Scheme, Rouble works to make Mumbai bastis more liveable for its dwellers.
In conversation with Rouble Nagi, whose vision for Misaal Mumbai intersects almost perfectly with a hard-nosed issue of Mumbai city – its marginalised children and families, and their most basic right to a home.

 

Children gather at a health camp organised by Misaal Mumbai

1) Tell us about Misaal Mumbai. How and why did it come up?

Ans: As an artist, I think the most important role we play is to empower through participatory creative practice. For the last twelve years, I have been working with children and women living in the slums of India and mainly Mumbai. Socially engaged art aligns itself to social betterment like community arts but is also concerned with the systems that sustain community oppression. I teach art to underprivileged children living in slums and villages; some of them didn’t know what a crayon was. As I visited some of my students living in an informal settlement situated in a Mumbai suburb I realised that something more had to be done. The homes were around eight feet by ten feet and had over 6 members of a family living there. I understood that the main problem for people living here was Food, Shelter and Clothing. The next day I called my students and told them to meet me outside their homes at 7.30 in the morning. People looked at me as if I was mentally disturbed to be coming to someone’s house that early with six buckets of paint, brush and rollers. I started painting the houses, ceilings with the help of my students who lived there. We finished painting the house before afternoon and incorporated a small wall mural as well. Seeing this the neighbours asked for my help, and I did the same for them as well, and before you know it the complete informal settlement was painted. It started with that first house which I wanted to set an example with, thus the name of my initiative “MISAAL MUMBAI” (lead by example Mumbai). Till date, I have painted over 24,000 homes and more than 32 slums. I realised that it’s not just paint that’s going to solve the problems, so we started a cleanliness drive, waterproofing their homes, workshops on sanitation and hygiene along with art camps for children living there. Today, we have free medical camps in the slums we work in along with vocational training centres for women. I operate within an institutional setting whose policy is holistic, and has strategies about how and what needs to be done to achieve social work goals through creativity – it may be different from other social workers and there may be a plethora of perspectives of how to achieve goals, but till now “Misaal Mumbai” seems to be working well. It is a unique creative mode for ethical social betterment.

2) Everybody has the right to a home. Yet, India has 1.7 million homeless people and 13.75 million households living in slums, many of whom are children. With your extensive work in Mumbai’s informal settlements, how do you believe this right has/ has not been fulfilled? Give us examples. 

Ans: I believe in action and not words. We have a long way to go. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target for the nation—every Indian must have a house by 2022. This is a tough task. Only good planning and judicious spending of funds will help the State meet the deadline. The problem is severe. Informal settlements cater to some people living there, the streets in Mumbai are full of homeless people. Projects are being worked by the Government to solve this problem but unfortunately, it hasn’t really taken off as we had expected.

Rouble Nagi, Founder, Misaal Mumbai with children who assisted her in painting their homes

3) Your work extends across Mumbai – Dharavi, Jaffar Baba Colony and Mount Mary amongst others, a place where people migrate to with their families in the hope of a better life/ living conditions. In most scenarios, that doesn’t work out. Access to decent living conditions, a home or even basic facilities are a rarity. How has this affected their children?

Ans: Life is informal settlements is full of unexpected problems, every day there is something new. Currently it is the rain that is creating havoc. The Misaal Mumbai initiative was about colouring and waterproofing their homes. This monsoon at least the water wouldn’t enter the homes and flood them.

The children are always most excited, eager to paint and help me when I am on site. I look forward to interacting with them every day. Many of them have even invited me for tea to their homes. On a lighter note, I would have finished a site two weeks before if it wasn’t for all the tea invitations.

Misaal Mumbai also works towards the betterment of living conditions in slums via sanitation and hygiene camps and regular medical camps for health check-ups. Art camps help children express themselves in a creative way. It has often been seen that such art camps in government schools motivate children to attend school; some have even taken up art as a profession.

Children participate in the process to improve their homes, learn concepts necessary to keep their homes and surroundings clean, which goes a long way in impacting the overall health of a community.

Young boys cycle through their freshly painted community

4) How many homes in Mumbai have been refurbished with the help of Misaal Mumbai? How many families and children have had their housing conditions improved?

Ans: We have painted more than 24,000 homes till date and more than one lakh people have been positively affected by the Misaal Mumbai initiative. 30% of these include children. Approximately 30,000 children living in slums of Mumbai have benefited from our work.

