Innovative approaches to tackling malnutrition

The malnutrition-related deaths of nearly 600 children barely 100 kilometres from Mumbai in 2016 underlines the critical need for various stakeholders to come together to find ways to bring about behaviour change, and ensure that benefits charted out under various government schemes actually get to those who most need them.

The fact is that children do not die of malnutrition but of causes due to malnutrition. Stunting is a better indicator of malnutrition and according to studies 51% of children and adults among tribal populations in Maharashtra are undernourished and stunted. This is a significant figure and one that has not shown sufficient improvement in the last few years.

Across India, the occurrence of wasting among children is serious. Even within the limits of the financial capital Mumbai, NFHS-IV shows that one-fifth of children under the age of five years suffer from wasting. This is very serious indeed given the associated risks of disease, even death, among children who are very underweight.

Since 2011, a program introduced and managed by SNEHA and CRY has shown the way forward when it comes to tackling urban malnutrition, especially wasting. Over a period of two years, the percentage of wasting in children reduced sharply from 18% to 12% in the slums of Mankhurd, Govandi and Kurla situated in the suburbs of Mumbai. SNEHA’s intervention in child health and nutrition in Dharavi showed equally encouraging signs – a fall of wasting from 18% to 13%.

The percentage of children who received full immunization rose from 66% to 73% in the three areas mentioned earlier. There were also other positive changes, like rise in hospital deliveries (12 up to 15%), adoption of family planning methods (34% up to 59%) and a dramatic drop in pregnancies among women below the age of 20 years. (17% up to 4%).

The changes took place because of a sustained merging across different sectors at the community level to enhance child under-nutrition. This was backed up with enabling behaviour change through home visits, one on one counseling, awareness campaigns, and community meetings. This led to greater adoption of FP methods, immunization and better nutrition practices.

Urban malnutrition is a challenge not just peculiar to world cities like Mumbai. Tackling it requires innovative and creative approaches that take the community’s needs and pressures into account. The program by SNEHA and CRY offer a window into an approach that could show results in many parts of India to reduce malnutrition rates.





Ehsaas: Making Boys Part of the Solution

It is now widely recognized that improving the status of women has to involve boys and men. As much as girls, boys too are trapped in stereotypes and they need to recognize and value the importance of building equal and healthy relationships.

Unequal power not only suppresses women and girls, but also oppresses men and boys. Apart from the pressure of being the economic provider, rigid gender roles also limit men’s cultural experience. There is the pressure to appear virile and strong at the cost of suppressing emotions.

Since 2013, SNEHA’s Ehsaas program has been working among adolescents in Mumbai’s slum communities towards breaking these stereotypes. Through a mix of street plays and community sessions with adolescents and their families, gender stereotypes are questioned and challenged.

“The attitude has been to look at boys as problems”, says Neeta Karandikar, associate program director, Ehsaas. “This is especially the case after the Nirbhaya and Shakti Mills incident in Mumbai where the accused were from the slum areas. Boys from poorer communities were seen as problems. But we have to recognize the challenges they deal with”.

Traditional patriarchal attitudes, believes Karandikar, not only oppress women but act as traps for boys and men. By highlighting norms that allow boys to play while girls do hosuehold chores, Ehsaas encourages youngsters to question prevailing mindsets.

“My sisters would eat only after the men of the house would finish their meals”, says Shahid Shaikh, a peer educator with Ehsaas. ‘I never questioned that. It was after I joined the program that I realized how wrong this was and I now make sure they eat with everyone else”.

For decades, gender equality was considered a woman’s issue. Now, there is a realization that the role of men and boys in challenging and changing unequal power relations is critical. There is a stronger focus on the positive role men and boys can play in promoting women’s empowerment in the home, community, and  workplace.

To know more about Ehsaas, read this NDTV report 

Putting Health at the Heart of Urban Planning

The recent series by the Lancet on urban slums highlights the importance of placing health at the heart of all interventions.

Over 800 million across the world live in slums; areas where expansion happens with not enough planning or infrastructure. This is despite the many specific challenges that come with slums, like poor housing, unsanitary living conditions, overcrowding, lack of basic health and social services.

These are serious, crippling challenges that need to be addressed and planned for as they are preventing millions from reaching their full potential.

