A holistic approach to empower Mumbai’s most isolated

Ashali Bhandari, Mumbai Community Manager
Mumbai, 16 March 2016

The geographic dispersion of growth within the fabric of a city is most apparent in the character of its neighborhoods. Rarely is urban growth so ubiquitous that service provision, economic opportunity, and human rights indices are uniform throughout the city. However, the isolation of Mumbai’s M-East Ward is so stark that it has presented a new challenge to the city. Infamously known for a large fire which caused a plume that could be seen from space, the ward has a ranking of 0.2 on the Human Development Index and an unemployment rate of 52 percent.

Until recent infrastructure developments—including the construction of an intercity expressway, which now passes through the ward—the area had been geographically disconnected, resulting in poor economic opportunities for its residents. It is home to the site of the largest and the oldest dumping ground in Mumbai, which has recently been closed due to high methane levels, and which was the main source of income for many residents living in this area. The geographic and economic isolation of the ward were compounded when the municipal corporation selected the area to be the main site for Mumbai’s resettlement projects. "The unwanted people of Mumbai... they get displaced and put here," says Tata Institute of Social Sciences Professor S. Parasuraman. The ward has an estimated population of 150,000 to 200,000 resettled new residents, mainly those evicted from slums.

The trickle down effects of poor economic opportunities and lack of connectivity to the rest of the bustling metropolis are epitomized in its poor human development indices. With an average life expectancy of thirty-nine years, M East lags behind the rest of Mumbai by twenty-eight years, and behind Sierra Leone, the country with the lowest life expectancy in the world, by seven. The provision of basic amenities is extremely sparse, with 66,881 people per health dispensary, and 87 people per toilet block.

In an on-going attempt to alleviate the economic and social marginalization of the residents of M-East Ward, Apnalaya has been working within the community. Their work has spanned the last forty-three years. The NGO has embraced a holistic approach on tackling destitution along the framework of three themes: Gender and Livelihoods, Health and Disability, and Education and Citizenship. Their approach works to empower residents from the community to help solve their own problems and negotiate the services and rights they deserve as contributing citizens to the city. Their strength lies in their approach where they recognize the causational relationships between health, education, gender, and livelihood. They have employed creative means like storytelling and drama to help young women recognize the importance of education and self-sustenance. Moreover, they have one of the only community-based disability programs in the city, which raises awareness about and economically empowers disabled citizens in the community. Lastly, also help residents access government schemes and educate citizens on the importance of civic action.

With a reach of over 5,000 beneficiaries, Apnalaya is currently working with residents of the community to fight new rounds of demolitions occurring in the ward due to the aftermath of the January 2016 fire. Though there is much work to be done, hopefully their integrated approach will bring the residents of M-East Ward better living conditions on par with their city at large.

Photo credit: City's Edge Film

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