The Social Activities Integration (SAI), is an NGO in Byculla, Mumbai. Mr. Vinay Vasta invited me to study the use of biomass stoves in Mumbai slums. Also requested me to design an efficient biomass stove for them. SAI NGO is the organization focussed on the livelihoods, health, and rehabilitation of the sex workers.
One day at around 11:00 am we all went to the Kamatipura area, this is one of the main Red Light areas in Mumbai. It appeared like a slightly well off slum. On the way, saw many shops and workshops of various kinds.
As we entered the Kamatipura Area, I saw a woman us coming in the opposite direction and said “Namaste Bhaiya” (greetings brother) to Mr. Vinay Vastha and quickly went into her house. After few minutes she came, dressed up decently. She told that she was not properly dressed and that was the reason for her to disappear and came back to meet him. Although professionally they are the prostitutes, they wanted to live like any other human beings with dignity.
We went to another ladies house she was in her late 40’s. She has come from Bidar many years back. Settled in Kamatipura and she is into Prostitution. It was a small room with two chairs and a bed. I saw that, in a corner, a wooden bracket shelf is there with small size idols and pictures of many Hindu Gods and Goddess. There was an oil lamp lit and burning incense sticks and flowers offered to the gods. Their belief in the Gods and spirituality is no less than any other ordinary person. She offered us tea, cool drinks, and few biscuits. Although we insisted not to offer anything, but she insisted that we should not leave without having something in her house. I could see her as a compassionate human being with lots of love. It is a contrast, which by night it’s a den for prostitution and now it appears like any other home. Her son of about ten years old has just arrived from the school for the lunch. She started taking care of him like any other mother.
In the same street, I saw another young girl of around 18 years old sitting on a portable bed (Kaat) outside her house. She was completely immersed in observing a small chick in her hands. She was playing with it. We was not diverted even in our presence. I became very sensitive and felt that she is the chick trapped in the hands of men.
A mobile ambulance used as a mobile clinic of SAI NGO followed us. There was one doctor and support staff in the ambulance. The doctor took blood samples and checked some of the women for HIV/AIDS with an instant HIV testing kit. Also gave medicines to some of them for the common ailments and suggested them to take nutritious food for keeping good health.
I also visited SAI Ashram (a rehabilitation center) being planned in the Bhiwandi District in the northern part of Mumbai. It is a shelter for destitute women sex workers and some of them with AIDS. I came here to advise the SAI NGO on the initiatives to be taken up for addressing the livelihoods of the women who would soon start living here. This place has very beautiful surroundings with the green hills. There were several tribal villages nearby.
On the way observed that the grass in the hilly areas was being burnt. Also in many places traditionally people burnt the crop residue. There was a need to educated and create awareness among the local people on not to burn biomass openly. Planned a micro- enterprise initiative with the inmates of the Ashram and the local community, for biochar (charcoal) production from the otherwise burnt biomass. This biochar would be used in the preparation of Biochar compost. The biochar can be utilized for plant nurseries too. The bio-intensive vegetable gardens could be initiated for meeting the vegetable needs of the SAI Ashram too.
There was a stream with water source from. a spring. The groundwater potential in the SAI ashram was good. Mumbai is known for ornamental fishes marketing. There was an excellent potential for raising ornamental fishes and sale with the involvement of the inmates of the Ashram. I identified three varieties of ornamental fishes in the stream passing by the proposed site of the Ashram. As they are adaptable, the same fishes could be raised in numbers for sale as ornamental fish. The women working on the breeding of the ornamental fishes would be happy as they get connected to the beautiful other life.
The SAI team was found highly motivated and committed. The work of SAI is inspiring and through their work could realize the livelihoods security of these poor and vulnerable women.
While in Mumbai, I was given accommodation at The Salvation Army hostel, at Byculla, Mumbai. It is a place where blind people were staying. I was completely absorbed by seeing how these people were sensitive even without vision. When I was walking in the corridor, they understood from the sound of my steps that I am a new inmate. They asked me who am I. It was a great experience to listen to their soulful, beautiful songs sung by them in the evenings.
Some of them played musical instruments too.
I saw an old lady was sleeping on the footpath near the Salvation Army hostel. If felt empathetic about her living condition. I enquired about her; someone said that she has a duplex makeshift tiny house on the footpath, which she has given for rent to two families. And she survives on the rent and alms. It did not matter for her sleeping on the footpath, as she has spent all her life like that and many more are leading similar life.
I also interacted with the ex-sex workers, presently volunteering and working as staff with the SAI NGO. They were the human beings with all the sensitivity. They have the experience of exploitation and victims of the desires of human beings. It made me more sensitive and increased my empathy for the downtrodden people. Through this task, I could get to see many worlds in the dense Mumbai city.