Daily Archives: July 16, 2018

#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.