There is a need to put health at the heart of urban planning, argues the Lancet series, an approach that organizations like SNEHA are consistently working towards. Urban public health is one of the most persistent yet disregarded issues facing the developing world. However, there has been no inclusive plan for dealing with India’s rapidly urbanizing population.

The primary focus remains rural health, and while this is important, there is a need for an urban health agenda given the many challenges in our cities.

Take Mumbai’s slum population. They are regarded as a homogenous, indistinguishable presence, although they are a vital component of the financial capital’s economic productivity. Many of them live day-to-day, rather fragile existence with poor access to amenities like drinking water.

The World Health Organization’s report – Health as the Pulse of the New Urban Agenda also reinforces the need to put health at the heat of urban planning. Urbanization, it says, comes with opportunities for mobility and economic growth but has a negative impact on health and the environment. For urbanization to become sustainable, measures have to be put in place for disease prevention and health improvement.





Child marriages & impact on mental health

The impact of early marriage on the reproductive health of women has been well documented, but the effect on mental health often gets overlooked. Child brides often find themselves struggling to cope with anxiety and depression and find little sympathy or support in their marital home.

A sociological study done by the University of Calicut among 600 women who had married before the legal age found that most of them were in conflict with their husbands and other members of the marital home. They were under pressure to take over the household chores and produce a child early.

Any assertion of right or voicing an opinion was treated as a challenge and often met with ridicule, even physical abuse.

A new India wide study by the Delhi-based SAMA Resource Group for Women and Health is also examining the wider impact of early marriage on a woman’s health. Early findings of the report say that when girls are forced to leave school and marry, they experience a loss of mobility. The immediate result is a loss of companionship as they are no longer free to meet their friends. This is a major cause for distress.

Every aspect of their lives comes under close watch – from what they wear to whom they speak to – so there is a constant feeling of apprehension that they might break the rules.

Any sign of sadness or unduly quiet behaviour is regarded as proper and hence gets ignored. It is only when the signs of mental health become very obvious that outside help is sought and this is not professional help, but from traditional faith healers.

“Whenever there is physical violence, it shows up in scars”, says Praful Kamble, Program Officer of SNEHA’s Little Sisters program which has been working towards bringing addressing domestic violence issues in Mumbai’s Dharavi area. “But the impact on the mind is 25% more. There is depression and a sense of shock. And when there is negative support from the family, the woman feels even more isolated.”

Geeta (name changed) experienced verbal violence from her in laws and husband, as her son was constantly ill. Even her sisters-in-law did not support her. One day she threw kerosene on herself and set herself on fire.

“I did it out of despair”, she says. “Caring for a sick child was stressful as it is and then to be constantly blamed for it was a miserable feeling. I was worried for my child and had no idea where to seek help.”

There are multiple linkages between early marriage and health. Mental health is a key one, and needs greater focus in India’s programs and policies.


Fighting gender violence together

A recent IndiaSpend report on crimes against women in the Capital brings home the many promises made in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape in 2012 that remain unmet; and how four years after that horrific assault on a paramedical student, the number of rapes in Delhi has tripled.

After the incident, the Verma Commission that was entrusted with looking into reforms proposed many changes to the law. Chief among them was hiring more women in the police force as it was seen as a vital step towards ensuring greater sensitivity towards rape survivors. As the IndiaSpend report highlights, this, like along with many others like hiking expenditure on police training remains on paper.

Police, the world over, handle rape badly. Even in developed countries like the US and the UK where resources are so much more advanced, there is a huge variation in the way rape is recorded and how survivors are treated.

In India, where this is compounded by a crippling shortfall of staff, experts say there is a need to take a more pragmatic approach towards tackling crimes against women.

One that does not put the entire onus on the police, but a multi-sectoral approach that involves different agencies across key sectors – health, psychosocial and justice – working together.

Increasing the number of female cops is not the sole answer, says Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, Program Director for Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA. “Women share the same concepts of patriarchy and are not able to shed their deep entrenched attitudes while dealing with cases and survivors of violence”, she says. “We are working towards making violence against women and children a public concern, so should not the responsibility of assisting the survivor lie with all duty bearers, irrespective of being a woman or a man?”

Daruwalla argues that a multi-sectoral approach offers a more effective, long-term solution to bringing down crimes against women, pointing towards SNEHA’s convergence approach in the Mahim and Nehru Nagar police stations of Mumbai.

