“Broken Wings”: A Visit to a Slum Area in Delhi

Posted on March 15, 2012 in Society

By Ravi Nitesh:

Dhobi Ghat, a slum area with a majority of Muslim population, is situated on the banks of river Yamuna, near Batla House, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, and inhabits around 150 families. These families are mostly deprived and poor, surviving with a low literacy rate, malnutrition, hunger and lack of sanitation.

Children playing with garbage on the banks of river Yamuna

Khudai Khidmatgar had organized a youth camp under the guidance of social activist Faisal Khan, with its objective of ‘service of God’ on 26th February 2012, for the families of Dhobi Ghat. There were 20 volunteers in this campaign. I was one of them to experience the ground conditions of this area.

One of the most shocking facts discovered was that no civil society group/ government officials had ever visited them, even though this area is in the capital city and is situated near Jamia Nagar. How is it possible that NGOs who get crores of rupees to work in slums, to eradicate poverty, to fight malnutrition, to raise voices for rights, to campaign for education etc; have never visited this area, I wondered.  

My report here is dedicated to those ignored people, written with the hope that their condition will become better gradually through joint efforts of the government, civil society and through their own actions.

In my first sight of this area, I saw children playing, not with modern era toys, but with plastic bags immersed in waste, garbage of rivers etc.

Mohammad Jais: Bada Hoke Doctor Banunga (Will become a doctor)

I met Muhammad Jais, the only school-going boy among the 12 families that I had met. I asked him why he was going to school and what he would want to become when he grew up. His reply was unexpected. He smiled…‘’Doctor’’, he replied, in a low pitch. Probably, he thought that his desire would be seen as a joke. He was so dirty with his clothes, but had such a fresh perspective — he was so “unhygienic” in the physical condition, but so pure from the heart. His mother proudly smiled, though the pain was evident. The pain was her foresight, by which she was almost completely sure about the future of her child. Her heart was breaking in parts at the same moment… she believed that her child would never be able to become a doctor due to their poverty, though at the same time, another part of the heart believed in the ways of God — one moment she resolved to put in all her hard work into ensuring that her boy’s dreams would come true; another moment she realised how little rested on her hands, and how cruel fate had been in the past and would continually remain so. Sensing her discomfort and disillusionment, I tried to divert her attention with a question.

Mohammed Jais with his younger brother

“What do you want?’’. She expressed her concern over the problems of drinking water. Yes, safe drinking water is still not available to those people. On an average, each family consumes 30 litres of water per day for drinking and cooking purposes. The women of the houses keep plastic gallons with them, and they go to nearby colonies, (mostly to the houses where they work as maids) to bring water. Sabana tells me that in many occasions, she hears hear abuses from the rich people because they get irritated from the acts of ‘’water begging’’. (Watch video).

Water Woes

During our visit, we found some hand pumps that were installed in a few places, which some residents were using as bath water. When I inquired about them, I was told that these hand pumps had been installed by residents themselves, but the water that came out from the hand pumps was very dirty and impossible to use for cooking and drinking purposes. They showed us a plastic bucket that was yellow-coloured in the inside, because of the hand pump water (see picture). River Yamuna is adjacent to this jhuggi Area, and thus water at the ground level, though available, is not clean. Water is an important subsistence commodity, and the denial of safe drinking water is a violation of Right to Life. Getting safe drinking water is the right of every citizen of this country regardless of his/her economical and social status.

Plastic bucket inside’s surface affected due to dirty water


Anyone can tell that children of this area are not getting proper food, and that they live a life different from that of other children from an average family living in Delhi. This difference is a clear reflection of the inequality in society, and will affect their psychology that may ruin their constructive growth.

A balanced diet?


It was also seen that the 150 families don’t have toilets. They have to go on the bank of the river to relieve themselves. It is shameful to know that the government and local authorities have been unable to even build a community toilet facility or a mobile toilet van for the use of the people. There is no proper drainage, even in the form of pits, available in the area. Waste is accumulated at many places in the region. This condition breeds various diseases and infections.


"Open Toilets"


Disaster: Flood

The area is situated in low-lying land, and therefore, during monsoon seasons, water starts filling in this area (through rains and flooding of Yamuna River). People migrate from this area to high-lying places nearby, for a month or two, and later return to this area. This is their story of every year.

Poverty and Environmental Concerns

They don’t have any cooking fuel, cylinders etc. They use ‘Chulhas’ (burners made of soil) and use fuel wood. It increases carbon emissions, as a result.

Conventional Cooking


The governance system is disorganised — some people have a ration card, some don’t. Some have a health card, some don’t. And even after having a ration card, people don’t get ration in every month and whenever they do, are provided with a quantity less than what they are entitled to.

Talking to the people of this region was a different experience altogether. They were so polite and genuinely-hospitable, while they were in deep pain; they had accepted their state with a quiet surrender. They didn’t have any hope but still they expressed their problems with us. And I remember the lines of Mohammad Yunus ‘’Sahab, hum toh vote bhi dete hain, kaam bhi karte hain, immandaari se rehte bhi hain; par sarkaar ko hamara koi dhyan nahee, aakhir aap bataiye hamare vote dene ka kya fayda mil raha hai humko? (Sir, we cast our vote, we work too, we live with honesty, but government doesn’t care us, please you tell what benefit we are getting after using our vote?’’), and to that, I was speechless, I couldn’t gather the heart to tell him that value of vote is same only in principle, but in practice its weight differs.

(Views are personal and based on visit and personal interaction with persons of the area)