5) Besides painting their homes, what other activities does Misaal Mumbai undertake to ensure the community and its children are equipped to improve and sustain better housing conditions?

Ans: We conduct talks for women who want to work, offering them career counselling and helping with vocational training. As mentioned earlier, we also undertake health and sanitation workshop to ensure children are educated about how to keep themselves, their homes and their community clean, and we conduct art camps for them too.

6) What is the larger vision for Misaal Mumbai?

Ans: Misaal Mumbai initiative is about giving people in slums some sort of comfort and support to live a better life till they have a permanent housing solution. We have started working in villages as well. Currently, we are working in different states in India. This is just the start of Misaal Mumbai. The journey is long and a lot remains to be achieved.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhood – When Children Rebuild Their Lost Homes Even At Playtime

What happens when evictions become a frequented reality in one’s life? Sometimes, children start building a safe space of their own, even before they can play. Presenting one such story from Navi Mumbai.

Losing home, again

Jyoti with her siblings and cousins outside their current temporary home (From left to right – Dasrath, Uma with Lakhan, Poonam, Pooja, Jyoti and Shiva)

A little over a year ago, when houses in the informal settlement of Mata Ramai Nagar, Khanda Colony, Panvel, were demolished Jyoti’s house was one of the many structures razed. In the days that followed, as the family pieced together their belongings and began re-making their home, class IV student Jyoti and her siblings played a game they had never played before. They started building a small house, exactly in the way they had seen their parents rebuild their home each time it had been destroyed. ‘We’ve seen people building houses around us so many times. We thought, why not give it a try’, she said, going on to explain the process chronologically.

First we dug a hole, then we got the sticks together which would form the frame of the house. We had to cut them precisely, breaking them with a spear which we managed to get from one of our family members. We tied the sticks together with a string, and then we attached paper on the roof of the house. It was ready to be used,’ she said confidently. When asked where she managed to get all the material to build this house, she said she used what was lying around her, pieces of her own home and her neighbours, left behind after the demolition.

Another fragile home for play

The makeshift house constructed by Jyoti and her siblings became their play space for the next few days. They would eat and sleep there, and play as if entertaining guests, pretending to cook meals too. The house lasted for another week before the civic authorities arrived for another set of demolitions, razing it to the ground, again. They tried to build another home a few months later, but Jyoti’s brother jumped on it and it broke. The pieces were fed to their stove as dinner was being cooked.

Jyoti and her brothers stand next to the house they have just rebuilt

Experiencing evictions

YUVA’s recent report highlights how, since 2015, forced evictions in Navi Mumbai have drastically risen. While communities never evicted since being formed in the early 90s were now being evicted for the first time, those who were evicted twice a year earlier experienced twice-a-month evictions in 2016, largely driven by infrastructure development plans, metro railway constructions, and city beautification projects. In the case of Mata Ramai Nagar, located on City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) land, the Panvel Municipal Corporation drove evictions.

Given the frequent spate of evictions, children are no longer unfamiliar with these processes. ‘Many a time, we have had to go for work even when there was a threat of eviction, else our employers threatened to fire us. The children at home packed up our belongings and kept it outside the house to reduce our losses,’ says Sunita Sawar, Jyoti’s aunt, who works as house help in the nearby areas. During one eviction drive, as Jyoti was running away from the bulldozers, three nails got lodged in her feet. ‘I ran towards her to rescue her, and received blows from the municipal authority in return,’ said her grandmother.

Repeated evictions have often led to loss of school books and uniforms. ‘Fed up with these mounting losses, once we walked to the local MLA’s house with the children, spending the night on the road to protest against the injustice caused to us. He didn’t meet us,’ said Sunita. When asked how they respond to evictions, Pooja, Jyoti’s cousin mentioned how she feels scared. At Mata Ramai Nagar they would be stranded in at the time of evictions, with the railway tracks on one side of them and constructions on the other side. There was no place to go. Many people were also jailed during the time of evictions, especially the men.

Adjusting to home away from home

Jyoti outside her home

On the day we met Jyoti, she returned home from school with her siblings at 5 pm. As we waited for her in the family’s temporary one-room structure at Khanda Colony, talking to her parents, aunt and grandmother, all of whom live together, they told us why they were living there now. The rains had ravaged their former home, and it was impossible to live there. A builder on the same site had created a construction which was directing water into their homes and those of their neighbours. Already, some people in the neighbourhood had slipped, fallen into the water and died. The family considers themselves lucky that they could move here for the rainy months. ‘Snakes and scorpions were entering the house. It was becoming really unsafe. Besides, the children were constantly falling sick in that damp and wet house,’ says Sunita.