In September 2013, when SNEHA started an observation and in-house training program in gender sensitivity in these two stations there was some initial discomfort. However, gradually there was an understanding from both sides of each other’s pressures and needs.

While the counselors got to witness firsthand the extreme stress and staff crunch the force faces, the police too realized that SNEHA’s presence and inputs were helping them handle cases related to gender based violence in a better manner. It also helped tone down levels of aggression and the use of abusive language. Gradually the police began to reflect upon their patriarchal mindsets.

A study done before and after the program on the policemen who participated showed significant results. Some of them were –

*Greater understanding of the law against domestic violence

*Greater awareness of stalking, violence and disrobing as forms of violence

*53% decrease in the number of policemen who thought it was important to ask if a woman had provoked an act of violence

*Nearly 70% decrease in the number of police who said a woman’s sexual past was not important while recording a rape complaint

The greatest testament to the changes came from the women in the community who said that they were satisfied with how they were being treated by the police in these two stations.

“Changing mindsets is a longer term process that requires regular follow-up and reinforcement”, says Dr Daruwalla. “We work with the premise that the police are ready to fulfill their role appropriately and adequately if given an opportunity to work in a supportive environment. “

The convergence approach pioneered by SNEHA holds many lessons. Enabling the law system to respond to violence against women and children needs a supportive environment, one where various agencies come together and work in partnership with the police.

Instead of seeing the police as the ‘other’, it brings the community closer to the men in uniform, making the fight against gender based violence, everyone’s battle.





An app that is saving women’s lives in Dharavi

One of the most positive fallouts of the rapid mobile phone penetration in India has been the impact on education and health in rural India. These are parts of the country that have been left out of the benefits of the economic boom and progress seen in urban parts, either due to poor infrastructure or lack of political will. Be it apps that provide health updates or learning tips, start ups are coming up with creative, innovative ways to reach a constituency that was regarded as difficult to access for the longest time.

One such initiative that has received much attention, and for the right reasons, is SNEHA’s Little Sister project that deals with the sensitive subject of domestic violence. DV is rampant in India but has never been given the attention it needs given the scale as most women do not report it. Many of them don’t even see it as an issue as a nationwide survey in 2013 found out. Over 50% of women said it was justified on many counts.

Apart from being a human rights issue, DV is also a health issue. It impacts women’s health in a myriad ways – from causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to depression and even affecting maternal health outcomes. Also think of the impact on a child who watches his mother get verbally abused or physically beaten up? You are looking at a generation that will grow up to be either abusers or victims of abuse.

SNEHA’s Little Sister app works by offering women in Dharavi a safe space to seek help. It is private, non intrusive and effective. Most victims of DV are not looking to walk out when they seek help. Often they want a shoulder to cry on before deciding what to do next. Little Sister does just that. It allows the woman to set the pace. Its the comfort of reaching out to someone who you do not have to see again if you don’t wish to and who will not judge you, or your situation.

To find out more about the Little Sister project click here. There is a video link about the project as well. 




Quiltessentially SNEHA – Threads that bind and empower

As you walk into the exhibition of Quiltessentially SNEHA, the thought that strikes you is how the sea of rich patterns and intricate weaves is such a powerful expression of SNEHA’s work; conveying both the range of its outreach work and the ties it builds in the communities it works in.

Quiltessentially SNEHA, the livelihood project started in 2009 by the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action, aims to equip women in slums with various skills that will strengthen them financially

“I was supervising a tailoring class for adolescent girls and women and that’s when the idea came about. We thought why not start a small unit that makes patchwork quilts”, says Naina Fernandez, project director.

Naina Fernandez, Project Director & Seema Singh, Volunteer

Initially she relied on fabrics donated by clothing and furnishing stores that usually have large swatches left over.

“We taught the women basic stitching skills and we had some sewing machines and we were set to start”, she says.

The women would put the pieces together guided by creative inputs from Fernandez.

This is how it all started, with patchwork quilts

Some families took a little convincing at the start.

“There was this young girl who was really talented but in the early stages, the earnings weren’t that good”, says Fernandez. “Her family pulled her out because they felt she was better off working as a domestic help. I stepped in and insisted that she had a gift and they should not stop her from coming to the center”.

