By Drishti Chhibber:
The Delhi University has a socio-cultural group called ‘Aarohi’ which works towards making this society a brighter and happier place to live in. They arrange monthly medical camps, old clothes donation drive, movie screenings, stage street plays and also hold discussions on various diverse topics in slum areas. Just one trip to the slums with them and you’ll never be the same.
It’s so strange that a place just a few kilometres from our University seems like a completely different world. There is this strange line that divides US and THEM. The fact that a metro line could even take me to such a place, showing me what disparity actually is and how lucky I am, was astonishing.
A handful of students from DU went down to some slums in Lalbagh and helped in setting up a medical camp there. First step into those slums and it was like entering another portal. Sights such as dirty stagnant water, clogged drains, narrow lanes, cramped houses and heaps of garbage welcomed us. Seeing us (maybe we seemed as strange to them as they seemed to us), the residents gathered all around us telling us about their grievances. We tried telling them that we are just a bunch of students who can only try making their voices be heard by the right people.
Water! First problem they talked about was of water. Being the rainy season there was standing water everywhere, spreading all kinds of water borne diseases. People didn’t have clean drinking water. The toilets there were in pathetic conditions. Half of them had no doors and the ones that had doors had no latches. Little kids had to go to the roadside public toilets which are equally bad and the one decent looking public toilet in the slums is still locked because of some government problem. The living conditions of the houses were equally bad. A family of six people lived in a cramped room. It was so small that you can’t even imagine how six people could possibly fit in there. Down at the Government ration store there was a line of customers all echoing the same complaint about how they are duped by the storekeepers. According to Government rules they are supposed to get 35 kg of wheat but get only 20 kg. Same is the story of rice, sugar and oil rations.
Seeing small kids living in those conditions was heart breaking. When I asked them whether they went to school, they proudly said yes and took me to their school. The school was just a small structure and classrooms had no desks. There was no ground for the kids to play in. A liquor shop works right next to the school and on Sundays, when the school is closed, men use the building to play cards and gamble.
Just a few hours in those slums made me feel suffocated. Imagine people spending their whole lives there. We may have criticised Slumdog Millionaire, a lot about how it showed just the bad side of India, but aren’t we just trying to cover the reality that the bad side does exist? Slum development needs to work on a better level.Â Government has taken some steps but they need to be implemented well. It’s up to people like us to help the poor and voice their laments. It’s up to us to blur the lines between US and THEM.