One Slum ‘Cheetah Camp’ (2009-09-04 08:08 pm)

I have stayed 22 years of my life in a region of Mumbai called Mankhurd.

It is just another station stop with a white , blue red board on the train station. This region is home to a large slum called Cheetah Camp.For the first time in my life I ventured 6 kilometers beyond my comfort zone of my house, my society , my neighbors , my surroundings and stepped into Cheetah Camp for a tour.Cheetah Camp is home to a population of 1 lakh 25 thousand people as the BMC records state , Hindu & Muslims living perfectly in sync with each other. 6 schools and 2 junior colleges in Urdu, Tamil, Hindi and English run in harmony

I did feel apprehensive venturing in a slum which is considered dirty and unsafe. And  hesitated before Avez, the enthusiastic social worker led me to the myriad of small gullyies.There were pakka roads , small but clean, an organized structure with Pukka brick houses.The women with beautiful sarees , children playing on the streets carelessley with cheap bat and ball-China produced sets, and the men walking involved in the day to day money – vendor transactions.I went to Cheetah Camp to survey the area to get them involved in the 350 campaign for the global day of action , 24th Oct. Not only they did come aboard but extended their hand to start a tree plantation drive near Cheetah Camp. The youth of Cheetah Camp are concerned. They want to convert the near by plot into a forested land by planting 4000 trees.

Avez explained that it used to be a forested land which started from that point and led up to the Borivali National park. In the course of development a few sample trees were left. However there were permission issues from the forest department. The other part was the maintenance of the trees. Even if they did grow the trees who would take care of them.Two murders had already taken place on the waste land and he feared that it would turn into a dumping ground.” We don’t want it to become another Deonar dumping ground ? “The Deonar dumping ground is the largest in Mumbai , and recently crossed the landmark of being 10 storey high. The residents have been complaining that every evening a rich smoke greets their window when the burning starts in the dumping ground.

Avez spoke in length about how organized Cheetah Camp actually was because, it was relatively cleaner than the other slums. There were encroaching problems as well.Education in the schools had to improve as well. A lot of children stopped half way through their education.The municipal schools were in appalling condition.Avez stated that if I were to come to Cheetah Camp at 12pm , only  children in school uniforms could be seen.

There were a variety of shops and small business trades thriving in every nook and corner of the slum. It was definitely a marvel to discover that everything was available here.A map would point out that every street specialized in different kinds of things.It was the festive time of the year and I couldn’t resist myself to some of the milk sweets selling for Ramzan.I helped myself to some delicious ‘ Phirni’ sold in mud diyas.

The shiny festive dresses formed patterns on the streets and I bumped into excited children scurrying through the streets. We soon came across the religious part of Cheetah camp. A church, a mosque and a temple were built on the same street.There is something extremely beautiful about the sermons being preached from the mosques.

We also walked through the area where there had been a fire which destroyed 300 huts. My maids hut had also been massacred in this fire. She is the fourth wife of her husband and has 3 children.They had to move in with their mother when they lost everything in the fire.My tour came to an end, and a lot of details have to be filled in about Cheetah Camp. But I also have many lingering thoughts which keep surfacing back and forth.

The people in the slum look at the present; their circumstances, their life , their livelihood, their commerce, their earnings and the immediate surroundings. They all know about Global Warming. They know that it will affect them sooner or later. However how do we best address their present condition and also serve our purpose of fighting climate change?

Cheetah Camp is the creation of migrants pouring into the city from different parts of the country. Just another slum, in the midst of thousands of slums. Human forms staying on 20 sq meters of land in squalor.

What was the need for them to come to the city? The basic point remains that they were unable to feed themselves in the rural areas. Their occupation was agriculture. Agriculture completely failed for them as a living and the alternative was to come to the city.And thus they became part of the fuel in the formation of millions of Cheetah Camps.

While I weave dreams of helping the young generation in Cheetah Camp, I hope to achieve a beautiful unified movement in one slum at least. A start..

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