From quilts, the range of products has expanded way beyond to dupattas, bathroom mats, bedspreads and cushion covers. And then there are the small and thoughtful items like pouches for sanitary pads, an idea that Fernandez says came from school-going adolescent girls that SNEHA works with.

Pouches for sanitary pads

The designs are never repeated so each product is unique. The demand for the products is huge, especially among corporate houses.

The project employs about 40 girls and women, with 13-15 working on a shift basis. The timings are flexible as many have young children or elderly in-laws to look after. On an average, each person earns upwards of Rs 5000 a month.

Income that Manali, one of the earliest members, says comes in handy, especially when finances run low.

“My husband is a BEST driver and he earns decently but we used to feel the pinch when my children needed books or clothes. Now I contribute and ease the financial burden which makes me feel great”, says Manali. “I am able to support my family”.

Manali (right), among the early members

Above all, the project offers a safe space for women to get together and bond over shared experiences and issues.

“We stitch together, we share, laugh, chat, give each other advice and in the process feel lighter”, says one of the project members.


“I can often hear them giggling loudly as they work” laughs Fernandez. “People in the nearby units tell me these people make such a racket. So I know they are in a happy space.”



Pyaari Meenu -Telling SNEHA’s story through the letters of a young girl

How does one even begin to express why investing in women’s health is so vital?

Be it reducing maternal deaths, improving infant and maternal health, family planning, or tackling domestic violence, a healthy woman is at the core of a prosperous urban world, and this is effectively conveyed in Pyaari Meenu, the film by Social Access on SNEHA’s efforts to build strong, healthy and secure urban communities.

Bringing together SNEHA’s various community interventions is not easy. However, Pyaari Meenu weaves those strands together quite beautifully.

“Our challenge was to convey all the program interventions they undertake in one central thought” says Lynn De Souza, founder, Social Access, “and we did this by stepping back and driving home the underlying premise, the belief that empowers all their work. This came through in the tag line “A healthy world begins with a healthy woman”. Even men get included in this thought!”

Pyaari Meenu uses the form of letters written to an unborn child to convey these ideas. “Letters are always a nicely emotive way to tell a story from a personal point of view. They draw the viewer into the experience, as observer and participant,” adds De Souza.

Shooting the film came with its own set of challenges as the milieu had to be real to bring home a sense of the community that SNEHA works in. Pooja Das Sarkar, who directed the film, says it was shot in just one day over 17 hours, remarkable given the noise and chaos that is present in any urban settlement.

“We chose a two-storied house – one to show the life stage of a younger girl, and another to show the older woman”, says Das Sarkar. But the challenges remained. “We chose lights that were small and could be used in a smaller space. At night, people were very curious and stood outside the house commenting on “Who is the heroine”? etc. It was funny but natural and we did not let it affect the shoot.”

Helping to make the process smoother were SNEHA workers. They explained to local residents what the film was about. “We sourced the kitchen, a baby’s cot and even a baby from the community”, adds Pooja. SNEHA staffers were also roped in to act, with Nasreen playing the key part of Bharati Didi.

The result is Pyaari Meenu – a haunting, evocative film that helps the audience understand SNEHA’s work and makes an emotional connect.




Addressing the nutrition challenge

Just how poor nutrition levels are among Indian children has been highlighted yet again; this time in IMRB’s recent survey across ten Indian cities.

According to the report, one in three children in these cities misses school for about 50 days a year due to persistent health issues, ranging from cold, cough or skin irritation – a telling sign of poor immunity levels.

The children surveyed were between the ages of 6 to 14 years. Many had even missed exams due to a nagging health issue.

Apart from the health concerns, the findings throw light on the financial implications. Three out of ten mothers said they went to the doctor at least once a month to get their child treated and spent about Rs 850 a month on medicines.

This comes just a few months after The Lancet published a report on how despite its economic progress, India continues to do poorly across health indicators. The report rated India’s performance as the worst among the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Not just that, it is far behind poor countries like Nepal and Bangladesh.

The Lancet report specifically highlighted how low body weight and stunting remains a serious concern in India.

