By Vandita Sariya:
I visited a slum near the bus stand in R.K. Puram, Sector-12, Delhi that consists of some houses made out of tarpaulin and cement. The houses surround a huge open drain. Filled with tons of garbage, the slum has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other bacteria. When I tried to converse with the residents of the slum, they were initially suspicious. But I ended up having a conversation with them for half an hour.
I asked them about their livelihood. They had been cheated off the basic amenities in the slum. During times of chikungunya and dengue, I also asked them about the preventive measures they had taken to keep themselves safe from such viral diseases. The only thing they did was light a fire. The smoke from the fire drove the mosquitoes away.
It’s not just the threat of disease which is a huge issue in a slum like this one. Basic facilities like electricity, water, education, sanitation and health continue to be a privilege for people living in such slums
The unavailability of electricity makes it necessary for them to complete their household chores before sunset. One of the ladies told me that her daughter’s name was Karishma. I jokingly asked if her name was Karishma Kapoor. After I saw the blank expression on her face, I realised that she might not have seen much TV to know the Bollywood actress.
The slum has no source of fresh water. A pipeline goes across the slum and a leakage from the pipeline is the only water they have access to. The drain is used for washing clothes, taking baths, cleaning utensils
and collecting drinking water. They don’t boil the water before drinking as it saves fuel wood which is used for cooking and light. Sometimes residents use that drain as a toilet as well.
Government schools are far away and not all parents can send their children to school as it is inconvenient. Teachers in schools are not strict at all. Children are not given any homework. The kids have no idea what they are being taught. They tear their notebooks up and nobody scolds them. A woman living in the slum said, “My daughter goes there and I know she doesn’t learn anything.”
“Forget about electricity and water, we’ll work our way around it. But for these little kids, please get a teacher. So that at least they can board the right bus to go places. If you ask them to write alphabets, they will write a single alphabet for four pages and not understand what it means,” another woman added.
Many work as labourers at construction sites in Motibagh. Their work includes making tiles for toilets and washrooms. Despite being responsible for the construction of toilets in the houses of other people, they have no choice but to defecate in the open as they do not have facilities of a proper drainage system.
It’s not just sanitation, the general health of the residents isn’t taken care of either. I got to know that a few days back, two guys came with the promise of setting up a medical camp. They wrote everybody’s name from the slum and assured quick action. But the medical camp has not been setup yet.
“They (govt. hospitals) never provide us with free or subsidised medicines and ask us to get it from the shops outside the hospitals. And then we have to compromise by not having food for a day or two. The ones who don’t have ration cards will get it during elections,” said Premwanti, a woman residing in the slum.
Despite leading a life full of challenging circumstances, the residents of the slum hold no grudges against anyone. Premwanti said, “Yes, survival is hard. But we’ll get through. There are just two things one shouldn’t do. Don’t steal and don’t snatch. Beg if you need to. But don’t hurt anyone.” Fulfilment of basic needs is the right of every citizen and it’s high time that everyone gets access to a house, electricity and clean food and water. Maybe we can start with this slum in R.K Puram.