At 1.30 pm on Wednesday, Kavita Selvam (16) stepped out of her hutment in Annabhau Sathe Nagar in Mankhurd to fill water from the community standpost connection. At a time when the government is harping on mantaining social distancing, the narrow lane was filled with women haggling over rubber tubes that were laid alongside a gutter running through it.
The men, forced to stay home due to the lockdown, also can be seen standing around, making a usually woman-only chore a crammed affair. “I have no other option, we do not have an independent water connection. If I don’t step out, we will go without water. Zaruri hai,” said Kavita.
She was was forced to drop out from school because of poverty. A toy maker, she lives in a 10×10 sq ft shanty with 10 other family members. The shanty has no toilet but has a makeshift open bathroom, which she shares with her two sisters and the men of the family. With the men constantly around the house now, she says that something as simple as bathing and relieving oneself has become challenging for the women in the slum.
Two shanties away, Seetabai Pawar (60), who also doesn’t have a covered bathroom space agrees. “I have to ask my husband to step out. This gets a bit uncomfortable.” Seetabai has a 16-year-old daughter, Anjali, who is equally anxious, especially about her privacy during her menstrual cycle.
Local resident and activist Jamila Ethaqulla (37), who works with Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, said: “Women hygiene issues have exacerbated during the lockdown in these slums. On the one hand, the government has asked to ensure social distancing but with the men sitting at home, the slums are more crowded than ever, posing more challenges for the women here.”
Her husband Shahul Ahmed (42), a professional photographer, said: “There is already a lot that women in slums have to deal with. Majority of them handle jobs and home. The lockdown could lead to economic and mental health issues.”
In Govandi’s Shivaji Nagar, another slum around 15 minutes away, Shamim Bano Khan (40) echoes Shahul’s concerns. Her husband, Mohammad Jamil Khan (50), a waste collector and son, Mohammad Aamir Khan (20), a welder, have not left their shanty since March 24, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day nationwide lockdown.
In the family of seven, where the men used to leave for work and the children for school, afternoon was Shamim Bano’s me-time. But since the lockdown, everyone has been home all the time, except to go to the slum’s common toilet.
“Kab khatam hoga ye (When will this get over?),” she asked. “Having so many people in the house at the same time leads to a lot of tension,” she contended, also admitting that these days frequent arguments break out between her and her husband. “We are running out of money and food supplies. Then there are these other issues.”
Echoing Seetabai, she said that it is uncomfortable asking the men to step out when she or her two daughters have to bathe.
Jamila, who works closely with the young women in the locality, pointed to the troubles faced by women who are on their periods. “Menstruation stigma is still prevalent in the slums. Women find it difficult to talk about their periods. With the men staying inside the tiny house the whole day, it has become even more uncomfortable.”
While the government has categorised sanitary napkins as an essential commodity, Jamila, citing the unprecedented shutdown measures, has demanded that their supplies be made available free of cost to the worst-hit in the slums. Almost 50 per cent of Mumbai – one in every two residents – stays in a slum.
Meanwhile, back in Sathe Nagar, Kaushalya Dandekar (45), a single mother, who is raising a family of seven, is worried how she would feed her children. She is a domestic help serving seven middleclass households in the neighbourhood. “I haven’t been to work since March 25. I do not even know if I would be paid for the days lost. Raising children as a single mother in a slum is tough. This has made it even more difficult,” she said.
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