Sunken house, sunken lives

Bengaluru Children City Economy Education Health Interview Karnataka roads Safety Slums
A family in Ejipura slum sometimes eats food left over by rats

Rejina Merry feels helpless as she is stuck in a tiny house in Ejipura that is below the road level. A disability in the legs has forced her to walk on her hands.

Unlike their neighbours in Ejipura’s IG Colony slum who have demands like clean water and electricity, Rejina and her family only want a waterproof roof and a levelled house. Her maternal aunt Komala is the sole earner, earning Rs 400 daily as a construction worker. Komala’s husband Kuppa stopped working as a labourer seven years ago due to extreme weakness.

Kuppa has lived in the slum for the past 40 years. Their house sank a few years ago as the government started construction nearby. He asked for help from the government to level up the house.

  • Entrance of Rejina's house in Ejipura's IG colony
  • Their only mode of entertainment is a television
  • A shelf that helps their belongings from getting ruined during floods
  • (From left) Kuppa, Rejina, Anusha, Appu and Komala

“Two years ago, we applied to the Rajiv Gandhi Housing Yojana to get Rs 5 lakh from the government, but it did not respond positively. Asking community leaders for help is a waste. Politicians only come to ask for votes; they never help,” he informed The Observer.

Even if the government clears their application under the housing scheme, they will only get material like concrete and doors, but no labourers. Bearing the cost of building a house will be a challenge for the family.

Owing to rapid rainfall, their house gets flooded as the water gushes in through an unlevelled entrance. In such situations, they take refuge in their neighbours’ houses.

When it suddenly rains in the wee hours, they have to get out of the house as soon as possible. Cooked food kept for the next day gets spoiled. Children’s uniforms get wet and they have to skip school the next day.

They have spread plastic sheets on their roof so the water does not seep in.

“We don’t want a good house; we just want a levelled house with four walls and a good sheet,” Kuppa said.

“The daughter got her periods (pointing toward Rejina’s 15-year-old daughter) five months ago. The neighbour understands and does not mind letting us in,” said Komala.

Rejina and Kuppa have two children, Anusha (15) and Appu (9), who attend a government school nearby.

Rejina’s dream to become a teacher was crushed when her spine got injured when she fell from a school swing. She was barely 14 when the spine injury led to permanent immobility of the legs.

Asked why she does not use a wheelchair or a walker, the family said they feel bad if they see her in a wheelchair.

Rejina applied for a pension when she was younger. She met a doctor to get a certificate of physical disability, but he died. Now, she has no certificate to show as proof of her disability. Without it the government will not help her.

The family could not renew their ration card due as they did not update the biometrics. They buy grocery from kirana shops.

“Now the Indira Gandhi Colony depot officer is asking for Rs 3,000 to update the ration card. We do not have the money.”

A kilo of rice costs Rs 20. Their monthly expense on rice is Rs 600. To save money, they buy cheap vegetables that are rotten or eaten by insects. Many times rats eat their food, leaving them with no choice but to eat the rats’ leftovers.

The family bathes once or twice a week as they have to wait in long lines to get water from another part of the slum, called Melagalli. They bathe inside their house using water collected in a depression below the entrance.

The house, which has one light bulb and a television set, gets electricity illegally from a nearby streetlight. “Sometimes, rats damage TV wires. We are the ones who fix the wires,” shared Kuppa.

The family hopes somebody will help to end their misery. They are optimistic about their children’s education.  Their daughter wants to become a doctor and their son a pilot.

Yukta Mudgal
Trainee Journalist at IIJNM.

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