The Miracle Workers of Mumbai’s Slums

Free medical camps organized by the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
Free medical camps organized by the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan

Mumbai, India’s financial capital, is also home to the world’s largest slums. Here, the world’s richest and poorest live alongside each other! Experts feared that Mumbai’s slums would explode with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, on the contrary, during both the first and second wave of the pandemic, Mumbai’s slums exploded with compassion, resilience, and a strong community spirit.

In March 2020, Covid-19, combined with the sudden and complete lockdown, struck a deadly blow to the residents of these slums — lower middle class and unorganized workers, migrant daily wage labourers, and small entrepreneurs. As the people here are used to facing crises, information about pandemic control spread like wildfire and people co-operated with the efforts of medical and security workers.

There was an equally deadly enemy: poverty! With all establishments closed down and no means of travel outside the city, the working class, especially the daily wage earners and migrant labourers faced an unprecedented crisis, leading to starvation and daily deaths.

It was then that the undying spirit of community-based organizations all over Mumbai, swung into action. It was not only NGOs from outside, but also NGOs born and nurtured in the slums that decided that no one should go hungry. Even as you read this article, they are waging their battles against poverty and hunger during the second wave of the pandemic too. Three such organizations are: the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), Hum Sab Ek Hain Foundation and the Mohalla Committee Movement Trust (MCMT).

Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan

BMMA co-founders Noorjehan Zakia Niaz (L) and Zakia Soman (R)
BMMA co-founders Noorjehan Zakia Niaz (L) and Zakia Soman (R)

The Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) office, a small two-storey structure sits in the heart of the slums of Kherwadi and Bandra East. Founded in 2007 by academicians turned social activists Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman, this women’s organization has been leading struggles for Muslim women’s personal and professional rights, domestic and political freedom, for equal access to education, employment and healthcare. The ban on triple talaq and the movement for opening places of worship to women are among some of their achievements.

Subscribe to The Teenager Today print / digital editions to read the full article.

Dr Rositta Joseph is a Senior Editor with Orient BlackSwan India. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK) and Former Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh.

Dr Rositta Joseph

Dr Rositta Joseph is a Senior Editor with Orient BlackSwan India. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK) and Former Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh.