Positivity in the face of disaster: Our experience at Gurgaon’s burnt down slum- March 31, 2012

A slum of about 80 houses burnt down in Sector 57 in Gurgaon yesterday.  When a group of us visited this morning, the sight was not pretty (see pics below). The fire happened in the daytime when everyone was at work but all the children were in the slum being watched by a few adults. By some miracle, no lives were lost. Everything these poor families possessed- clothes, vessels, savings, documents- was lost to the fire, that consumed the jhuggi in 12 minutes flat!

Staring at empty space where their homes stood just a day ago!

Charred remains of things essential

At site, we found people sitting around in various moods. Despondent, sad, industrious, belligerent, curious, resigned and even indifferent. We gathered within minutes that this is a community of migrants, predominantly Muslim, coming from West Bengal. A few families from Bihar, MP and UP live here as well, but relations are strained between the various linguistic groups.

Nobody is aggressive towards us though and they are more than willing to share information, talk about their lives, what they need, how things work or don’t work in their jhuggi, etc. In fact, some of the conversations are so normal to almost be surreal if you consider these people, who are already living on so little, just lost everything they have! They don’t focus on what they lost, they want to talk about how to rebuild their lives.

The realities of their lives hit me over and over, walking through the charred remains of their homes. Kids don’t go to school. Most residents are cleaners, domestic workers, rickshaw pullers, etc. Cellphones are common. The homes are tiny, most able to accomodate only about three adults sleeping side by side. Yet there were no tears, kids played around cheerfully, I saw little anguish and no greed for what we would possibley give them. Only an expression of genuine need.

Jhuggi dwellers told us that the first response was by the local mosque, which distributed clothes and provided food. The maulvi assured us when we spoke to him later, that the mosque would continue to supply food. Some government departments have reportedly provided some bits of help- a water tanker, some clothes, food. Our team that has had experience with disaster relief before (they ran the super successful Mission Julley in the aftermath of the Ladakh flash flood), felt immediate and sustained and above all, organized efforts are required to really meet the needs of these families.

A positive experience came in the form of a couple of contractors who were building on plots nearby. They had seen the jhuggi burn down yesterday and they were shaken. They promised to get together a group of their friends working in the vicinity to support our work monetarily or in whatever way possible, promptly sharing their contact information and standing with us till the end of the visit.

There’s a lot to be done and fast! We’re chalking out a plan to move ahead and help these families. I will convey the details soon via facebook and twitter.

My blog will continue to follow the story of this jhuggi for the next few days. I have in mind to write about the condition of housing and the system of administration in such communities, the unique systems they develop for survival in a harsh urban environment, the lack of initiative I observed in then to form a community and analysis of why, and of course, how we are able to help and our experiences whole doing so…..Keep reading!

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2 thoughts on “Positivity in the face of disaster: Our experience at Gurgaon’s burnt down slum- March 31, 2012

  1. Mukta,
    Thanks for the lovely words on Mission Julley.
    Yesterday was yet another eye opener. The scene of charred possessions, half burnt life savings, blackened homes ( if you could call small 8 * 10 boxes that sleep a family of four a house ), small kids running around in the hot sun without a shelter..makes one feel insignificant and significant at the same time. You are right. There is a lot to be done and fast, and the good thing is, if we break things down, a lot is achievable. The kids who went with us have already put up a facebook page, uploaded pics, uploaded their assessments and have come up with a plan to help. Do look at the FB page, and help these kids achieve what they have set out to do. The plan is not large, but the needs that they are trying to meet are immediate. It can be fulfilled by just a few hands contributing, or one corporate donation.
    In the meantime, we adults have to look at long term solutions to long term problems and while doing so, remember that while keeping an eye on the bigger picture, the smaller pictures can also be formed.
    https://www.facebook.com/JaltiJhopdi

  2. Sujata ji, we may need
    1. 40-50 Blankets for those whom we could not give so far and for big families of say 4 to 9 persons..
    2. Some arrnagement for sheltering..still pending..
    3. A Doctor sister visted yesterday and some medicines disctributed..
    4..What about the documents they lost..Can we support here..These are the popple who are most vulnerable to police etc..
    5. Rebuilding of jhuggis..seems a distant dream now..

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