The “slum” neighborhoods are something that many individuals are curious about when it comes to India. One can read many articles from newspapers to magazines and books about this living, but today I had the opportunity to go on a walking tour of the largest slum in New Delhi and see firsthand what it really is like living here.
An overview picture of part of it before we entered the community.
My friend, Hiromi, from Japan had told me about a non-profit organization that she had heard about from another Japanese friend that did this “slum walking tour”. I am grateful to her for the invitation to join her because it is one of those experiences that will leave an impression on me for the rest of my life. No pictures are allowed to be taken inside the slum so I was only able to take a few on the outside. The pictures could speak much better words than I can write, but I am going to try to give you just a few things that I learned from the experience.
- There are many slum areas throughout Delhi as well as India, one can see them in many neighborhoods while traveling around Delhi. The largest Indian slum is located in Mumbai but this one we walked through is the largest in Delhi. It has 25,000+ people living inside it.
- This particular slum continues to grow yearly as more and more people migrate to Delhi to find a better life. According to our guide, the people from this slum came from the northern part of India. One of the most interesting thoughts that I took from the tour is that living in that slum in Delhi is a better life from which they came. It is hard to wrap the mind around that thought but an important one in understanding the community.
Across the street from the slum, residents of the area will just hang their trash on the fence waiting for the government trash truck to drive through and gather it once a week. Most of the trash, though was scattered throughout the community.
- To live in a slum means no rent is paid. The land belongs to the government and there is no electricity, water supply or sewer availability meaning NO form of a toilet besides nature. So how do they live? Well, the majority of people are very creative in stringing electrical wires out of the slum and connecting it to someone else’s electricity, illegally, but it is not enforced. They have a small gas tank that they use for cooking. A government water truck shows up weekly for them to fill their water jugs for their drinking water, water to wash clothes (saw a couple of different women hand washing clothing in a bucket), cook with and clean their dishes. It costs them 15 rupees for each jug and they will lock up their jugs with a chain and lock to keep anyone from stealing it. If they have excess they will sell it for an additional 5 rupees to someone in need before the week is out. If the government decides to take the land back to build a large shopping mall (which is happening to another slum nearby), the government tries to relocate them to a different plot of land.
Someone’s water jugs waiting to be refilled.
- What is a typical dwelling like? Each one is unique but also the same in some ways. Most had a concrete floor and some had concrete walls while others had tarps or tin as their walls. Roofs were mostly covered in tin with large rocks sitting on top to keep it in place during windy and monsoon seasons. I saw many women sweeping their small room homes, but the dirt just goes as far as outside the door. Nobody is cleaning the exterior part so you can imagine there was trash scattered throughout. Most of the doors were merely a piece of cloth about the size of a sheet. New dwellings are just squeezed in any available spot but dwellings are linked right next to each other so they share walls.
- The outdoor area had some pigs, goats, monkeys and dogs that belonged to someone or maybe the community as a whole — hard to tell. There were several different areas of water that would be about the size of a small pond which is where the water run off was collected. These areas are extremely hazardous, especially with the mosquitos that can breed in that stagnant water. It was not just a flat piece of land — there were many steep inclines that we went up and down that are just rocks or bricks that make up very hodgepodge steps. I have absolutely no idea during monsoon season how they would travel in some of the areas.
Where we entered the slum neighborhood.
- Over 60% of the children living in this slum are malnourished. Most of these families have anywhere from 8-10 children, whereas in most of Delhi, families have only 2 children from my observation. Some of the parents will find out the gender of their baby and if it is a girl, they will abort it. Girls bring the cost of a dowry to the family economy and are not valued as boys are in a family.
- Nearly all marriages in the slum are arranged marriages and most marry at the age of 18 years. The guide specifically told us that the slum residents would never consider marrying someone from “the city”.
- Multiple religions live within the slum but mostly Hindus. There are several small temples within the slum.
- What do these people do to earn a living and how much? I asked that question and the guide told me they make about 100 rupees a day (60 rupees equals $1), and the jobs consist of selling food as a street vendor, as well as factory work that is nearby and I also witnessed several women cutting excess around plastic molds that are a part of some item being made in India. The guide also took us in a small workshop (let me emphasize small — about the size of a bathroom in America), where 3 men were pouring plastic pieces into a machine that melted it and then was poured into a mold and created the plastic heel of shoes. The guide said that was a very desirable job in the slum and they work 10-12 hours a day but make better wages than most.
- Many of the children were at school during our tour but for it being a school day there were still plenty around. Entertainment I observed was a very few boys playing with marbles, most just walking around the place and the young children were watching the very young children. One girl I stopped and asked how old she was. She answered 10 years old and she was the one carrying around a small baby about 6-8 months old taking care of it.
- The non-profit organization that does these tours are allowed in because they have a very small school where the children of the slum are invited to come and get help. The guide allowed me to take a snapshot of the entrance to the two small rooms they use. They are open from 3-5 p.m. in the afternoon. The children that attend school can get help with their homework. They teach some English classes and they also have a group of 12-14 year olds that come there literally knowing nothing — they have not been allowed to go to school so they are learning the basics the guide said, like the “ABCs and 123s”.
The 2 small classrooms inside the slum that the non-profit organization uses to help the children learn.
- Crime is very high in this area especially rape. If there is something that happens within the slum, the police will not come and investigate in the slums to enforce the laws. Our guide told us that after 7:00 p.m. us being expats would be in a very dangerous situation if we were found within the slum. Rape is often done by someone that the victim knows and can be a trade off from just receiving a small candy or some food. Some parents will even sell off their children because they are so desperate for money.
- Three impressions that I did not anticipate going into the tour were: 1. The people were very friendly and happy. They seemed content with their life — which goes back to the beginning discovery that this life is better than what they came from. I knew the children would wave and want to say hello, but was happily surprised to see so many of the women just as friendly to us. 2. Not one person asked us for anything which really surprised me. They may be very poor but they were not like the children or women begging on the streets following us around asking for money the entire time we were there. That told me a lot about then as a community. And 3. There is a real sense of community within the slum. They do not venture out of the slum much because they are looked down upon according to our guide but from what I could see, there seemed to be a sense of community there.
My friend, Hiromi, with our walking guide. He just graduated from the university with his bachelors and is working on his masters currently. He said he has walked by this slum area many times but until he started studying the economic issues in college he never paid attention to it — now he volunteers at the school and has established relationships with people that live there.