Slums aren’t a rare sight in Mumbai. But every time I came across one, only two things came up to my mind – how did these illegal structures come up and how do people manage without basic amenities like water and sanitation? But I never pondered about it beyond that.
Through my internship at the 4th wheel, I got an opportunity to have a closer look at slums of Sion-Koliwada in Mumbai. Through field work, we interacted with over 120 shopkeepers in the F- North 175 ward of Mumbai. The survey aimed to collect demographic and establishment details, and understand their problems related to seasons, employees, supply chain, sources of finance, profit, savings pattern, water and electricity provisions and waste management.
The study was under the scope of the primary baseline study for Mumbai 360, a pilot project by United Way Mumbai, working specifically on six parameters: Education, Health, Livelihood, Environment, Public Safety and Social Inclusion. Understanding the community through their standing on these six parameters helps to move beyond looking at social problems in isolation, having one specific cause. It is based on the rationale that multi-pronged and holistic interventions are necessary to create a permanent social change.
My interaction with the community members left me amused. People in these areas had adapted to live with several problems. They did not demand for 24 hours of water or access to individual toilets. In fact, many did not see it as a problem. However, I could sense some desolation in the community. Further interactions revealed that their problems do not deal with the environment; rather they focus more on the means of earning and livelihood. Lack of funds to start a business, drug abuse amongst youth, and lack of direction regarding career choices troubled them. Safety concerns were also prevalent in the locality.
In contrast to this, when I dealt with data from affluent families in the locality, most of them commented that cleanliness is a major issue in the region. They stated that it is the lack of awareness amongst the slum communities which results in poor waste management. They also mentioned that the major issue of residents of slums is poor hygiene, cleanliness and health conditions. While the slum residents wanted a means to earn their daily bread, those from affluent families focused more on the environment.
My experience at the 4th wheel working on this study has made me cognizant of the hierarchy of needs present in the society. It also made me realize the importance of undertaking a baseline study in the area. It was necessary to interact with and understand their needs. One cannot start a project for the welfare of the people with just assumptions about the problems of the community and no experience or data to substantiate it. Only through proper profiling of the community, and understanding their opinions, problems and needs can we work on building solution-centric interventions to help the community.
- Samyukta Sankaralingam, Intern (IIM Indore)