On Thursday last week, I had the honour of receiving a personal tour of the notoriously infamous Jahangirpuri. It was built in the 1970s as a resettlement colony for the countless immigrants that had swarmed into the capital city in search for jobs and a better life. However, the unfortunate truth was that the capital could seldom offer many of them even a roof over their head.
Today, this colony, which was built with the aim of providing these people with a better, sheltered life has turned into a place infested with serious drug, crime and waste management problems.
The most obvious instance of the trash problem is the huge waste dump that exists behind the colony. The backyard of the colony is a massive space filled with garbage from all around the city, and while it has some serious health and hygiene implications, it is one of the ways in which many of the people in Jahangirpuri make a living. There are a lot of of recycling units around the colony, which employ young boys to search through the waste dump and gather recyclables such as thermocol, plastic or paper. This is not only good for the environment but also for the society as it promotes societal awareness and monetary support for many of the families living there who do not really have better alternatives for their basic income. However, the boys that work in this field, colloquially known as the “kabaddiwaalas” are infamous for their bad behaviours, notably drug addiction, as they tend to spend the little money they earn on drugs or get easily involved in the gang trade. Moreover, working in such unhygienic conditions is hazardous to their health as they could attain all sorts of diseases from the constant exposure to waste and garbage, as well as get physically harmed in the process. For example, it is very common for them to get cut by broken shards of glass.
The other issue with garbage and waste in this part of town is the sewage system. The sewage canals are not covered and so there are obvious issues with this such as the flooding of this nasty water in the rainy season. Moreover, the potent smell doesn’t help the case. However, what shocked me more was that the sewage pumping station in the area would pump the sewage and dump the junk they pumped onto the banks of the sewage canals, which meant that the streets would be covered in this nasty-smelling, unhygienic sewage disposal, with no means of any sort of cleaning process. Their job was to pump it out, and so they would do just that, and leave it there to stink up, and contaminate the colony that thousands lived in.
We then visited the school, and I was surprised to know that each of the 12 original blocks has its own government school. There were a few things that pleasantly surprised me regarding these. We visited the D-block government school for girls and boys. While the school was not co-ed, both girls and boys learned in the same building. The system had been organized in such a way that the girls’ school ended at 1 pm, and the boys’ school started at 1.30 pm. Thus two schools were running in the same building.
We first visited the principal of the girls’ school. While I didn’t speak to her much, I was pleasantly surprised to have met a special educator who taught disability children in the school. I was taken aback by the fact that a government school offered such facilities to their students, especially when education is free-for-all until the age of 14 in India. She further explained that the system employs these educators as an extra help to their students who spend their days in regular classes with the other students, and are given special attention by these educators outside of the classroom. This impressed me to the core, it was like a breath of fresh air. As a psychology student I study about the importance of a system that identifies and understands the need for special attention for children with disabilities, and I left that day with a much needed faith in our education system. However, we didn’t have much time to discuss the system through which they identify the kids with disabilities, and the training that special educators undergo. This is something I’d like to research further. Also, it is important to note that I only had a preliminary conversation with her which only allowed me to know that there is a system in place for disabled kids, I wasn’t however able to assess the efficiency of the implementation of said system, which is also something I would like to further research.
We then met the principal of the boys’ school, and I was quite impressed by him. He shared a similar passion for education to me, and seemed to understand the importance of a holistic education in India. We didn’t have a long conversation, however from what I heard, the education minister frequented the government schools in the area to see how they were running. This again pleasantly surprised me. He also explained that the theatre workshops that the Yuva Ekta foundation was conducting in the school were really helping the students, and that enabling more emphasis on non-academic learning was is an important part of their learning. I can also assert, with full confidence, that his favorite word was ‘congenial.’
All-in-all, my visit to Jahangirpuri was filled with surprises. I expected to be surrounded by a slum, however I was surrounded by numerous flocks of girls in school uniform walking back home. At the expense of sounding like a typical, oblivious NRI, to be able to see so many girls receiving an education in a country like India really made my heart proud. While there is a serious concern in this place when it comes to drugs and crime and poverty, I honestly think that raising awareness and promoting education will really help the society take a leap forward into bettering their own lives. it is important to remember that rather than giving them help and aid, we must give them the resources to improve their own lives, the power to help themselves. I feel honored to have walked through the streets of Jahangirpuri, and more that that, I felt proud that despite the conditions some of those people live in, they still strive to improve on themselves.
Kaviya Garg is a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, currently pursuing a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Linguistics. Her passion in life, other than food and travelling of course, is education. She wants to help create a more holistic education system that provides enough emphasis on the importance teacher education and awareness as well as just the students.