A walk through Aarey’s transforming landscape
Locked by the sea on all sides, Mumbai in the last few decades branched to its North and East, webbing into a suburb many times larger and equally vibrant, and rapidly encroaching on peripheral landscapes and their sensitive ecosystems. One such entity is the urban forest around Aarey milk colony, with its rich biodiversity and guardian tribal population.
The city walk conducted on 17 February by Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) moved through their hamlets and encroaching urban development. Led by activists Nitin Kubal and Gajanan C. Kolekar (also a resident of an adivasipada just outside the Aarey boundary), the walk journeyed through Aarey’s history, its transforming landscape and the ongoing struggle between the inside and the outside.
The drive from Goregaon station to the meeting point set the appropriate mood for the walk, passing from traffic and flyovers to unending swathes of green grazing land, thickets of trees and a sudden drop in temperature.
However, it took only a turn for this trance to give way to cleared hills and forest carrying concrete structures meant for villas and hotels. Nitin addressed this shift by introducing the politics of land grab by state and non-state actors in environmentally sensitive zones. He listed the different settlements of the indigenous communities — the aadivasipadas, koliwadas and gaothans in the city — and their collective struggle for an identity separate from the ‘slum’, a generalised term used both legally and colloquially to reduce their claim on the lands they have been living on for centuries.
The anchors lamented the credibility of identity cards overpowering that of a person and connected it to the plight of the residents of aadivasipaadas whose documents for land rights are either disqualified by later claims or lost due to unsuitable conditions for storage.
The walk then progressed into the settlements, noting their spatial and material characteristics as compared with that of bastis. This observation was extended to resettlement efforts that are indifferent to these differences. The uninterrupted terrain of the walk with streams, palm trees and potential agricultural and grazing land gave the group an experience of the form and extent of commons that are an essential part of aadivasipaadas.
The walk progressed uphill into another paada perched on a hilltop looking over the Vihar lake. Gajanan drew the group’s attention to the various developments on the hills surrounding the lake including IIT Mumbai, NITI, and the Film City, emphasising that the lake in itself was a feature imposed over the settlements and their commons under the British rule.
The group then trekked down to the dam from where the Mithi river flows into the city. The paadas on the hillocks, the basti on the slope, the lake and park on either side of the dam held the final comments on the importance of elevating the struggles of the indigenous and marginalised communities.
Apoorva Sharma from School of Environment and Architecture (SEA) attending the walk said, ‘This walk helped me better understand experiences of aadivasis struggling to understand what the policy context of their situation is and how to make the most of it’.
YUVA conducted city walks at Ambujwadi and Aarey Colony on 16 and 17 February, respectively, exploring these urban localities through the eyes of its local inhabitants. Two more city walks were planned for 23 February 2019 at Sanjay Gandhi National Park and to explore Kharghar’s developmental history. The city walks were a part of ComplexCity 2.0, YUVA’s annual event on talk about the city with those who matter most, its people. Read more about ComplexCity here: http://yuvaindia.org/events/
A shortened version of this article first appeared on DNA (our walks partner): https://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-walk-to-remember-city-connects-to-indigenous-tribes-of-aarey-milk-colony-2723678