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Mumbai, The City Of Dreams. But Not For Migrant Workers

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By Atharva Pandit:

I came to Mumbai about three months back. My brother works here, he told me that he would find me a job. We are still trying to find one. I had one for a month, as a worker at a construction company, but then I wasn’t needed. I was given 200 rupees for the month I worked. Now I am trying to find a job. I was going to Dadar, and from there to Ghatkopar because my brother works there. He says his manager had called me. I know basic Hindi, and I don’t know anything about the First Class and Second Class thing. I just got into a compartment which had less crowd. The TC caught me. He asked me whether I was new, and I told him yes. I pleaded with him, because I didn’t know anything about this. He asked me to pay the fine. Where can I get the money? I am very poor, I only want to work…”, says Lal Singh, a migrant worker.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

He reminds me of the poet, Lal Singh Dil, who would have quickly penned a poem on his namesake. But I am no poet, and all I could do was listen. Lal Singh sits on the little, uncomfortable bench with this writer and an old man. The Ticket Checker is out, perhaps trying to score some more money for himself. Before he went, however, he told me to sit aside on a bench, because I had already paid my fine, and told the other two- both migrant workers, new to Mumbai, by the looks of it- to empty their pockets. “Whatever you have,” he bellowed, “is a fine now.” After that he lapsed into obscenities for some time, muttering about the consequences, and darted out of the small, wooden and smelly room. A wooden table, a chair, two benches facing each other, a bunch of files and a bored constable stare back at us.

You know what I do? I clean dishes for a Chinese hotel, and they pay me five rupees per utensil. And then sometimes they cut my pay because I broke some glass or dropped some plate, even when I haven’t. And then on Fridays I go to Dadar, where I clean the fan of an Irani kitchen. If its only the fan, he pays me ten, but if I sweep the floor, he pays me twenty. Today I was called at 11, but I woke up late and got into the first class by mistake. Next thing I knew that bastard was dragging me here. But not all of them are like that. I have been caught like this many times. Some are nice, sympathetic…That Irani is going to be mad at me. Last time he called me and then sent me back because he didn’t need the cleaning. The rotis that his cook fries, you know, the smoke darkens his fan, and then he needs me. He calls me, nobody else. No. Just me.”

Krishna Kumar is unhappy about sitting here, because he knows that it would probably stretch on for most of the day. My assumption that he is new to Mumbai is wrong- he has been here since before I was even born. But he has been shuttling between several other cities- Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Mount Abu, Silvassa- for the past two decades, trying his luck as a coolie, as a rickshaw-puller, as a dishwasher, rag-picker…the list goes on. I don’t know how much of what he says is true, but he seems genuine. And he has led a colorful life, too. Now he keeps himself limited between Dadar and Vile Parle.

Lal Singh and Krishna Kumar are only two of the millions of migrant workers residing in Mumbai. In the last three years, the migrant workers residing in Mumbai have shifted more to Central Mumbai, considering the job openings there. Living in slums and hastily made shanties- sometimes not even that- the condition of the migrants in Mumbai is dangerous- and not just for social reasons, but also because they are more vulnerable to diseases. Out of every 1000 migrants coming into the city, 198 are from states outside Maharashtra.

But for what? The employment, evidently, is decreasing, and according to several data sources, nearly fifty percent of migrants reported unemployment and lack of opportunities, the reasons for which could be, but are not limited to, closure and self-employment. Moreover, the laborers have to travel for work in harrowing conditions and in an unfamiliar space. Terribly crowded local trains are, therefore, the only option available.

Mumbai hasn’t treated these people right, I think. They don’t have the money the TC demands, and they would probably have to bribe him for no apparent fault of theirs. The First Class of a Mumbai local is symbolized by some red lines painted across the compartment. But that evidently isn’t enough. The concern, however, is not that the First Class doesn’t have enough signs, but that people, new and unaware like Lal Singh, could enter a First Class because they do not know about the workings of a local train. And then they are hurled out and abused.

The TC says that “they do it all the time” and sometimes even purposefully. I ask him the solution, he shrugs and asks me to get going.

And I get going- running in my mind are the conversations I had with the two individuals, one old, experienced; the other young, yet to face the city. And the city, I think, is going to be brutal to Lal Singh. I feel for him, but I know he is not alone. Like everybody else, he will manage to survive Mumbai.

*The events related by the two migrant workers were not in the order written.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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