Our visit to Shahdara Slum
Today, Mr.Harshit, Mr.Kapil and Me went to see Shahdara Slum. We had read a study about the Delhi slums and we thought that these slums would need our greatest effort as an administrator.
Our vehicles were a Hero Honda Activa and Royal Enfield Thunderworld. We encountered highly congested traffic all the way to Shahdara. This was partly a result of metro construction and partly an outcome of deteriorated roads. We must add that piquant traffic sense of Delhites contributed its fair share to these unsolicited and annoying traffic jams.
When we approached the slum, an obnoxious smell welcomed us. It was the staunch smell of Ghaziabad open drain. We wondered as to what could make these persons live in a surrounding as trying and as grueling as this one. We saw unclothed, unkempt and underdeveloped children playing in mud and dirt before battered and weathered namesake of houses. Houses made from tin, polyethene and paper. These houses, for us, represented the tenacity of human survival instincts and ingenuity of human mind which could make this place, a settlement.
We found that the majority of houses were occupied by Mohammedans. The Sachar Committee Report which was an abstract conceptualization, before us, became a concrete, hard and unpalatable reality. Not surprisingly, these slums also enshrined the eternal Indian principal of ‘Unity in Diversity’. There were other houses, they were occupied by the poor and the marginalized Hindus of various castes. There were people from Bihar, U.P., West Bengal and Rajasthan. We found that the unifying bond of poverty traversed beyond caste and religious identities. We wondered if the unity of this great nation has been preserved and created by this omnipresent and abject poverty. The lesson was clear. Poverty has no religion and no caste. We learned that prosperity divides and poverty unites.
Like a pimple on an otherwise immaculate face, the slum had chosen a particularly conspicuous and yet an invisible place for itself. Sandwiched between Karkardooma Court on one hand and Shahdara SDM office on other, the slum showed how limited is the reach of our institutions, how easy is it to ignore these slums. The Ghaziabad drain separating the slum from the city created a divide which was not only physical but also institutional and structural.
Our conversation with the residents revealed that the epitome of underdevelopment, this slum was not a conglomeration of hapless and unfortunate persons. The slum lived and breathed with a unity which could perhaps only be found in primeval tribal societies. There was a sense of oneness. When they breathed, it was one soul of social organism breathing through so many bodies.
We found how we, the privileged ones, shared common concerns of livelihood, growth, and comfort with them. We also discovered that we had our own share of doubts, our own set of fears, our own dreams, and our own nightmares. We also saw that how undernourishment of the body, the constant quest of bread, quenches the thirst and need of creativity. When a man is denied the bodily need of food clothing and security, not only the soul but also the body is dwarfed. It creates pygmies of the body, mind, and soul. The slum,unfortunately, makes an animal of a man.
We all felt that the world is unjust and perhaps we are on the wrong side of justice. There is a slum in every part of this city, but more significantly, our visit taught us, that there is a slum in every one of us.