Children demand ‘liveable’ homes in Lallubhai Compound
Children are vulnerable to a range of threats when their right to an adequate home is not fulfilled, remaining voiceless in most cases. But here’s a children’s collective that is driving change through their own efforts. Sparking conversations on their rights and requirements, including that of housing, they are compelling their communities and local authorities to stand up and take note. Having participated in this change maker group has been a rewarding and empowering experience for most of them who have seldom had a platform to voice their concerns. Meet the members of Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (BASS) at Lallubhai Compound whose vision for lasting social transformation is teamed with participatory action.
A collective of, for and by the children
It’s a busy afternoon at YUVA’s Child Resource Centre, Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, on 18 June 2018. About 15 children (between the ages of 8–18 years) are gathered in the room, seated on the floor in a circle. They are all members of Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (BASS), a collective of children working on community-based child rights issues, who have convened for a meeting. The group is collectively owned and run by the children themselves. YUVA initiated this collective almost two decades ago in communities where interventions are with children, and since then generations of young ones across the city have joined hands to fight for and claim their rights. We’ll get to the discussions of the Lallubhai Compound BASS meeting, but first a little prelude about the homes in this community which foreground concerns.
Lallubhai Compound is a rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) colony of 65 buildings, often described as ‘vertical slums’, housing over 1 lakh individuals in Mankhurd, Mumbai. The people living here were resettled from various parts of the city (such as P. D’ Mello Road, Sion, Koliwada, Matunga, Parel etc), displaced in the name of development projects, especially the Mumbai Urban Transport Project 2002.
The buildings here are five to seven storeys high with no functional lifts, especially affecting the elderly, disabled persons, those unwell, and children. The narrowly packed buildings flout fire and safety norms. Water supply is scarce, and waste management methods are inadequate.
The corridors in the building are pitch dark, making it unsafe and unhygienic. The distance between buildings is just three metres, making it difficult for ventilation and light in the house, stunting children’s development. Infact, a recent report highlighted how this area has an abnormally increased incidence of tuberculosis; the buildings are described as those ‘designed for death’.
The size of houses in this colony are 225 sq. ft., consisting of a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and a kitchen. Families, ranging from 5–15 members, reside in this space, leaving children with no space to play or study and no privacy either. They are the most vulnerable and voiceless in the family, often unable to articulate their demands adequately. Young girls, especially, face more issues from lack of privacy, especially during the time of menstruation.
Given the cramped nature of home, and a child’s inability to be heard through these concrete walls if needed, the issue of child sexual abuse has assumed serious proportions here. Children are also addicted to drugs, and begin drinking and smoking from a young age.
The duality of lack of space at home and in the community often results in complexes developing early in children. They grow up without adequate mental, physical, and emotional well-being, feeling extremely marginalised in a community that cannot care for their needs. In such a space, BASS hopes to empower children, helping them find a voice to articulate their needs and fights for their rights, in turn inspiring other children to join hands and drive change.
BASS over the years
BASS aims to develop child leaders and encourage the formation of children’s groups from socially marginalised communities. Since its formation, BASS groups in different areas of the city have held up a mirror to society, talking about eve teasing, child abuse, drug abuse, unclean surroundings (with problems of open drains, garbage management), child labour and other issues. It has functioned as a democratic forum, helping children discuss these issues and the violation of child rights in the community.
In Lallubhai Compound, YUVA’s Child Resource Centre is a space the children can freely use to study, play, conduct meetings and discussions, to build solidarity, highlight issues and actively work towards addressing them in the community. BASS focuses on spreading awareness on the community’s housing crisis, an issue that personally impacts each of its members. The collective also seeks solutions from the current state and actively intervenes to usher transformation.
Facilitated by YUVA, BASS groups from across the city and other children’s collectives presented suggestions and objections to the Proposed Draft Development Plan for Mumbai 2014–2034, requesting for an adequate home for each of them.
They also made recommendations to the same Plan, meeting the MLA to present a petition to build a pedestrian bridge over the railway line which they need to cross every day to go to school, often resulting in accidents.
At YUVA’s Bal Sabha on 18 November 2017, children across the city belonging to different BASS groups and children’s collectives spoke against the many injustices they have to tolerate, their right to an adequate home and the impacts on them when their rights are violated.
The children expressed their need for privacy, spaces to be made available to them for studying, recreation and playing, and for rehabilitation to occur within the same area, as school and livelihood opportunities are adversely impacted when families move far off (as in the case of Lallubhai Compound).
Over the years, the BASS groups have spread awareness through the medium of street plays. They have built networks with their own cooperative society members (articulating the need for a mobile Child Resource Centre for those children who can’t attend the existing space) and the need for library and recreational space within the buildings. They have also engaged with the police and other civic authorities, taking forward the dialogue on housing and demands for better living conditions. Their demand for clean and safe child-friendly communities is critical, and their participation is important for the effective functioning of the Community-level Child Protection Committees (CCPCs).
At the meeting
At the BASS meeting on 18 June, apart from the concerns on housing and the community voiced by the children, they also discussed the upcoming Peoples Convention on Infrastructure Financing — A Response to Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to be held in the following week. The children were keen to attend this convention and better understand people’s concerns to exclusionary infrastructure development being pursued. BASS members were also looking forward to the Consultation on Safe and Child Friendly Cities from Evidence to Action: Mumbai Suburban District on 28 June where they were scheduled to perform a play.
BASS continues to participate in children’s movements and activities, in the community and the city, to drive change and usher social improvements, and take ahead the struggle for children’s rights.
#UprootedChildhoods is a collaboration between YUVA and Leher, 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.