“We came here
expecting to see mad people…”
success story :
the outcome of Community Service Program| SEHER
You may have not known that there are slums in Pune, and that 2 lac households and families live here. Do you know who are these families, where and how do we live?
Some people may find it frightening to enter the slums: Maybe there are filthy and ill, unemployed ,
violent, starved and crazy people over there. One person who visited the clean and spacious Bapu Trust office in an apartment type housing, said, he would not be able to sleep if he entered our slum. He donates money to us regularly, but has not yet dared to visit any government, etc.
My name is Almas, I am 38 years old, and I have lived in the Lohianagar slum since the day I was born.
I studied, married and had my children here. My family lives here even though we are well off and we can buy a house in the apartments nearby.
I am very proud of the basti, which has nurtured and cherished me.
All my school friends and close relatives are here still, some come to visit during eid and other occasions. Our basti is full of life, children, families, groups, elders, leaders, NGOs,When the Bapu Trust guests, even foreigners, come to visit us, they always smile and laugh with us, and comment how happily and generously we give our welcome and share what little we have with them.
They take pictures with us to take back and show their people.
Some students, at the behest of Bapu Trust, even asked us if we are happy and what made us happy. It is as if they are not expecting us to be happy!!
I work in the Bapu Trust, since last 5 years as peer and lay counsellor.
Lohiyanagar, Kashewadi and the slums in central city area, are 60 years old. Lohiyanagar vasti also has a historical connection. Right next to this community, in Ganj Peth, the first school for poor girls was opened by Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule. Common halls and meeting areas will often have pictures of political leaders such as Babasaheb, etc.
We are so proud that the services and economy of Pune city depends on us. The outer facade of the vasti is a busy and commercial part of Pune, specialising in timber, sanitary wares, bamboo, ply and other construction related small and big business. The timber market lines a nerve road of Pune city connecting Market Yard with the inner city areas (the peths).
The vasti is close to the Solapur highway and gives leave of way to heavy vehicular traffic.We live close to the nerve road, where there are the timber and scrap yards. Here lumbering and processing of timber is done. Rentals, tempos, garages, godowns, mills, and other services crowd the area.
Essential services are aplenty, including groceries, repair works, small vendors, vegetable market, fish market, meat vendors, cycle repair, bike maintenance, tyre works, vegetables, oil, flour mills, etc. etc. Being alcohol infested area, there are many wine and toddy shops.The vasti has a police station, a fire brigade, and the local corporator’s office is also located in the area. Basic infrastructure is in place in the vasti, including electricity, water.
Unlike the rich who live in high rise, the poor live in housing which is sprawling and built low.The vasti has nerve roads. People can take their two wheelers and bicycles through the bylanes, and the gulleys. These gulleys end in narrow walk ways. As we walk into the walk ways we can see into the kohlis. Typically, the front room of the kohli will have the kitchen area with copper, brass and aluminium vessels lined up neatly on racks. Many do have LPG cylinders, but Chula is still used in the vasti.
As we walk along the walk ways, we can see piles up of wood, the timber scrap being a source of fuel for the families. You will find the women and children outside the kohlis, washing clothes, bathing the children, running chulas and doing other chores, or just chatting with each other.The men are in front of the vasti, in the commercial areas, the main nerve roads, working in their workshops, gathering to play cards or walking about in groups.
There are many open and outdoor spaces where people congregate daily, or on special occasions.The sense of ‘community’ is there because of this proximity of people to each other. Kohlis are of many varieties, starting from shanties, to patra (sheets), to built up concrete. Many people have built one or two floors to their house; having a small shop below and living on top is quite common.Lohiyanagar can be called an inner city slum.
In Bapu Trust meetings, we discuss that from a mental health point of view, such details about history, geography, society and economics of a basti matters. We tried working for a while in another basti in Pune, we could not, because they had no history. Geography was just broken roads and snake pits; there was no society to speak of, as they were all migrants;
and finally, economics just meant, ‘do we get to eat food tonight’? It is not dignified to be poor and starving. I am lucky to be in Lohianagar basti. Poverty is very much there, but we have support of people. Today, if I don’t have anything, my neighbour will give. Tomorrow, if she doesn’t have anything, I will take care of her.
I am linked to many groups and services in the community, and my house is like a community center. Many women come asking for help.For many years I worked without any salary only as a volunteer. I worked through the UCD department, until I became secretary. Then I got a job in Bapu Trust. I started as a peer supporter, learnt about mental health work, and slowly gathered more skills. I am now counsellor, and I also finished my BA in Sociology.
I have ambition to work in mental health area only, in all slums of Pune.Bapu Trust ke log always tell us,
‘We came here expecting that every house will have someone who is pagal.
Yet, we find so much of sharing and giving; social groups; connection between people and families. You are all very lucky, compared to us, who live in apartments.
This was story 1.
It is a true story.
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