The current house is not bereft of dampness either. The walls are thinly plastered, with large gaps in between. But they have access to electricity here, something that was denied to them in their former home. ‘We lived in a pucca house earlier but it was demolished. We have lived in Mata Ramai Nagar since 2002. When we moved, there were just 10–12 families in the area. Over the years, the settlement increased in size and currently there are approximately 150–200 households there,’ said Ratna, Jyoti’s mother.

The family’s earnings are mostly spent on food and medicines. The 11 family members residing in the one-room structure are cramped for space. ‘We have struggled a lot through our lives. We only hope that with the education they receive our children can build a better life and home for themselves,’ says Ratna.

Going to school

Jyoti’s current school is over 4 km away from their house. The 5 siblings (including Jyoti and her cousins) pile onto 2 cycles, driving them amidst the traffic on the roads. The parents worry about their safety on the road, but they are unable to provide any other option for them. Once they are back from school, the children go to fill water in the neighbourhood. Then they sit down to complete their homework and if they get any more time they watch some TV. ‘We miss our friends from Mata Ramai Nagar. Some of them have returned to their village, others are still living there. A few of them come over here sometimes and we play catch or kho-kho with them,’ says Jyoti.

Frequently displaced

Jyoti’s family is just one of hundreds getting regularly evicted from a place they call home. In Navi Mumbai, families experiencing these threats number in thousands. While Jyoti’s family has been lucky to find another temporary home and the children have been able to continue with school, others are not so fortunate. When the house is razed down, children frequently find themselves homeless and out of school given their displacement, the increased distance from school (if resettled elsewhere), and the losses suffered. The lack of data on the number of children affected during evictions highlights the invisibilisation of the issue and the glaring gap waiting to be addressed.

In such situations, what is unthinkable often becomes a part of reality. Children learn how to build a home; those around them don’t react to this enactment, knowing how evictions frequent their daily lives.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhoods – Gulsabha Idrisi

“Mujhe ek alag kamra chahiye… I want a separate room of my own. There should be a separate toilet, kitchen and study room for us at home,” appeals 12 year old Gulsabha from Ambedkar Chowk in Ambujwadi, Mumbai who lives in constant threat of her home being evicted.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#UprootedChildhood: Growing Up With Evictions

Bulldozers. Crumbling walls. Rubble. Fallen electric poles. Lost possessions. Vanished memories. Broken childhoods. A home lost forever.

In 2018, Housing and Land Rights Network published a factsheet—2.6 lakh people were forcefully evicted across rural and urban India in 2017. This was a ‘conservative’ estimate, they said, and the actual figures are likely to be much higher. The evictions took place despite the government’s Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Housing for All by 2022 Mission). Evictions were carried out, often without following standard processes (such as giving the community adequate notice before demolishing their houses). Resettlement, if at all, has been in inadequate, cramped, unsafe, and unhealthy surroundings.

The feeling of standing as audience while your home gets pulled down, scurrying to fetch the last of your belongings that you can get your hands on, and the trauma of having to accept that your home will never be your home again is unfathomable to those who have never experienced it. Imagine these effects on children, who constitute about 40% of an informal settlement’s population.

To those insulated from such realities, evictions may seem justified in the name of city beautification, and ‘development’ plans for urban centres. After all, the goal of creating world-class, slum-free cities has been broadcast in mainstream media and drilled into popular imagination in different ways and formats. The roads seem so crowded anyway with these ‘encroachers’ and ‘illegal’ citizens, who often don’t have to pay any taxes (never mind their earning potential). Why should we clamour for their housing rights, when our own housing space is becoming a luxury?

We need to talk because forced evictions constitute gross human rights violations, particularly the right to adequate housing. Far from providing marginalised people access to better lives, they are the tools propagating the poverty cycle further, ensuring that the inequality gap gets larger, not just in terms of wealth distribution, but access to basic facilities and services too.

Evictions are an everyday phenomenon in our fast developing nation, and children its worst victims. From denial of food, water, health, education, a number of child rights are violated when children are evicted from their homes and left homeless. The sudden loss of a secure home, being uprooted from a familiar community, exposure to harsh weather, loss of schooling, child labour, unsafe conditions … the list of wrongs inflicted on children is endless.

