This data comes from a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) study on the current water supply to slum communities of Mumbai and its repercussions on the men, women and children living there. Commissoned by Medha Patkar’s Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan and using Mankhurd as a case study, the report reveals that a whopping 35 per cent of adults and 69 per cent of children skip work and school respectively to collect water which comes any time between 8 am and 2 pm. Eighty-one percent carry the water home in buckets on their heads, which takes about three hours. Women and children in particular are the worst affected because the onus of carrying out this arduous chore falls on them.
The India Water Forum held last month revealed that the country’s per capita availability of water has dropped by a drastic 70 per cent over the past 60 years. Slum dwellers everywhere, who cannot access this vital resource through private means, are the most hit by this—and many organisations in the city are making efforts to draw attention to this alarming inequality.
In ‘Fluid City’, a public art project by ArtOxygen and the Mohile Parikh Centre, seven Mumbai-based artists carried out site-specific interventions on the theme of water across Mumbai earlier this year. This was followed by an exhibition at StudioX in April. “We wanted to initiate public interventions that looked at citizenship, difference and exclusion through the lens of water,” says Amrita Gupta Singh, Program Director, Mohile Parikh Centre.
The result was seven intriguing projects. Parag Tandel, a member of the Koli community, ventured out to sea with fishermen and trapped in his net the garbage that pollutes the Thane creek. With it he created sculptures in the shape of fish. Symbolic of the withering livelihood of fishermen along with the extinction of several species of fish, the work was hung where the fishermen gathered at the end of the day. Tushar Joag’s human pyramid in the form of a fountain mimicked the celebrations during Gokul Ashtami. His live installations presented the dichotomy between the haphazard construction of luxury highrises and the lack of basic amenities such as water.
Prajakta Potnis drew attention to the rapacious concrete development around the Siddeshwar Talao in Thane by literally tracing its original contours. “While I was drawing, some people from the local authorities showed up and said that I would get them into trouble by showing how much they have eaten up from the original boundary,” she says. “That day I was very nervous but it restored my faith in art.” Says Claudio Maffioletti, Co-Founder of ArtOxygen, “Having the installation in a public space is important because we believe that the participation of the common man city is integral to the project.”
Occasionally, art can have tangible outcomes as well. Collaborating with one of the participating artists, Sharmila Samant, and applying the information found in the TISS study, the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan has undertaken the building of ten groundwater wells to supplement the inadequate water supply in Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Mankhurd. While the residents are putting in the labour themselves, Samant and Simpreet Singh of the Andolan are helping raise money for the materials and construction. “The two wells, eight to ten feet deep, that have been built so far will help more than 200 families,” says Singh.
The Urbz Collective, another NGO, has put the work of research back into the hands of the residents themselves. “Our broad idea is that children are the most informed residents of an area,” says Rahul Srivastava. “Since the shelter has already been holding photography classes with the children, we asked them to take photographs that both document and comment on water flows and water systems in their immediate surroundings.” The photographs and their descriptions are then going to be shared with a water systems specialist who will ask the children to reflect on the ways in which water is being used in their homes.
“Water is fundamental to human existence,” concludes Singh. “One can manage to live without land but not without access to water. When one is denied water, it is almost questioning the right to live —it is, therefore, the deepest inequality.”
“Water is fundamental to human existence. One can manage to live without land but not without water. When one is denied water, it is almost questioning the right to live”