Bound by a concrete jungle stands a humongous slum – balancing at least 10,000 families on a bridge, beneath which gushes a stream, carrying sewage from all around the city.
The groundwater in and around the area of the Jaijai Nagar in Noida is as polluted as the air quality in that area. It is polluted by the sewage which rots near the bridge on which the slum stands tall. The contaminated water, mixed with the sewage, enters the ground and makes it dirty – the same ground on which the inhabitants have installed pumps for their houses.
Renu Pradhan, the 48-year-old head of the slum, scraped the inner rim of the water bucket with her fingers to show the quality of the water. It left a black stain on them. “We drink this water every day. Our children are suffering from all kinds of diseases. My husband has ulcers, which makes it hard for him to consume anything,” she says. In the case of an emergency, they rush to a public health centre (PHC), which is five kilometres away. There is a private hospital nearby, but it is too expensive to be afforded by a common person.
Renu’s daughter-in-law hid behind her. When asked about her recent miscarriage, she shied away from the conversation. Renu told us that she had a miscarriage because of the bad water quality. Unlike other slums, Anganwadi workers hardly ever pay a visit to their area to provide iron and calcium capsules or to educate women about their health during their pregnancy.
When asked about the action taken by the authorities, she replied that the slum is unauthorised – and this is the reason why the authorities pay no heed to their requests and threaten to vandalise their slum if they complain against them. There is a total failure on the part of the government contesting in this particular area. Taking advantage of the fact that the slum has been made on unauthorised land, no water pipeline has been connected to this area, while the adjacent area receives its water from a pipeline.
Since match-stick sized houses can’t accommodate a toilet inside them, open defecation has become a common practice in this area. Women sit in a row near the sewage line to freshen themselves up early in the morning, before anyone wakes up. When asked about basic personal hygiene, their faces looked puzzled.
Most of them still use cloth instead of sanitary napkins and have no knowledge of the product. With their meagre wages, they say, they cannot afford the luxury of using a sanitary napkin, which costs around ₹10 per piece. They wash and use the same cloth over and over again, risking their lives to infections and other health issues. The word condom is not entirely alien to them, but they have little knowledge about it. “My husband gets gas due to condoms,” said Asha Kumari, a 28-year-old daily wager.
In addition to the health issues engulfing the entire village, drug abuse by children between the ages of nine to 16 is quite prevalent. Through the narrow lanes of the slum, Akash Pradhan, the son of the village head, took us to the area where children of his age abuse drugs and lie around, wasted. “Their parents have enrolled them in a school nearby, but hardly anyone ever goes there. They sit around this area doing absolutely nothing at all,” he said.
He caught hold of a boy, who looked 10 or 11 years old. When we asked him about the drugs, he denied consuming them every day. But later, he told us that he abuses drugs when his parents leave the home early in the morning to go to their respective jobs. Every day, he gets up early to collect the garbage. Without mentioning the word ‘drugs’, he went on to explain his everyday routine. “My mother works as a maid, and my father is a daily wager at a construction site. They leave early in the morning and come back late at night. I tell them I go to the school every day – but instead, we all come to this place to enjoy,” he said.
Akash Pradhan told us that a medical store nearby sells them cough syrup over the counter. When confronted about the same, the owner denied the allegations. Once, the people in the slum and the parents of those children caught him selling these children syrups red-handed, and he was badly beaten up. But, he still continues to sell it.
As we moved further, a shop selling spare parts caught our attention, as seemingly underage children were working there. The shopkeeper later told us that these kids are always high on some unknown drugs. They just sit in his shop and play with iron rods which are of no use to him. These kids sometimes take away these scraps to earn ₹50-60. “A lady sells them a packet of ganja for ₹50,” claimed the man who owned the shop.
Looking at the cramped roads of the slum from a distance, the future of this slum seems to be as dark as the colour of the water they consume.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.