Saturday, December 1, 2012

The garland makers of a Delhi slum

It's quite startling when you come across the beauty of fresh flowers in a slum. 

There are more than 30 families here in this shanty town near the Sai Mandir.
It is a cottage industry, where people work with flowers.
Look closely at the street behind this lady. It has semi-permanent ramshackle structures. The houses are made of bricks, with asbestos for roofs. There is a man sleeping on a really narrow make-shift bench on the right.

A blue tarpaulin strung between the house and the street wall
provides shade and protection from rain.
A lot of things that more prosperous Dilliwallahs throw away are recycled by the slums. In the photo below, note the door which is made of recycled wood. Two pieces of waste plywood have been nailed together using other waste wood scrap pieces, to make one big door. Water is stored in buckets and recycled cans. There is a gunny-bag hanging on the left which once used to hold cement, but now is used as a container.
In the slum, recyling is a necessity, not a virtue.
The white floorboard which covers the gaping hole in the road
is probably an extra tile from a construction site.
And yet, despite the poverty, the people who work here have regular incomes not just for their basic needs, but also to go to the cinema, or to send children to school. One of the primary reasons is that there are multiple earning members in the  family, many of whom are women. 
Where the women earn money, the earnings go directly towards the
welfare of the family (instead of being squandered on drink).

In the Indian cultural context, the easiest way to prosperity is
if women can work in cottage industries, where they have more 
control over how to balance their work and family needs.
Finished product, ready for sale at the temple.
Marigolds are the most popular flowers in India used for prayer as well as decoration.

Here is a street view of the "main road" of this slum. It is twice the width of the side lanes. There are shops here, selling provisions and small daily needs items like tea, biscuits, soap and shampoo sachets. The branded FMCG companies have all learnt the importance of having small sachet sizes, starting at 5 rupees. Cycles and motor-cyles are parked here.

Electricity is probably being siphoned off from the electric pole you see in the far background. 
There are many dangling overhead cables, probably for  television and cable TV. 
Television is the main source of entertainment and information in almost all slums
One of the shops on this main street is a tailor. You can see the illegal wires that provide electricity for this shop. The tailor has an assistant, so it's not just a one-man show. Maybe they take jobs not just for the local slum, but also sub-jobs from other places.

Life in this part of Delhi is not easy, but to the people who live here, it is still better
than the conditions they have left behind in their villages when they migrated
to Delhi. Here at least, they can work and earn and hope for a better future.
Nobody really knows the size of Delhi's slum population. I wrote an article about it here, in case you want to read about the various types of slums in the city. Of the total population of about 20 million (National Capital Region), there's one scary estimate that says 52% live in slums. Another estimate says that Delhi's slum population is growing at a rate which is 4.5 times that of its non-slum population. 

Since I don't see these trends changing, I have come to the obvious conclusion: Slums are a fact of life in Indian cities, they are here to stay. A slum-dweller is not a beggar scrounging for dole; he or she is most often a migrant who has a job of some sort and is hoping for a better life in the city. We cannot wish away  migration. We are therefore faced with the problem of how to keep providing for all the new entrants who pour in every day. So far, the answer has been a less than satisfactory response from the planning authorities with haphazard "resettlement colonies". That isn't really working. Time for Delhi to think up some better answers.


ABTC said...

nice article
thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

very informative and to see how hard life is in the slums and how people cope...
great article

deseng said...

Came across this blog post while looking for photography locations in Delhi. Nice one and unusual too. Where is this slum?

deseng said...

Came across this blog post while looking for photography locations in Delhi. Nice one and unusual too. Where is this slum?