Before anything, let me say, I’m a fan of Madhuri Dixit-Nene big time. I love her smile, her graceful elbows, her Marathi American accent. Even her iffy dress sense fills me with up affection - memory of a time when people were inherently fabulous instead of merely propped up by stylists. I even endured the pathetic, un-funny jokes about skin colour, body size, accents and age on Jhalak Dikhlaja just for our divine Ms M (ok, two episodes, but still).
So, now that’s out of the way. In May 2010, the Supreme Court passed an order that the state must provide 24 hour homeless shelters for all cities with a population over 5 lakh, covered by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Mumbai, with the second largest number of homeless families in India needs a minimum of 200 shelters. More so, now that the rains are here.
But the state government seems resistant to the idea. For example, it apparently submitted a dodgy affadavit claiming that it runs 24 night shelters. Most of these turned out to be children’s shelters, run by NGOs. Adults cannot avail of these, so, in effect, they don’t exist. In the papers, Municipal Commissioner Subodh Kumar has said “I am aware of four shelters, but I can’t remember off hand where they are. We are trying for 20 more, but the process of identifying the locations and working everything out is long.”
The resistance is rooted in an essentially feudal attitude to the poor. The state has a history of violent demolitions, which go beyond law into cruelty, leaving the poor without even their meagre possessions, keeping them materially insecure and poor via this cycle of having to start over and over from scratch.
The ruling Shiv Sena-BJP corporators have strongly opposed the concept of night shelters in the city, saying it will turn Mumbai into a dharamshala. What is a dharamshala? A place where the needy and tired may pause for rest and shelter, a gesture of humanity? Why do our tradition loving politicians not respect this traditional idea then?
The idea that providing for the poor turns them into parasites is popular among many, who imagine they have not availed of any subsidies, for instance in university fees.
But evidently this doesn’t apply to all handouts, going by the report that when Madhuri Dixit-Nene requested the government for land to run a dance academy, they apparently had a list of one hundred possible plots!
This was hastily and interestingly withdrawn next day - perhaps a bird was whistling warnings in the woods, although the news item is still on Ms Dixit-Nene’s website. Shiv Sena leaders confirm that they are going to take the issue up with the BMC’s estate department.
Let’s not dismiss Ms Dixit-Nene’s hard to quantify, but nevertheless meaningful contribution to our cinema and society through the pleasures she has brought us. Presumably that’s the thought behind wanting to give her land. But homeless flower sellers, domestic help, bucket-menders and cobblers, who keep our lives going for paltry sums, also contribute to society in a hard to quantify way only because that’s designated ‘informal economy.’ How do we decide one contribution values more than the other?
For us the monsoon is something to celebrate with a walk on Worli seaface, while for many of our non-PAN card-holding co-citizens, it signifies potential havoc for their precarious lives. This does not render the pleasures of the monsoon meaningless, anymore than that pleasure cancels out the hardships of their existence. Surely our system can find a way to work with both facets of reality?
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.