Life aside the Railway Tracks Destiny decides

“The Railway Authorities tell us who asked you to live here. You have lived here for so long now, Meherbani!(Big Favour). Now go away from here. They have given us a month’s time, till January 15th. We are here in these slums and no one is listening to us. When the voting will happen in February 2016, they will tell us, lakshat teva amchavari, aai, didi, behan (Please keep us in mind, Mother and sisters) they will say everything. But when the elections are over, even the dogs don’t pass by. What else can I tell you?” As I hear the siren of the Mumbai Local train, Amina B. Mohammad Ismaiel, a fifty-five year old grandmother shares her fears of being displaced.

Mumbai, a city that fosters about twenty million people, houses about 41.84% of it’s population in the slums. I visited Shahunagar, in Mahim East. It is a part of Dharavi, the largest slum in the world. As you move on to the east of Mahim Junction, you will see a row of slums besides the railway tracks. These slums form Annamalai Nagar, a galaxy of shanty rooftops with houses not more than 10 by 12 feet big. Saying that they have the luxury of the flat screens, gas stoves and dish antennas (popping out of every rooftop that is) doesn’t stop the problem of a decent housing and sanitation that is a big question. Basic needs are overlooked and not cared for in the bargain satisfying tertiary needs.

Amina tells me that they are now going to extend the railway tracks. Mahim Station has six railway tracks being used on a daily basis with a train passing by every three minutes. The Railways are keen on expanding the station and building a Ticket booking counter on the east of Mahim as well. For this, they would have to displace over 100 families to start work on building new tracks. The families will have to shift to another place but the officials are not taking any responsibility for this major activity. “They have left us no option. Then we will sleep on the tracks with our children.” She says, “And the officials tell us go sleep on the tracks then.”

Amina hails from Basti, a village in Uttar Pardesh. Her mother was from Sri Lanka and in the 1970s, when she was 7 years old, she was brought to Mumbai where she settled with her parents and 6 siblings. She now stays alone with her Son and his children. I asked her if she has any other children. She then points out platform number 4. She tells me that she lost her elder son few years ago. They don’t have a bathroom for excretion. They use the railway tracks. Her son had gone to tracks early morning to defecate when a train ran over him. Most of the slum dwellers here use the tracks as a bathroom. Women have a special timing which is around 4am. If they want to use the restroom during the day, they have to use the Public toilet at Mahim Station in the west which requires them to cross 10 railway tracks. Amina says she is too old to cross over and so uses the tracks or the abandoned area. This abandoned area is at the beginning of the slum, used for defecation.

She says that if the railway officials give them a house it is more than enough. It is the least they can have over their heads. She tells me that such an incident happened in 2009 where they tried evacuating them, but the people took to the tracks. About 140 houses where evacuated and settled around Mankur, Satyashivam and Chamuna Bazar. This time the Railway officials are not willing to give us anything.

Basic amenities of water, electricity, food, health and education are not as freely available as consumer goods like washing machine, flat screen televisions, induction stoves and microwave ovens. Being in one of the most commercialized city in the world, these comforts are not alien to them. However, education, health and sanitation are heavily compromised. Until 2007 when they got an electricity box, they used candle sticks.

Coming up in the area was not an easy task. I spoke to Remath Unmisa, a 50 year old grand-mother. She has 2 sons and a married daughter. Remath’s second son, Asif has finished his schooling up to standard 10 and done in a diploma course in Motor Mechanics. He and his friends are on the lookout for a job for a year now without success. Some owners say that they hail from a bad locality or don’t show faith in their capability. Priya Mathre, Remath’s married daughter tells me about her brother, Asif;“They have gone to Thane, Vasai, Vikroli, Andheri for a job. They have studied. But not got a job. They were sitting at home for a year and then later brought shoes and started selling them.” Remath now feels that higher studies are losing value among the slum children.

Peter Jimmy Barrow, who has been living here for 33 years now feels the same about his grand-son, Pareshan Shivkumar Nayakar. Pareshan is about 20 years old. His face was bruised up when I met him with two stiches on his head. There were burnt marks on his wrist. He is a drug addict for the past three years. When he was child in the fourth grade in Mahim Municipality School, the teacher beat him up. From that day on, he did not go to school at all. He now works at building Marriage Pendals.

Jimmy has four sons, of which two have passed away. One of them died in a railway accident. His wife has been sick for a year now and most of their savings have gone on her sickness. Jimmy runs a tea shop for their daily living where he makes not more than 50 to 100 rupees a day. He says most of it goes to their grandsons.

Jimmy was the Secretary of Annamali Nagar in his young days. He shows me pictures of the area, the water they had to fill at 6am carrying it across six railway tracks and the security guard that he was at Wankade Stadium.

Jimmy looks at the railway tracks and tells me that nearly seven to eight people die a week on these tracks, most of them being the local slum dwellers. Water, a resource used in daily activity of washing, cleaning and cooking was an expensive affair. First, the water connection was provided on platform one. It would at 6am and last for an hour. They had to cross the tracks with pots on their head at the cost of their lives.

Today, it the narrow lanes of Annamali Nagar where only a body can fit at a time, you see a series of water pipes running into the people’s houses of those who can afford their own water meter. Others have to pay a sum of 300 rupees to get the water from those who have the meter.

Amina, Rehmat and Jimmy have their ration, adhar and voter’s ID cards to this address where they are going to be evacuated from. They have risked their lives staying aside but they say they can’t afford losing their houses. Life aside the tracks for many like them have been destiny, good or bad, which the tracks decide.

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