Lack of awareness about what the link between nutrition and immunity levels is a big part of the problem. Parents, in both middle class and lower middle class homes, rely on processed foods, unaware of just how harmful they are for health. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is practically non-existent. There is emphasis on the quantity eaten, rather than quality.

All this points to a need to implement programs like AAHAR aggressively on a national scale. Under this program started by SNEHA, yearly camps are conducted across Mumbai slums where counsellors talk to mothers and grandmothers in the community about why cooking food fresh and fruits and vegetables matter. Healthy cooking practices are also demonstrated.

Given the low level of understanding of nutrition and the attractive, overwhelming presence of junk food, there is a need to find creative ways to address the nutrition challenge effectively.

Even rich countries are battling this, even if its from a different spectrum. In the US, for instance, no less than First Lady Michelle Obama has taken up the nutrition challenge, demonstrating cooking methods and exercise techniques on TV and social media. Her goal, is specifically children and the youth. Its high time India’s leadership showed similar commitment to the health of our children.

How Aahar is making a change: A community speaks

Approximately 50% of children under 5 years are malnourished in India. Nearly 39% are stunted, that is low in height for their age. And in the financial capital Mumbai, 26000 children die every year because of malnourishment.

Aahar, which means food, is a program that combines home-based and facility-based care to reach out to a large number of vulnerable children in need of monitoring. In order to make maximum impact, it reaches out to mothers when they are pregnant and  addresses nutrition and feeding practices throughout the first 1,000 days of child’s life. The program was launched in Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum colony in 2012 by NGO SNEHA, and works in partnership with the Centre’s Integrated Child Development Scheme, the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai and the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital.DSC_0395

This week SNEHA will felicitate the many champions that help Aahar make a difference. A series of events will be held to honour the dedication and commitment of mothers, the municipal staff and community workers.


Here are some of those voices:

Mukesh Kumar Jaiswal

Mukesh Kumar Jaiswal, 25

“I was 21 years old when I got married and I have two young children. My children used to fall sick very often when they were babies and my wife and I struggled to cope. We gave them whatever was cooked in the house, sometimes we fed them chips and biscuits. It was only when my youngest was nearly 6 months old when we realised that what they eat makes a substantial difference to their health. This was after SNEHA workers came to our area and held camps. They talked about the importance of breastfeeding and immunisation and it made a big difference to our children’s well-being and those in the neighbourhood as well. 

It is not like children don’t fall sick now. They do but not as often as they used to. We not only feed our children green vegetables, dal and fruits, but we eat healthy too”

Renuka Kadam

Renuka Kadam, Community Organizer, SNEHA

“I started working in Dharavi 4 years ago and it was initially very hard to convince the families here to change their habits. They did not understand the importance of eating green vegetables, fruits and protein. We received a lot of support from the local anganwadi where these women would gather. Gradually they started to trust us and attend our sessions.

There was no awareness of the importance of breastfeeding. Most women would not nurse their babies due to misconceptions and myths so we had to work a lot on that aspect. They did not understand how important it is to take adequate rest, eat regular, nutritious meals while pregnant or take vitamins and supplements so their babies are healthy. They are so busy taking care of their families that they forget to look after themselves. They forget to eat. So we draw a clock on a sheet of paper and mark out the hours when they should eat. 

We hold camps twice a month when babies are weighed and their growth is recorded in charts. As the mothers see the improvement they are convinced. We also advice them about spacing babies and the various contraceptive methods.

From the time we started Aahar, there has been a big improvement in baseline indicators. But the challenge remains. Dharavi is home to a large migrant population so we have to monitor constantly”.


Sangeeta Gupta

Sangeeta Gupta, 30

“I have three children and earlier I would never bother too much about what I fed them. If I could cook a meal I would. Otherwise I would give them some money so they could eat chips or biscuits. After SNEHA’s camps I have changed. I always give them a dabba for school with vegetables and roti or rice. I have seen what a major difference it has made to my children’s health”.


Breastfeeding: Promotes a smarter, healthier, equal world

The lives of over 800, 000 children and 20 000 mothers could be saved each year with universal breastfeeding says a new series by the respected medical journal The Lancet.

Breastfeeding leads to fewer infections, enhanced IQ, probable protection against obesity and diabetes, even breast cancer prevention in mothers, says the series which has been hailed as the most in-depth analysis done so far into the health and economic benefits that breastfeeding can lead to. It also highlights that breastfeeding leads to economic savings of 300 billion dollars

The data published is based on analysis led by scientists at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil who looked at data from previous research.

