Tragedy after tragedy. And the price rise to top it

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | April 24, 2010


The Dharavi family
The Dharavi family

It’s easy to see how poverty is implicated in the misfortunes of Shaikh Salim’s household and why price rise is the last thing the Dharavi-based family needs.

Shahadat, 30, his eldest son, lost vision in one eye last year and can now be best described as under-employed; Rubina, his daughter, has been deserted by her husband and now lives with her parent’s family; Tanzim, 29, his younger son, works as a vegetable vendor after losing his job at the state electricity board.

Salim’s 10x15 feet house presents a picture of the family’s struggle to make both ends meet. Rubina sits in a corner, sewing buttons on to ladies’ garments, which will fetch her no more than Rs 50 a day. Her seven-year-old daughter Gulafshan plays beside her.

Salim says he worked as a taxi driver for 30 years until 2007 when he had to sell off his vehicle to repay a bank loan that he had taken for the medical treatment of his wife who died in 2006. Now he earns Rs 3,000 in rent from an extra floor in his tenement. With contributions from his children, he runs the house on a monthly budget of Rs 7,000–Rs 8,000.

It’s very difficult, obviously.

“Wheat costs Rs 20-22 a kg; getting it milled costs another Rs 3-4 a kg. Ration card has no benefit for us. Earlier we could get sugar; now we don’t even get that.

“Sometimes we get pulses, sometimes we don’t. The government gives them (the shopkeepers) the quota but they don’t pass it to us. The local leaders don’t help us either. Bhashan dete hain, ration nahin,” says Salim.

Reminded about the prime minister’s statement that the economy is resilient enough to absorb price hike for the next two years, he says: “No politician comes to see how we run our households. They can say anything. They will never suffer because they have money, power, security, Mercedes cars and drivers. Only the poor will suffer.”

Tanzim, who says he lost his job “due to my religion,” sells vegetables in Dharavi and nearby Kurla, earning Rs 100-150 a day.

“Prices only go up and never come down. We pay tax on our house and shop. How will a person get married and have children? If you are earning Rs 100 a day, Rs 80 will go into feeding your family. Then there is children’s education, sickness in the family, and other expenditure.

“I don’t beg; I choose to sell vegetables to make a living. But people who work hard cannot survive; only those who break the law can,” he says.
Shahadat, 30, the eldest sibling, used to ply an autorickshaw until he became blind in one eye. He now mans the vegetable stall when brother Tanzim needs a break.

Salim links the squalour of his family with corruption of the politicians.

“Mayawati-ji could have opened a factory for the poor to be employed in with the crores that she accepted in the garland of currency notes. Did politicians ever use their black money to do something to help the poor? Why do income tax collectors never raid them?”

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