Women: No Longer at the Margins

Sahyadri Nagar A, one of the many slums that form part of Vashi Naka, M ward, is a place that offers you a view of the irony that Mumbai is. Situated on a narrow, winding road that leads to a hilltop, the residents face the Bandra-Worli sea link on one side and the Bhabha Atomic Reasearch Centre on the other. Yet, for people who struggle to get free drinking water, such testimonies of progress and development are meaningless.

However, pity is not an emotion that people of Sahyadri Nagar evoke. Resilience and courage in the face of ever growing struggles is writ large on their faces, and none embody this courage more than the women. Mumtaz, 29, is confident that  these women will change the face of the slum. Mumtaz is an exceptional woman herself. Married off at the age of 17, Mumtaz, was not content with staying behind the purdah. She wanted to be part of the larger force that would transform the lives of the women of her neighbourhood. In 2000, when CORO (Committee of Resource Organizations) started a Mahila Mandal in the Vashi Naka area, Mumtaz was at the forefront of their activities. She began by taking literacy classes for the women of her neighbourhood, and had about 30 students. She also studied the Muslim law so that she could fight her personal battles.

Currently, the Executive President of the Chembur-Trombay wing of the Mahila Mandal, Mumtaz says, “ A decade or so back, the incidence of suicide among women in this area was very high. Beaten by their husbands, many of them felt that burning themselves was the only way out of their misery. However, the existence of an organization like Mahila Mandal has given these women some hope. We assist them in filing FIRs and also offers counseling to victims of abuse.” Through gender sensitization classes and forums where issues of sexuality can be openly discussed, Mumtaz hopes that women become aware and vocal about their rights.

Mumtaz admits that it is not always easy reaching the women who live in these slums. Most of them are not allowed access to public spaces. Self- aware, educated women demanding rights are seen as destroying the familial setup. Despite this, Mumtaz is certain that women in positions of power in not too far off.  “We women now have an opinion of our own. And that is the first step in self-sufficiency.”

Sujatha Subramanian