Mumbai Mahila Milan

We women of Bombay

For years on end a continuous flow of poor migrants from the countryside has poured into Mumbai, the city formerly called Bombay. That is also why half of the more than ten million inhabitants of Mumbai now live in slums. There is simply not enough housing available for them. What else can one expect in a city where rents in the business centre were among the world’s highest only a few years ago?

The film Mumbai Mahila Milan is about a special group of slum dwellers. They do not live in a clearly defined slum, but in the old quarter of Byculla, in central Mumbai. They have built their huts there, in long rows, on the pavements. That is why they are called pavement dwellers. Many have settled here in the sixties or seventies and still live with their families on the pavement, in spite of the municipal authorities’ attempts to chase them off by demolishing their huts.

In the mid eighties, when municipal demolition squads frequently tried to sweep the Byculla pavements clean with the help of the police, SPARC and the National Slum Dwellers’ Federation (NSDF), two non governmental organisations, started helping the pavement dwellers to get organised and stand up for their rights. This was the beginning of the Mahila Milan (literally: Women Together), the women’s organisation of pavement dwellers in Byculla.

From the start, one of Mahila Milan’s most important activities has been stimulating the pavement dwellers to save money regularly, even if only a few rupees per day. Their own organisation manages the administration and distributes loans to members in need of money. This can be for investment in a small business, but also for livelihood, medical expenses, marriages and so on. Apart from this saving scheme, a large group of members has also been saving for better housing in future.

The daily practice of organised saving, advancing and paying off money, has made the pavement dwellers stronger as a group and has gradually emancipated the women.

The film not only enables one to take a close look at everyday life on the pavement, but also at the Mahila Milan at a crucial moment in its existence. Ten years ago the members agreed to give up their illegal huts on the pavement, if the municipal authorities would give them land to build their own houses. The time seems to have come at last when this common wish will be fulfilled. The pavement dwellers attach so much importance to safe housing and elementary sanitary and other provisions, that they are even ready to leave their old neighbourhood for a piece of land on the outskirts of the city. On one condition: there has to be enough space for all the active members of the organisation, since they want to stay together at any cost.

MUMBAI MAHILA MILAN is a videofilm by Louk Vreeswijk

Original language: Hindi / subtitled in English / 40 minutes / 1998

The film can be seen on my YouTube channel

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