Millions of children grow up watching their houses being demolished and rebuilt over years of hard labour, only to be demolished again …. and such fortunes are faced by their children too as the cycle repeats itself unceasingly.

When a home is demolished, years of effort to set up a dignified life come crashing within a second. Children watch their parents standing helplessly as homes are brought down; these impacts on their mental and physical state are unknown.

Evictions cause great damage to and loss of household possessions. School books and uniforms go missing, sometimes they are even confiscated, along with other items. Hard-won certificates and awards are lost. Families often end up losing their legal entitlements, making it difficult for them to access basic services (such as a water/electricity connection) in future.

Rehousing provisions, if any, are often at distant, often unfamiliar locations. Families are forced to occupy cramped living quarters in rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) sites, without adequate light and air. Their ‘subhuman’ living arrangements have increased the incidence of tuberculosis, and other diseases.

Children have often reported feeling unsafe in these ‘vertical slums’, locked up in rooms where no one can hear them if they feel threatened, unlike the open structure of their erstwhile settlements. Rape and abuse of children is rampant, unless checked. Further, sanitation issues are aplenty in the R&R sites. Girls, especially, have no access to play spaces and are restricted home, stunting their physical development.

With R&R sites located far from their former localities, children’s schools become inaccessible. Parents, forced to seek alternative livelihood opportunities after being resettled in faraway sites, find it difficult to make ends meet. The losses suffered and lack of a stable income often lead to children dropping out of schools.

Once children are out of school, they often take to work to supplement the family income. Many of them work long hours, often in hazardous conditions, subject to the whims and fancies of their employers. They are overworked yet underpaid, spending their meagre earnings on food or drugs. A recent study suggests how majority rescued child labourers have gone back to work over time, given inadequate rehabilitation processes.

Older children, especially girls, often become caregivers in the family from a young age. With the parents forced to work long hours, the responsibility of caring for the younger siblings rests on their shoulders.

In a few more years, even before they have got a chance to enjoy their childhood, the young ‘caregivers’ are married off. Following their early marriage, the girls settle in new informal settlements, where they continue to struggle for their rights.

Unfortunately, the eviction cycle does not spare their new homes either. Civic authorities arrive in due course, informal settlements are razed, and the community is left to pick up the pieces of their life and restart again. This may be someone’s tenth experience of eviction. It is also the first time a child watches helplessly as his house is brought down.

#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern—the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods.

#MalalaDay- An Illustrated Story Of The Most Potent Voice For Girls’ Education

As we await the release of Gul Makai, a biopic on young Malala Yousafzai, here is a tribute to this lion-hearted girl who champions a cause that transcends boundaries, caste, religion and geography and whose spirit of resilience is ingrained in every child. The youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, she survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, who shot her through her head when she was only 13, for advocating for girls’ education. Despite this, Malala continues to be one of the most vocal advocates for the education and empowerment of all girls.

“No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change the picture,” said Malala on her 16th birthday at a speech she delivered at the United Nations.

On Malala day, we share with you this beautifully illustrated depiction of her inspiring life. More power to Malala. More power to millions of girls and children all across the world who perform extraordinary acts of courage each day, in their own unique way.






Illustrated story by Zenpencils 

Selling tiaras

Bhai of Grant Road

Littler humans

Photo Queen

Gudiya

People Shouldn’t Live In Slums

Today is chutti

Live in peace

Team lagaan

Working for aunty

Ice-cream

My sister’s photo

My best friend

Tyre and stick

I love Marine Drive

Sibling love

Main chor pakdoonga

Smiiile

Off to grandma’s

To the washroom

India must win

Batman

“Where are you coming from?”
“I went to get a packet of milk.”
“Why are you wearing a mask?”
“I don’t want my identity to be disclosed, because carrying ‘mummy ke orders’ is a confidential task. My friend batman has also taught me that while doing a good deed, wear a mask!”
“Do you do this everyday?”
“Yes…almost! But no one understands how difficult it is. You gotta save the milk from unseen dangers like random doggies who want to drink it and the chance of the milk spilling over where giant black cars with yellow stripes rule the road!”
“Haha! Don’t most people wonder why you’re wearing a mask?”
“Grown ups have such an illogical way of thinking sometimes..! They think I have some diseases because I’m wearing a mask. Can’t they seen I’m a superhero like Batman who delivers milk for Maa? Ok! I’m in a rush, I have to deliver this to Maa!”