‘All of us living in this world have a right to a neat and clean home’, says Rouble Nagi, founder of Misaal Mumbai. Why must families and children living in informal settlements (bastis) have to endure such dire conditions? Working with people in slums, talking to them on sanitation, hygiene and education, and together, beautifying their homes with paint and murals, Rouble’s work with Misaal Mumbai promotes housing rights for children in these ways.
In conversation with Rouble Nagi, whose vision for Misaal Mumbai intersects almost perfectly with a hard-nosed issue of Mumbai city — its marginalised children and families, and their most basic right to a home.
1) Tell us about Misaal Mumbai. How and why did it come up?
Ans: As an artist, I think the most important role we play is to empower through participatory creative practice. For the last twelve years, I have been working with children and women living in the slums of India and mainly Mumbai. Socially engaged art aligns itself to social betterment like community arts but is also concerned with the systems that sustain community oppression. I teach art to underprivileged children living in slums and villages; some of them didn’t know what a crayon was. As I visited some of my students living in an informal settlement situated in a Mumbai suburb I realised that something more had to be done. The homes were around eight feet by ten feet and had over 6 members of a family living there. I understood that the main problem for people living here was Food, Shelter and Clothing.
The next day I called my students and told them to meet me outside their homes at 7.30 in the morning. People looked at me as if I was mentally disturbed to be coming to someone’s house that early with six buckets of paint, brush and rollers. I started painting the houses, ceilings with the help of my students who lived there. We finished painting the house before afternoon and incorporated a small wall mural as well. Seeing this the neighbours asked for my help, and I did the same for them as well, and before you know it the complete informal settlement was painted. It started with that first house which I wanted to set an example with, thus the name of my initiative ‘MISAAL MUMBAI’ (lead by example Mumbai). Till date, I have painted over 24,000 homes and more than 32 slums. I realised that it’s not just paint that’s going to solve the problems, so we started a cleanliness drive, waterproofing their homes, workshops on sanitation and hygiene along with art camps for children living there. Today, we have free medical camps in the slums we work in along with vocational training centres for women. I operate within an institutional setting whose policy is holistic, and has strategies about how and what needs to be done to achieve social work goals through creativity — it may be different from other social workers and there may be a plethora of perspectives of how to achieve goals, but till now ‘Misaal Mumbai’ seems to be working well. It is a unique creative mode for ethical social betterment.
2) Everybody has the right to a home. Yet, India has 1.7 million homeless people and 13.75 million households living in slums, many of whom are children. With your extensive work in Mumbai’s informal settlements, how do you believe this right has/ has not been fulfilled? Give us examples.
Ans: I believe in action and not words. We have a long way to go. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target for the nation — every Indian must have a house by 2022. This is a tough task. Only good planning and judicious spending of funds will help the State meet the deadline. The problem is severe. Informal settlements cater to some people living there, the streets in Mumbai are full of homeless people. Projects are being worked by the Government to solve this problem but unfortunately, it hasn’t really taken off as we had expected.
3) Your work extends across Mumbai — Dharavi, Jaffar Baba Colony and Mount Mary amongst others, a place where people migrate to with their families in the hope of a better life/ living conditions. In most scenarios, that doesn’t work out. Access to decent living conditions, a home or even basic facilities are a rarity. How has this affected their children?
Ans: Life is informal settlements is full of unexpected problems, every day there is something new. Currently it is the rain that is creating havoc. The Misaal Mumbai initiative was about colouring and waterproofing their homes. This monsoon at least the water wouldn’t enter the homes and flood them.
The children are always most excited, eager to paint and help me when I am on site. I look forward to interacting with them every day. Many of them have even invited me for tea to their homes. On a lighter note, I would have finished a site two weeks before if it wasn’t for all the tea invitations.
Misaal Mumbai also works towards the betterment of living conditions in slums via sanitation and hygiene camps and regular medical camps for health check-ups. Art camps help children express themselves in a creative way. It has often been seen that such art camps in government schools motivate children to attend school; some have even taken up art as a profession.
Children participate in the process to improve their homes, learn concepts necessary to keep their homes and surroundings clean, which goes a long way in impacting the overall health of a community.
4) How many homes in Mumbai have been refurbished with the help of Misaal Mumbai? How many families and children have had their housing conditions improved?
Ans: We have painted more than 24,000 homes till date and more than one lakh people have been positively affected by the Misaal Mumbai initiative. 30% of these include children. Approximately 30,000 children living in slums of Mumbai have benefited from our work.
5) Besides painting their homes, what other activities does Misaal Mumbai undertake to ensure the community and its children are equipped to improve and sustain better housing conditions?
Ans: We conduct talks for women who want to work, offering them career counselling and helping with vocational training. As mentioned earlier, we also undertake health and sanitation workshops to ensure children are educated about how to keep themselves, their homes and their community clean, and we conduct art camps for them too.
6) What is the larger vision for Misaal Mumbai?
Ans: Misaal Mumbai initiative is about giving people in slums some sort of comfort and support to live a better life till they have a permanent housing solution. We have started working in villages as well. Currently, we are working in different states in India. This is just the start of Misaal Mumbai. The journey is long and a lot remains to be achieved.
Photo credits: Misaal Mumbai
Words by: Leher — a child rights organization working to make child protection a shared responsibility. They believe that when caring families, alert communities and responsive governments come together children can be protected. Follow them on instagram and twitter.
#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between Leher and YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action), attempting to spark dialogue on a critical yet oft invisibilised concern — the views of children on housing. The campaign draws from YUVA’s in-depth interventions with children over the years across cities, and Leher’s focus and commitment to child rights, with a preventive approach towards child protection. Through the different blogs, photo essays, video stories, infographics and other formats we hope to present many faces of urban childhoods. Stay tuned.