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Socio-Economic Situation of Jehangirpuri basti

Matrika, in collaboration with Action India (NGO), held a few workshops with dais of Jehangirpuri. Action India has been doing development projects in this area for a long time. In its various health programmes it realised that dais were handling majority of the births in this area. Matrika’s workshop helped in bringing the dais together as a group. They now have regular monthly meetings to discuss their problems and future plans to get organised.

Location of Jehangirpuri basti

It is a resettlement colony located in the north-eastern part of Delhi. It is close to Azadpur, a wholesale vegetable market, which supplies vegetables to a very large population of Delhi. On one side is the Karnal industrial area and on the other side is Adarsh Nagar residential colony where some upper middle class and middle class sections of Delhi resides.


Jehangirpuri resettlement colony came up during the National Emergency in 1975. 25 sq. ft. of land was given to the poor under ‘Garibi Hatao’ (removal of poverty) and demolition of Jhuggi-Jhonpri (slums) schemes.

Families had come from various regions of the country. Many came from the drought hit Rajasthan in 1966-’67. They were families of labourers who were earning a living by breaking stones or as construction labourers. Many also came from the districts of Banda, Itawa, Jhansi, Meerut and Bulandshahar of eastern U. P. Some came from Punjab and Haryana. All these people used to live before in the slums of central Delhi and old Delhi and in 1975 they shifted to Jehangirpuri.

Realities of basti

Jehangirpuri has been divided into alphabetical blocks. In each block, people of a particular region live together. Like, in ‘I’ block Rajasthanis live, in ‘G’ block its mainly the ones from U. P. In spite of long years of stay in Delhi, the Rajasthani women still wear their traditional dress, lehanga and chunari. Many have no contact with their village folks but they still follow their customs.

95% of the houses are pukka and are made of bricks and look very modern, with marble floors, tiles, glass doors and windows. Many houses have two or three storeys and are worth four to four and a half lakhs. Many sold their houses/plots to merchants and small industrialists and shifted to some slum area. These merchants and small industrialists bought houses/plots for business work. Many lower middle class families have also shifted to live here. Because of this buying and selling of plots/houses, one can see hoardings of property dealers in the area.


In these small spaces almost eight to ten members of the family live together. There is no toilet in these houses and there is no separate space for the kitchen. A small space of the drawing room is converted into kitchen. The kitchen water flows out into the open drain, which is flowing outside the houses. Two-third of the population has gas stove for cooking and some still use kerosene stoves for cooking. In many houses there are two separate spaces for kitchen. One each, for the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. There is just one window in the front room. There is no ventilation for air circulation. There are no overhead tanks for storage of water. In the peak of summer, due to shortage of water, water is supplied by water tankers of the municipal corporation of Delhi.

basti Planning

The basti is spread in five -six kms. radius. The outer blocks of the basti (‘A’ & ‘L’), have shops and look like a market area. The whole area is very congested. On one side is Jehangirpuri main bus stand. There are many manual rickshaws, one of the only means to move around in the narrow lanes of the basti s. As one enters the basti , more shops can be seen of stationery, cosmetics and medicines. Many people earn a living by selling vegetables. They buy the left over stale vegetables sold at a reduced price from the Azadpur wholesale market. These are then bought by basti dwellers. Besides, people move around on bicycles or on foot, selling readymade garments and steel/hindalium utensils. There are also electric and gold/silver jewellery shops.

On one side of the basti , there is a huge market of recycled plastic wastes. There are mounds of plastic bags, old clothes and other junk. This area is particularly very dirty. Many men and women work and earn a living by sorting out the junk material.

Unhygienic living conditions due to pathetic drainage system, dumping of plastic and no proper toilet facilities has led to outbreaks of epidemics. It is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and flies.

Medical Facilities

Almost in every street one finds a shop of an RMP, an Ayurvedic practitioner or a homeopath doctor. There are also government dispensaries, which have a doctor and a nurse, Very few go to these dispensaries. Most rely on these private health practitioners for all kinds of ailments, cough, cold, fever or injury. Many of these practitioners have a small space for conducting deliveries and abortions.

Sabla Sangh of Action India also has a health centre. Many women come here for a check-up. Most of the treatment is done through herbs and spices.

In case of an emergency, the basti people go to private nursing homes, many borrow money for it. Pant and Hindu Rao are the two closest government hospitals. In very difficult cases, they go there.

