Interns' Diary: Vasudha Dhingra
Monday, June 26, 2006: A taste of how I will be spending ten days in the field.
After spending a week each at the orientation workshop and at our host institute – the Council for Social Development (CSD), I realized that my team (Brian, Faraz, Rini, and myself) is full of learned, crazy and fun-loving people, so different yet so alike. With an immensely knowledgeable and extremely helpful and soft-spoken supervisor, Mr. Sakarama Somayaji, we couldn’t ask for anything better.
After a week of theoretically equipping ourselves with the topic of our research, on Monday, my team and I, along with our supervisor, left with our bells on, for our first “exposure” visit to the field viz. Gadda Colony in the Madanpur Khadar area—a resettlement colony in south Delhi, where we would be spending the ten days of the assigned field work. We were accompanied by another group of three interns, also placed with us in CSD, and their supervisor, Mr. Sabir Ali.
Albeit long, our journey was comfortable, except for the bumpy roads in the last leg – signaling that we were about to reach our destination. My first glance at the outskirts of the colony appalled me as the conditions in which people live there are deplorable!. The colony was set-up a couple of years ago and the inhabitants, who earlier took shelter around the posh areas of Delhi, were pushed to the periphery of the city— spurned by the government - as if they are flotsam and jetsam.
The brick houses, though not apportioned equally, were mostly constructed on a 10”x10” land area per family. The electric poles had special devices installed on them to prevent power-theft, but one wonders how helpful this would be to those who spend hours together without electricity. Water hand-pumps were easily found in front of a cluster of two-three households, though the quality of water was sub-standard (Rini and Mr. Ali tasted water from one of the hand-pumps). The drains were uncovered and stinking, the public parks used as dumping grounds for waste material and defecation, and there was visible evidence of child labor. The area was also observed as one where sharp religious divides existed, especially with a bias against Muslims.
None of this, not even the scorching heat, deterred us from continuing and completing our mission of the day. As we passed through the narrow lanes of the colony, we were treated with anxious eyes and heads popping out of doors. We could see semi-clad men bathing, women cooking on their fuel-wood stoves, elderly resting on cane cots, and children lazing around. In one household, probably a better-off one vis-à-vis the rest in the colony, children were watching POGO on their TV sets!
When I started speaking to the locals, mainly women and children, I heard only dismal stories. Poonam, mother of ten, with her five-month old daughter baby, informed me that she delivered at home each time. She also mentioned that her husband does nothing substantive for their livelihood and remains at home most of the time. Poonam’s neighbour joined our conversation and complained that there was no government hospital within their reach. She explained that they had to spend a lot of money to travel long distances to avail of government hospital services, where long queues and no immediate attention are the order of the day, often resulting in a loss of their daily wages.
The only ray of hope in the colony was an Anganwadi school (though it didn’t have proper ventilation nor electricity) where children between 3-6 years were taught elementary subjects by Savita ji, their teacher.
Alongside our informal discussions with the community members, we also took pictures of the happy-go-lucky children, who were all so ready and excited to pose for the shutterbugs! They followed us through all the narrow passages and lanes that we went to in the area…all fascinated and in awe of us…Chandni, Dani, Naseem, Hitesh…aah…they are all children of God!
However, their fortitude in living in such conditions shook me from within…the ten days in the field will be emotionally over-charged and challenging. The “exposure” visit opened our eyes to the harsh realities of life; and was extremely useful in helping us ensure that our research doesn’t remain a flight of fancy.