A sense of unease is palpable in the cluster of lanes and around houses in Worli village. The village is nestled at one end of Worli Sea Face that overlooks the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL). A recent Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) notice that seeks to declare 22 plots in Worli Koliwada as a slum has sent shockwaves across the village.
(l-r) Rita Galbao, Loretta Couthinho, Melini, Samir and Snedden Netto share tales of living in Worli village. Pics/Shadab Khan
Residents are bristling at the thought of their village which was part of the original city being called a slum. Resident Shashikanth Parkar (73) has records of all the strife these Worli villagers have had with various authorities to save their land.
The village nook and corners are alive with memories for residents
He says, “The East Indians and Kolis are the majority communities in this village. The area is a gaothan (village site) which comes under the Coastal Regulation Zone III and construction is restricted here. As per the Bombay Improvement Trust of 1933, no one can oust the villagers from the area. This SRA plan is bogus.”
Samir Netto (l) and Shashikanth Parkar discuss the details of their fight against SRA
It is obvious that the residents are worried that the SRA means not just tangible changes, but will have impact on their way of life, too. Loretta Couthinho, resident, says her son’s forthcoming marriage would not be the same, if gaothan life is disturbed.
The proximity of Worli gaothan to the Sea Link makes it a high value area
She says, “We live like one big family. Our doors are never closed. For any occasion, the village comes together to celebrate. The umbracha pani (pre-wedding ritual) will not be the same without the dance in the village lanes to collect water with all the women dressed in lugra (traditional East Indian sari).”
Her sister-in-law Melini Netto says, “A few people here know how to prepare traditional East Indian dishes. Draping the lugra authentically is also another art. Every celebration is more enjoyable because everyone comes together as one.”
“Be it a calamity or a joyous occasion we have stood as one. In the 60 odd years that I have been living in Worli village, I have never seen any clash. Now that our homes — our bungalows are being considered a slum, we are rising together to fight for our rights,” says Chintaman Koli.
Residents claim they have records of taxes being paid to the government since British and even Portuguese times. Samir Netto, who has been at the forefront of the fight against SRA, and has managed to get more than 180 signatures on a opposition letter they have sent to the SRA, thinks calling their houses a slum is an insult.
He says, “Our identity is at stake. The government does not allow us to build a ground plus one, or to renovate our houses, but an SRA is allowed. We have our own water connection, electric meter, toilets, houses and lands where more than six generations live. This is our native place as well, we are the original residents and sons of the soil.”
We were taken up by the spacious houses. Open verandahs gave them more character than what little flats will have. Kenneth Mendonca, resident says, “I like having my own house and space. What is the SRA 269 sq. feet and a pigeon hole space in a skyscraper? I prefer living near the earth rather than the sky.”
The slum declaration of the area is unjust fumes Rita Galbao who has lived in the village since birth. “I remember playing in the lanes of the village, going for rosaries, baptisms, weddings with my friends. We would visit the Worli Fort, the Sea Face, watch the fisherfolk at work, sometimes we would fish ourselves. This village has a story around every corner. It has not come up illegally. It has been there much before the city got so congested. This is our home; we do not want to live in tall buildings.”
Chandrakant Bhaya, thinks that the threat to Worli village could set a bad precedent for gaothans in the city. He says, “Today they are calling our homes slums, tomorrow it could be the others. Bandra, Kurla, Marol and Versova have gaothans which are part of the Bombay of old, we need to preserve that. But the government and SRA seem to be interested in land grabbing.”
Walking through the gaothan, feeling the gentle sea breeze on one’s face, and actually getting a slice of life of the residents, was an eye-opener. Though not openly stated one could sense that they were hurting at not even being factored into what could be the most seminal decision of their lives.
Dennis Rodrigues whose great-grandfather, grandfather and father have been living in the village says, “This is not a zopadpatti. It has seen an evolution through the years from mud houses, to Mangalore tiles, to cement and concrete homes. Land owners cannot be treated like slum dwellers. We have been let down.”
“Builders have been targeting the area for sometime. But the government allowing them the right to do so is worse. The community is coming together and fighting for rights, culture, homes and saving the village for generations ahead. I want my son to enjoy the same things that I have in the gaothan — a sense of community, family, open space and living in a prime area in a house that we own,” says Sachin Kinny.
The residents handed over an objection letter to the SRA plan, yesterday. The letter states that their land cards have been obtained without their consent. They also allege that no tender was floated.
As we exit the charming little nook, the sun is setting and the sky is streaked with red and gold. Worli gaothan residents are readying to sit out in the open, or relax in the verandahs, winding down with friends and family. The frantic pace of life seems to drop off, and we understand if this gaothan succumbs to the SRA so will their way of life.
>> On October 3, 2015 residents received a notice from the Maharashtra SRA informing them of an application to declare the Worli village area a slum area, the precursor to setting up a slum rehabilitation project. Residents were asked to send their objections.
What is a gaothan?
-Gaothan is portion of the land of the village which is ordinarily used for settlement.
-A gaothan is also called a village site - a land included within the site of a village, town or city as determined by section 122 of MLR (Maharashtra Land Revenue) Code.
-The code states: It shall be lawful for the Collector or for a survey officer acting under the general or special orders of the State Government, to ascertain and determine what lands are included within the site of any village, town or city and to fix and from time to time, to vary the limits of the site determined as aforesaid, regard being had to all subsisting rights of landholders.