June 15th: This morning I went to the Railway Slum Dwellers Colony in Sarvodya Nagar. There's a railway line that runs behind expensive private houses, all with antenna dishes on their walls and Japanese cars in their driveways. Grass has been growing for a long time between the tracks. It's clear very few, if any, trains ever rumble down this piece of lawn. On either side of the railway track are about 135 houses. Which means about two thousand people live in this particular basti.
Sushila, a short woman in her thirties, doesn't beat about the bush: "My name is Sushila. I live in the Kanpur Railways Slum Dwellers Colony.... We have a major problem with electricity because though we do have a municipal lamppost it's not working most of the time. We've tried to get it repaired. Even when it was, it promptly broke again. Now it's permanently out! We have to come and go in the darkness... we don't have any electric supply. You can't do anything. The children just go and sit under the trees. They sit in the shade and try to keep cool. Maybe they might get affected by the Loo. But then they have to go out and sit for some kind of breeze.."
With the usual
consequences: lots of sickness among the kids. Made worse, of course, by the
rains. "Yes, the Rains are a real problem. The minute is starts raining,
our houses get flooded. There is no way we can get the water out of here.
We have to get up in our sleep and bail the water out of our houses."
much water is there usually? Are you underwater?"
Sushila now. "When it's raining, we can get up to two feet of water in
our houses. Sometimes, we wake up soaked through.... After the last rains
we've built a small wall in front of our houses. I don't know how effective
it will be when the rains are heavy. But we think it'll maybe prevent the
water entering our houses."
One woman called
Leela is gently pushed forward by the others. Sushila points to her with pride:
"Take a look at this woman who is pregnant. It is so hot... we can't do
anything to help her stay cool, make her at least comfortable. She has to
suffer through it."
"When is your baby due?"
"In one month" she whispers.