COVID-19 in Mumbai: At Dharavi, a drop in cases but rise in social stigma

Updated: Jul 29, 2020, 07:07 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Despite being the most remarkable COVID-recovery success story of Mumbai, people from the locality are being denied work and stigmatised

Arogya Sevika and doctors screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms at Dharavi. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Arogya Sevika and doctors screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms at Dharavi. Pic/Suresh Karkera

The civic body's efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, have been greatly appreciated, but residents say they have been facing discrimination and are losing out on their daily income from employers and business partners, due to this very location. It seems as the numbers of those infected by COVID-19 are decreasing in Dharavi, the social stigma against its residents is rising.

Numerous domestic workers and small businessmen, who used to be frequently hired say that people are scared to do so because they live in Dharavi, once the hotspot for the pandemic. Forty-five-year-old Vijiya Malesh Chatri, who has been living here for the past 25 years, and who used to work as a domestic help in several homes before the lockdown was announced, said, "It's not fair that people are scared of us just because we live here. This mentality of the so-called rich and the educated has become a real problem. It's denying us our daily income simply because we come from Dharavi."

Vijiya Chatri, a resident
Vijiya Chatri, a resident

'Want to earn our livelihood'
Vijiya lives here on rent along with her husband and son; she is also the sole breadwinner of her family. "I used to earn around R9,500 from household chores every month, but since the lockdown was announced, I have lost my jobs and have no income. I try my hand at odd jobs like selling vegetables to make some money. We have been doing the same job for so many years…how can we find new avenues to make money? We don't want to eat for free — we want to earn our livelihood. My child is currently studying…why should I make him work?" she said.

Vijiya's neighbour in Dharavi is 50-year-old Ayyama Mhetre, another house help like her, who is also out of work because she is a resident of Dharavi.

Ayyama Mhetre, a resident
Ayyama Mhetre, a resident

"I used to work in at least four houses earlier, but no one calls me for work anymore because I come from Dharavi. People have this mentality of being scared that we are more prone to carrying the novel Coronavirus simply because of our residential location. I have no means of income and am just sitting idle at home, we eat depending on whatever little food is made available to us through our ration card. We too are human, and we need work." she said.

'I was sent back'
Thirty-year-old Nadeem Sayyed, who is an AC technician and has been a resident of Dharavi since he was born, said that the media "needs to show something or the other," which is one of the main reasons why people are apprehensive about hiring help from Dharavi.

Arogya Sevika and doctors screen residents for COVID-19 at Dharavi. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Arogya Sevika and doctors screen residents for COVID-19 at Dharavi. Pic/Suresh Karkera

He recalls an incident during the early part of the national lockdown, which deterred him from seeking work until the pandemic is over. He said, "It was in May. I had been called to Santacruz over the phone to fix someone's AC, but when I reached there and they learnt that I had come from Dharavi, they sent me back. I have stopped trying to look for work after this happened since everyone's mentality towards us is almost the same. There is not much that we [residents] can do to change this mentality." Mateen Rehman Khan, 28, who owns a plastic reprocessing business in Dharavi, said the mentality of discrimination towards residents here still exists in society.

Also Read: Mumbai Crime: 25-year-old man arrested for sodomising eight-year-old boy in Dharavi

"None of my business partners come to my shop anymore because they say that Dharavi is a hotspot and they risk being infected if they come here. Even the people who have gone back to their villages are refusing to come back because they believe that no one will offer them jobs if they live here," he said.

No. of residents who have recovered from COVID-19 in Dharavi so far

No. of active cases in Dharavi as of Tuesday

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