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.
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.
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).
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.”
“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.