Reporting on the findings, The Independent,  a UK daily, quotes the study head Professor Cesar Victora as saying, “There is a widespread misconception that breast milk can be replaced with artificial products without detrimental consequences…. The decision not to breastfeed has major long-term negative effects on the health, nutrition and development of children and on women’s health.”

However, globally, only 37% of children under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed in low and middle-income countries.

Women avoid or stop breastfeeding due to many reasons ranging from medical, cultural, and psychological, to physical discomfort. Turning to formula milk, which is heavily pushed by multinational companies and many hospitals, becomes a convenient option.

There is a need to create a supportive environment for a mother who is breastfeeding says Dr Armida Fernandez, Founder, SNEHA. This includes addressing the many myths and misconceptions that are still widely prevalent.

“Mothers, and this includes women from poor backgrounds, want to breastfeed their babies. But if their baby keeps crying, and this happens due to many reasons, they feel it’s because they are not producing enough milk and so they resort to formula or diluted cow’s milk leading to malnutrition”, says Dr Fernandez.

She believes that doctors need to aggressively and consciously encourage breastfeeding.

“I find many doctors do not support it at all. The moment the baby is a little underweight they tell the mother to start a top feed. “ Dr Fernandez suggest that health centres and clinics must have counsellors on their staff who actively encourage women to breastfeed.

Currently India is still some distance away from reaching its targets on improving infant nutrition as per an assessment report by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) and Public Health Resource Network (PHRN) published in late 2015.

The report says that nearly 15 million babies, who comprise of 55% of newborns in India annually, are deprived of optimal feeding practices in their first year after birth.

The assessment also points to gaps in policies and programmes outlined for enhancing breastfeeding rates. Countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fare better than India in comparison.

Aggressive promotion of baby foods by companies, lack of support to women in the family and at work places, inadequate healthcare support, and weak overall policy and programmes were some of the reasons identified as responsible for lack of improvement in infant and young child feeding practice indicators.


Marking 16 Days of Activism

Mumbai’s reputation as the safest city for women has taken a beating after the release this week of a new study that shows that the financial capital witnessed a surge of 49% in crimes against women in 2014-15. While this may be a heartening sign that more women are coming forward to report such crimes, the staggering near 50% jump should compel us a society to reflect.

This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence was an opportunity to do just that. Violence against women in India takes many forms. From sexual assault, public humiliation, abuse, domestic violence trafficking or ‘honour’ killing, crimes against women have more than doubled in the last 10 years according to the latest data of the National Crime Records Bureau.

One of the aims of the 16 days campaign is to raise awareness about this violence at different levels – local, national, regional and international. As part of this, campaigns and training workshops were conducted at various settlements across Mumbai city by SNEHA in collaboration with local organizations.

At community centres in settlements in Dharavi and Kandivili, daylong workshops were held with Safecity, a Mumbai-based organization that conducts campaigns to spread awareness about gender-based crimes.

IMG_0280The tone of these workshops was informal and interactive. Participants were asked about public spaces, their notions of what was safe and unsafe and interestingly there were several similarities in what boys and girls regarded as unsafe public spaces. The conversation would then broaden to include issues of sexual violence and harassment. The idea was to create a safe zone where participants could voice their opinions honestly about issues like consent, victim blaming, marital rape and domestic violence. They were also asked to map their localities, marking out areas that were regarded as safe or unsafe.


“Through the maps, we saw the reasons why many areas were considered safe and unsafe”, said a member of the Safecity team. “Safe spaces generally were areas that people frequented, or areas near places of worship and police stations. Unsafe spaces were much more in number and included spaces that were dark and secluded and where crime had happened before.’

The next step in this campaign would be for this group of youngsters to conduct a survey of their areas based on a survey form SNEHA has prepared that is based on perceptions of people regarding sexual harassment.

Violence against women is one among the most important factors preventing their full participation in the economy. Above all it’s a fundamental violation of human rights. Involving boys and young men in such campaigns send out the message that it is time they got involved in ending the scourge of violence against women and girls in their homes and communities

Dreams unlimited

Paisa hi sab kuch hai (Money is everything). I can’t live in a chawl. I need to live in a flat,” said Sairaj Salve, 15. To break the shackles of poverty and limited means is the sentiment that echoes among the youth of Ghatkopar.

