Nazifa Kachi was playing with her friends in the Bombay Port Trust (BPT), when she noticed something odd about her neighbour.
“Her eyes were all swollen,” she said. “She told me that her husband and his family beat her up with a belt. I tried to tell her to file a police case, but she just ran away the next day.”
That wasn’t the first time Nazifa saw women in her community beaten and bruised by their husbands. Even as an 11-year-old, she is no stranger to the horrors of domestic violence because it occurred right where she lived.
The BPT is a community located along the coastline of Mumbai. Nearly 100,000 families live on the land in less than humane conditions. Since the BPT is an illegal slum, residents are not provided with basic necessities like water and electricity – and have to pay 50 to 200 times more for inconsistent access to those amenities than more affluent citizens. The possibility of the government destroying the shanties looms over the residents every day, and demolition in some areas has already begun.
The BPT’s problems don’t stop there. Social issues and inequality run rampant through the community. Mumbai has seen a 354% increase in rapes since 2011 – many of these taking place with alarming regularity in slums like the BPT. Because of this, parents have to be very careful about letting their daughters leave the home for short errands or play-dates with friends. Even a walk to the school can be dangerous.
Nazifa’s family isn’t originally from the BPT. They migrated from a village in Gujarat for her father to work in the naval port. When asked if she liked her community, she was quick to shake her head and say no. Her father works as a helper in the local port, earning ₹7000 a month. Her mother is a home-maker. The four of them live in a small shanty – one of the many that stand squeezed to each other in the darkened, open-drained alleys of the BPT.
“I don’t like the fact that the teenage boys and men use drugs and sexually harass women,” she said. “I want to make a change and tell people that drugs and alcohol are bad and involve the police, because it leads to worse things. Violence and fights happen a lot here.”
Since her parents and her 4-month-old brother now call BPT ‘home’, Nazifa is determined to make a difference.
Nazifa has been a Magic Bus participant for four years and is in class 5. Every week, she and her friends attend Magic Bus sessions delivered by mentors from her community.
“When Nazifa enrolled, she was silent and shy,” said Shanti Ravi, the BPT Magic Bus community coordinator. “Now she is taking initiative for issues in the community she cares about. I’m amazed. She’s so young and already doing this.”
Nazifa’s mentors are her favorite part about Magic Bus, and she said that they have been helpful on her journey for justice. Their job is to deliver important sessions to participants, such as the importance of health and gender equality, but they have also helped Nazifa. She said that after she complained to them about the violence in the community, Magic Bus’ staff raised awareness in local families and children that domestic violence is a dehumanising and criminal offence in India.
“In the sessions, Nazifa reflects those lessons and wants quick action,” Ravi said.
Magic Bus also takes participants to the local police station, where they interact with officers. Nazifa befriended one of the officers and got their phone number in case she saw another incident of domestic violence.
“She is the only girl around here who does this kind of thing,” Ravi said.
Nazifa has big dreams for the future – both for her community and personally. She aspires to have a career in the medical field and will be the first in her family to go to college. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to help those around her. “The reason I want to be a doctor is to be able to help all those in need. In BPT, we see children and adults suffering from so many diseases because of the unhygienic conditions in which they are forced to live in.”
“When I’m a doctor I will help these women,” she said. “For now, I will do what I can. I want to make sure they’re okay and I want people here to be happy.”
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Featured image used for representative purposes only.