By Ayesha Nusrat:
“Are you ALL going to J.J colony, Ghevra?” A woman asked us, with an incredulous look on her face as though we’d asked the driver of the shared auto to take us to the wrong place. When we convinced her that Ghevra was indeed our destination, she said “Achha aap log kisi sanstha se honge” (Oh! So you all have come from some NGO) and before we could respond, her tone and demeanour completely changes and she continues, “haan ji ab toh yahaan NGO wale hi kuch badlaav la sakte hai” (Only NGO can bring some change into the situation here). What she meant by “here” was Ghevra.
A hot Sunday afternoon and that was our first visit to Ghevra – a slum resettlement colony on the fringes of the national capital, a revolting result of the preparation to the commonwealth games. Families and whole settlements were shifted from the heart of the city to this extreme periphery without even the provision of basic drinking water or a primary health centre.
The metro ride to the far end of the city (after which we had to take a shared auto) should’ve been a clue as to what lay ahead. Here, one bids adieu to the magnificence of the city’s huge apartment buildings, malls, office complexes and then a 20 minute ride to Ghevra abruptly projects an image which is a stark contrast to our increasingly “urbanized” and “modernized” city of Delhi.
The very first sight we saw was that of people crowding behind a water truck to get their supply of water. And children brutally honest as they always are, asked out aloud if gathering was due to a fight, which was an incredible eye-opener to the vulnerable situations they live in.
School children and daily workers leave home before daybreak to catch the early morning train which is the only one that links this place to the city. And since the metro is expensive, they cannot afford to miss the same to return home in the evening. We learnt of children contributing to their family’s meager earnings assist in construction work with no safety regulations after school and recently, a child had lost his life a few months back.
While the community members ventured on long daily journeys to the city, where they used to work prior to shifting, the only question that occupied their mind was how will they earn a living now. Most of the population comprised of daily wage earners who didn’t have anywhere else to go now. Many families had no other choice other than leaving their allotted land to return to the hub of the city for livelihood. Sights of deprivation, loss of dignity and lack of opportunities moved us.
We comprehended that urban poverty had its own challenges; clogged drains, poor sanitation, long queues for water, rampant diseases, encroachment on open spaces, garbage strewn everywhere — all of which present a gloomy picture of the “development” done to this “resettlement colony”. And, right before our eyes was an overwhelming evidence of the historical silencing of the disadvantaged.
Ghevra is the reason why months later, I still believe that collective efforts of interfaith social action, maternal health advocacy and malaria prevention can make an incredible impression in changing the status quo. Ghevra challenges us, inspires and instigates — and I couldn’t have asked for a better community to work for.
Image courtesy:Â http://www.architectureindevelopment.org/news.php?id=41
Ayesha is a Faiths Act Fellow of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation working for maternal health projects and malaria prevention in Ghevra, New Delhi.Â To know more about Faiths Act and its work in India, check outÂ their Facebook pageÂ andÂ www.faithsact.org