There are also vaids, bonesetters and other healers. People have a lot of faith in them. Many of them come from quite a distance to get treated.

There are also small parks within the basti . But this is just an empty space. Many use it to dump waste. Children play cricket here. During marriages or Puja, this space gets used.

Other realities

There are government schools. Dropout at middle school is very high. Very few manage to study till high school level. School going children also engage in small jobs for earning extra for the families. Young boys work in factories and girls shell green gram. In fact, the women after finishing their household chores, are engaged in various activities like shelling green gram, making paper packets, sticking labels on boxes, making bindi packets etc. They earn 10-12 rupees per day. Factory people come and hand over this work to basti folks. Surely labour is cheaper than machines. Some women also work as domestic help.

Men work in factories, drive auto-rickshaws or repair gas stoves/pressure cookers. They go to upper-middle colonies on their bicycles with their repair kits. There are very few who have permanent jobs.

Political party agents play a very important role in this basti . Both Congress and Bhartiya Janta Party are present. basti s are a major vote bank for these political functionaries. The basti people make use of these party politicians for getting their Ration Cards, Old Age Pensions and Widow pensions. In police cases also, the basti people approach the local party political leader for help.

Action India

It started in 1970 and in 1984 it started working in four resettlement colonies – Nandnagri, New Seemapuri, Jehangirpuri and Dakshinpuri. They started with Health Programmes. They trained some women from the basti as Health Workers. These health workers participated in a health programme for basti s. They also took up other issues of the basti s, like water, electricity problems, primary health care and violence against women.

They had small groups working on Fertility Awareness. It was divided into various age groups, a separate group was made for adolescent girls. The women discussed their body and health problems. They had self-help groups where information was imparted on use of jari-booti (herbs). A programme called Apni Rasoi (my kitchen), started on food and drinks and easily available kitchen spices that could be used for treatment/remedies. Separate meetings of each programme with each age group, was held by the health workers.

The health workers learnt about jari-booti and indigenous healing practices by getting special training from vaidyas and healers. In their centres, these herbal medicines are prepared and kept. They prescribe these medicines and charge a very nominal fee.

dai Programme

Action India had their first direct interaction with dais after Matrika’s first workshop. For the dai project, Jehangirpuri basti was chosen as the focus area since birth was handled mainly by the dais themselves. They started with monthly meetings and recently, they also introduced saving schemes amongst the dais.

The dais are from U.P., Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Rajasthani dais are traditional practitioners and handle birth according to their traditional knowledge. They have not been exposed to modern systems. But they are very confident about their traditional knowledge and skills.

dai work is an additional work for the Rajasthani practitioners. They consider it to be sewa ka kaam (social service). They earn their living by breaking stones.

The dais from other regions also have traditional knowledge and handle birth accordingly. However, many have links with the local R. M. P.s’ nursing homes and have also received short-term training from hospitals. Many took up dai work because of economic reasons, they being the sole bread earners of the family. Some had worked with doctors, and then independently started working as dais. Many dais, in these urban set-up, have replaced the traditional ritual practices with the newly acquired modern symbols of hygiene – gloves, sui-goli, and the birth kit. These have become symbols of power – they attract people, as traditional ritual practices are now considered superstitious.

Almost 90% of the deliveries are handled by the dais. In case of complications they take the women to the nearest government hospitals or nursing homes.

Action India is trying to fill this gap that exists between the ethno-medical and bio-medical systems. It also feels that the dais have to be organised if they have to get proper remuneration and status in society. The dais also agree with this and want to get organised as an assertive labour force.

Income Generation

Initiated in early 1995, the income generation programme gives interest free loans ranging from Rs.1,000 to Rs. 10,000 to help women improve micro-enterprises and become self determining. The women, most of whom are daily wage earners, feel this has solved the problem of high interest rates; earlier Rs.100 borrowed from a money lender in the morning, had to be returned as Rs.105 that very night.

Saving Groups

There are 20 women in each saving group. Action India provides the initial direction and facilitates the process of group formation. Women themselves take responsibility and frame the rules for the group functioning.

Sabla Sanghs

Earlier, action India worked only with women, among whom it formed Sabla Sanghs. It has now extended its work to girls, on the assumption that change takes time. Also, girls have more potential for change. The following groups have been formed-- Sabla Sangh (women between 22 and 60 years), Chhoti Sabla Sangh (adolescent girls between 13 and 22 years) and Nanhi Sabla Sangh (pre-adolescent girls between 9 and 13 years).



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