Mumbai, it is a beast of a city with a population counting anywhere between 18 and 24 million people. Despite the official language being Marathi, you find most people able to speak both Hindi and English or at least another Indian language, such as Urdu, Gujarati, Konkani, Telugu, Tamil or Kannada. Most metropolises that I have visited during my travels have shown me the essence of diversity, but none quite like this city; for which there is a good reason. See, Mumbai was originally comprised of seven islands, being: the Isle of Bombay, Colaba, Little Colaba, Mazagaon, Parel, Worli and Mahim. Even though these islands have now been merged together through reclamation processes and together make up for South-Mumbai; their industries have had (and still have) a giant pull-factor for Indians and foreigners alike. This pull-factor as resulted in an on-going expansion of the city anywhere but southbound, swallowing smaller urban entities like Bandra, Kurla, Santacruz, Goregaon, Diva, Thane and Borivali in the process. It is for this reason that no area in Mumbai is or looks even remotely alike, not in terms of architecture and neither in terms of the people inhabiting or by other means utilising that architecture. It is as if there are 1000 little Mumbais making up for one giant Mumbai.
This city is not for everyone and yet it is. It is brutal, and yet welcoming. Some places are dirty, yet the people’s clothes are mostly clean and their houses mostly spotless. Still, it is by all means visible that the city’s infrastructure faces its difficulties. The ‘plastic-problem’ and poor chemical-waste regulations have caused the city’s inner-waters to show resemblance to a gooey science-fiction substance. The traffic gets so bad that at times it takes an hour to reach a destination that is but 3 kilometres away. The train lines are so overcrowded during rush-hours that every single day multiple people die falling off moving trains; as in they literally die trying to reach their places of work in the most efficient way available to them. So to say; I am by no means in the assumption that Mumbai is perfect, yet its sublime nature has made me long for it to be my home. For hardship here is met with perseverance, not with agitation; which is something I learn from everyday. The average Mumbaiker (if there ever was one) is comprised of a sweet, though hardened mix of acceptance, hope and dedication. I admire them for that. I admire them even though I know for them it is not a choice but a necessity.
Mumbai is India’s biggest city. India, the land I love so much, is beautiful in many ways. Culturally it is the richest country I know and besides that it has been the fastest growing economy for over a decade now. Being in Mumbai it is noticeable that the middle class is on the rise and that the ‘average Indian family’ has seen somewhat of an increase in its financial situation. Still, the remains of the caste-system and the backward traditions and customs it is known to foster still pose as India’s greatest obstacles for equitable prosperity. Here it does matter where you were born, by whom you were conceived and the gender you count yourself amongst. To someone from a welfare-state, like myself, indoctrinated in such a fashion that I deem it normal that people are treated equal regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic descent, religion or sexuality. The implications of a world where this is to a lesser extent the case are hard for me to grasp. Still, experiencing them here has given rise to the urge to make an attempt to uncover them, document them and study them in a way that allows for a contribution to the social-scientific literature aiming to provide means to battle them.
Leaning on the notion that hardships should not weigh heavier on one’s shoulder for the sole reason of being a woman, I have decided to dedicate my studies towards documenting a type of initiative that intends to empower the female population of this land. The initiatives I speak of in this regard are called Self Help Groups (Bachat Gat in Marathi). These groups started off as predominantly rural initiatives that aim educate women in the essence of empowerment, planning, math and professional skills to improve their standing in their respective households and communities along with an improvement in their financial situations. These initiatives in the rural context have been studied extensively. Yet, the academic literature regarding their functionings and their contribution to the empowerment of women in the urban context is lacking. With the help of the honourable staff of the Swayamsiddha Foundation (to be formally introduced in the post hereafter) this hiatus will be filled through extensive fieldwork, all of which to be reflected upon in this here blog.
To be continued….