Down to Earth - - Ake - Diyas—lay phirni karkhanas.

Dhar­avi, as they say, is a bil­lion dol­lar a year en­ter­prise con­stantly be­ing worked upon by its res­i­dents. No won­der we did not wit­ness what we were ex­pect­ing: a pop­u­la­tion in de­spair; wide­spread lock­downs; and, a com­pla­cent pop­u­la­tion or ad­min­is­tra­tion bask­ing in the glory of a “model” in times of a cri­sis. How­ever, we un­cov­ered the long-term tra­vails of the peo­ple.

Job loss and un­em­ploy­ment rocked every part of In­dia dur­ing the lock­down, but for Dhar­avi’s res­i­dents, it was dif­fer­ent. Here, lock­downs not just killed op­por­tu­ni­ties, but also cre­ated a sit­u­a­tion where they found that their fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties were also cur­tailed. It was the stigma of be­ing res­i­dents of Dhar­avi. It was not a tro­phy for the victor, which the out­side world has been cel­e­brat­ing.

Ru­pali Veerkar of Vi­jay Nagar was a house­keep­ing worker and the sole breadwinne­r for her fam­ily of six mem­bers. Her daugh­ter is par­tially blind. But with­out reg­u­lar in­come, she could not take her for treat­ment. “I ap­plied for a house­keep­ing job in Worli. The mo­ment I said I live on 90 Feet Road in Dhar­avi, I was re­fused the job,” she said, in­di­cat­ing how the pan­demic was play­ing with their lives. This was an in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tion of the “Dhar­avi model”. Every fam­ily shared their own tales of so­cial os­traci­sa­tion.

Dhar­avi’s 15,000-odd small fac­to­ries have closed down. At Kumb­har­wada—a hub of small pot­tery fac­to­ries—we met pot­ters David Sule­man and Deepak Sing­ha­dia. A large range of earthen pot­tery prod­ucts—from pots to

un­sold in their

“We are sell­ing our prod­ucts for less than half the price, but now even that is not pos­si­ble. The sea­son of fes­ti­vals is just pass­ing by un­der the lock­down,” Sule­man said re­fer­ring to these fes­ti­vals when their prod­ucts would be in high de­mand. “This is our ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis,” Sing­ha­dia said. In­ter­est­ingly, 0.1 mil­lion

Sunny Ma­dav Tikre’s mother from Dhar­avi was forced to share a bed with two pa­tients in the hos­pi­tal. She died a few days af­ter ad­mis­sion

The mon­soon rains have made life even more un­liv­able for peo­ple liv­ing in Dhar­avi amid the COVID-19 pan­demic mi­grants had al­ready left Dhar­avi be­fore the in­fec­tion peaked.

Amid the eco­nomic emer­gency and the lin­ger­ing os­traci­sa­tion that will choke fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties, hunger is haunt­ing hun­dreds. While some fam­i­lies said they never got grains from the gov­ern­ment, many fam­i­lies ad­mit­ted that af­ter the ini­tial pe­riod of lock­down, gov­ern­ment agen­cies and many vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions dis­trib­uted dry ra­tion. But this too stopped as time went by.

Many fam­i­lies told us how they had re­duced their daily food in­take. Many have re­duced milk in their diet for chil­dren, while oth­ers had com­pletely avoided non-veg­e­tar­ian foods. Some had re­stricted their num­ber of meals. Sharp re­duc­tion in food in­take can lead to re­duc­tion of im­mu­nity lev­els, which in turn, may take away hard-fought gains achieved so far against COVID.

For fe­male res­i­dents, the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the eco­nomic cri­sis was also a hy­giene is­sue. We met many women who had stopped us­ing safe san­i­tary nap­kins.

They had to pri­ori­tise food in face of shrink­ing sav­ings. Mariyam Rashid, a se­nior of­fi­cial of SHED Foun­da­tion, a Dhar­avi-based non-profit, said gov­ern­ment agen­cies had stopped con­dom dis­tri­bu­tion since the lock­down. “This will ob­vi­ously lead to un­wanted preg­nan­cies and the spread of sex­u­al­ly­trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions. Cases of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence too have gone up. When males are at home all the time, and in such cramped set­tings, it ob­vi­ously leads to un­healthy fa­mil­ial re­la­tions. Fe­males have borne the brunt of the COVID-in­duced lock­down here,” said Rashid.

In face of this over­whelm­ing pan­demic, treat­ment for other ail­ments are be­ing ig­nored. Kailash Gaud, an IMP prac­tis­ing in Dhar­avi, said, “Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis (TB), for in­stance, is highly preva­lent in slums. But all gov­ern­ment TB-medicine dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tres are closed. This will have a huge im­pact, es­pe­cially for dru­gre­sis­tant TB pa­tients as these drugs cost many thou­sands of ru­pees per month in the open mar­ket.”

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