#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.

Photo Credits : Yuva

Words By : Yuva

Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) is a non-profit development organisation that helps vulnerable groups access their rights. YUVA encourages the formation of people’s collectives to engage them in the development discourse. This work is complemented with advocacy and policy recommendations. Set up in Mumbai in 1984, currently YUVA operates in 5 Indian states.

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