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Everyday Life

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A visit to a slum area 

- Niklas Toivakainen & Merita Miftari

Niklas and Merita visited Okhla area in south Delhi in mid-March. Rita Kumari, associated with South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (Saded), has been working among factory workers who live in this area.

Here is a brief report that Niklas filed on Merita and his experiences of visiting the area.

 

This is a short report of our excursion to Rita’s neighbourhood area together with Anita Soni, Rita and a young student. The main purpose of the excursion was to get a glimpse of the everyday life of that area (including a slum area) and of individual life-stories.

Our first visit was to a clothing industry area. We arrived outside a few of the factories during lunch break and had the opportunity to speak to the workers as they were eating outside the factory. We were lucky to have this opportunity since we were not allowed into the factories themselves. All the workers were very eager to tell us about their poor working conditions and wages and we inquired about their opinions and troubles. One of the main problems – as it seemed to us from our discussions with the workers – was that most of them were not employed directly by the factories but rather as outsourced labour through agencies. This seemed to lessen their possibilities of organizing themselves as the structures were complicated and opaque. Also, some of the workers reported that they had lost faith in the unions that they were associated with due to the corruption involved in the unions.

Our next stop was a visit to the slum area. As usually when it comes to slum areas, this one also seemed to mostly be economically dependent on recycling. A big part of the area revolved around recycling fabric waste. As can be guessed, the working conditions were quite poor, with serious health risks involved. Despite this, we got a friendly and cheerful welcome and many were happy to share their stories with us. For instance one woman told us how her home had been demolished by city authorities without any compensation and how she was now forced to live in the leftover ruins of her old house. One of the prides of the neighbuorhood was a young woman who was about to graduate from college and who spoke good English and was able to communicate her dreams and plans directly to us.

We walked along the main street of the slum area and stopped every now and then for chai and to speak with people. One thing we learned about the problem of sanitation was that especially women were forced to walk a good distance in order to defecate. This was especially hard during night time as the road was dark and potentially dangerous because of risk of theft or even rape (just a few days before our visit a young girl under 10 years had been rape on her way to defecate in the evening). Despite all the hardships, the general spirit in the area was good and friendly with a sense of solidarity and strong community values.

After the slum visit Rita invited us to her home and we got to see her residential area. We met many of her friends and were impressed by the strong ties and relations that seemed to exist between people. One of the impressive stories from that residential area was the bullock shepherd. Before the area was converted into a modern urban residential area it was mainly an agricultural area in which, so we were told, being a bullock shepherd had a certain sense of pride to it. Not wanting to lose his sense of identity and pride the shepherd continues to exercise his profession,every day taking his approximately 20 bullocks through the densely populated and constructed area to graze outside to the nearby meadows. It was an impressive sight and a good conclusion to our visit before we headed back to our own safe and “just” lives.

Niklas Toivakainen & Merita Miftari

 

 

 

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