Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, fought against COVID-19

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A still from Dharavi, Mumbai | Source: M M via  Flickr

Imagine a place where 8-10 people live in 100 square feet structures. A place which squeezes close to 6,50,000 people, 5,000 small factories, and about 15,000 single-room workshops in just 2.5 square kilometer area. Welcome to  Dharavi, the biggest slum of Asia situated in the heart of fashion, entertainment, and commercial capital of India, Mumbai.

When the first COVID-19 case was discovered in Dharavi, it caused massive panic among the citizens as well as officials. Social distancing is virtually impossible to achieve in Dharavi, which is a maze of narrow congested lanes with tenements on either side of it and where 80% of the population use community toilets.

With their fingers crossed, people were speculating about Dharavi turning into a graveyard. These fears turned out to be misplaced and three months later Dharavi won praise from the WHO for effectively restricting the spread of coronavirus. According to the official data, the COVID-19 case doubling rate improved greatly, from 18 days in April, to 43 days in May, to 108 days in June, and 480 days in July.

Mr. Kiran Dighavkar, Assistant Commissioner of the top civic body of Mumbai, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said that their undertaking of an aggressive strategy of 4T’s - Tracing, Tracking, Testing & Treating, is the key to Dharavi’s successful fightback against the pandemic. The fightback plan was aptly coined "Mission Dharavi".

Extensive screening and testing of residents was done to detect the symptoms for coronavirus in "fever camp" which were set up by medical workers in different parts of the slum everyday. Many buildings such as schools, wedding halls, and sports complexes were overtaken by the civic authorities and were repurposed as quarantine facilities. A 200-bed hospital was also set up in record 14 days.

The BMC commissioner, I S Chahal said “Proactive screening helped in early detection, timely treatment and recovery.” Close to six hundred thousand people were screened, 14,000 people tested and 13,000 quarantined in nearby institutions, schools, marriage halls, and sports complexes. Furthermore, continuous monitoring of people’s movement using drones helped reinforce containment measures and scaled progress swiftly.

To further strengthen the measure, locals of the community emerged as “COVID Yodhas” (warriors) to address the concerns, a senior official said.  Many well endowed citizens and NGO’s provided Free meals, ration, PPE gear, oxygen cylinders, gloves, masks, medicines, and ventilators to residents and July

On 8th July 2020 Dharavi recorded a total of 2,335 COVID-19 out of which 1,735 patients have recovered and there are only 352 active cases at present. Only 82 deaths were recorded in Dharavi till 8th July as against more than 4500 in the whole of Mumbai.

This phenomenal success has given the world a yet simple and effective technique in curbing the spread of the deadly virus. World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a virtual press conference in Geneva, acknowledging the efforts of various nations and Dharavi to contain the virus, said that “There are many examples from around the world that have shown that even if the outbreak is very intense, it can still be brought back under control”. Further, he added, “And some of these examples are Italy, Spain, and South Korea, and even in Dharavi -- a densely packed area in the megacity of Mumbai -- a strong focus on community engagement and the basics of testing, tracing, isolating and treating all those that are sick is key to breaking the chains of transmission and suppressing the virus.”

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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