SNEHA runs a programme – Adolescents Gaining Ground– for the youth in the area to empower adolescents with the knowledge and capacity to make informed choices about their physical, sexual and reproductive health and well-being through a regular series of health and life skills education sessions. The programme also focuses on enhancing employability skills of these community youth through the provision of vocational training of their choice and interest. On the occasion of International Youth Day, which falls on August 12, some of these youths got together to speak about their career prospects, their aspirations, dreams and the challenges they have to face to achieve those dreams.

The Ghatkopar youths clearly aspired for a white collared job and a more comfortable life. Many of them held full time or part time jobs while completing their college education. Because of their impoverished backgrounds, some have even been compelled to complete their education through correspondence courses.

“I am used to working and studying now. I go to Night College and then work a full night shift. I get to sleep in the daytime. Its not that bad,” said Ratnasheel Kamble, 21, said in a nonchalant manner. Kamble works at a petrol pump.

Salve said he wants to complete his bachelor’s in banking and insurance. “It is ideal. Students get placed immediately after college,” said Salve who is studying in college.

Like all youngsters their age, these youngsters are a confused lot. They do not know what skills can help them in their future careers. SNEHA is guiding these youngsters with their career choices and is supporting their vocational training.

Ashish Gore, who is studying in first year BSc wants to study computer languages. “I want to run a business and work in a job too. There is limited income in jobs,” said Gore.

Like Kamble, many have worked in the past as sales persons, or at the call centre. These jobs are very demanding. Many had a tough time adjusting that and studies. For instance, Zubair Shah who finished his 12th standard says that he had a tough time travelling to Dombivali for a sales job of mobile cards. Many expressed that such physically jobs offer them no major monetary gain and career scope.

Some like Abdul Ansari who is studying for graduation via correspondence has no option. He says he needs to support his family.

“Sometimes I had to take very abusive calls. They wouldn’t pay us the whole salary and not even on time. I am now desperate for a job, ” said Ansari who worked for several call centres in the past.

Lessons in Breastfeeding

Doctor Turuk answering questions from the audience
Doctor Turuk answering questions from the audience

What to do when breast milk dries out? Can the child be fed when the mother is sick? Is maalish good for the baby? Can we put oil in the child’s ears and nose?

Doctors from BYL Nair hospital were flooded with questions from about 100 mothers, some of them even pregnant. The programme was organised at Buddha Vihar hall at  Govandi by SNEHA in collaboration with the BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai Central. This is one of the many programmes SNEHA has organised for World Breastfeeding week starting August 1.

The audience were shown a short film too which extolled the benefits of breastfeeding in the first half hour of birth and six months exclusively.

The audience is shown a short film on the benefits of breastfeeding
The audience is shown a short film on the benefits of breastfeeding

“The first thick milk (colostrum) is like a vaccine for your child. Please do not throw it away. The child needs no water either. The breast milk has 80% water,”said Dr Mahendra Chavan after the doctors enacted a play before the audience.

One woman asked why her breast milk just dried out. She said that her mother-in-law insisted on feeding her daughter honey for three days after birth, and after three days she could not generate any milk. Her daughter only drank milk from the bottle.

The doctors explained that for the milk to generate the child has to suckle the breast, which sends a signal to the brain that milk has to be made. “If you do not feed the child for the first three days, it will be very difficult for the body to generate milk. The more you feed the child, more milk is generated,”said community development officer, Anjali Parande.

Nair hopsital doctors enacting a play
Nair hopsital doctors enacting a play

The doctors also showed a chart with the dos and don’ts to the audience. “Using the bottle is responsible for many infections. The nipple too. The child spits it out and picks it again and feeds on it,”said Parande.

Dr Alka Turuk demonstrated the right way to breastfeed the baby and ensure that mothers do not suffer back pain. She also demonstrated the right way to express milk. She also explained the importance of using contraception after the baby so that there is a three-year gap between first baby and the next. “It is important to breastfeed the baby. This is possible only if there is a three year gap between two babies,” said Dr Turuk.

The SNEHA staffers and doctors asked the women to spread the word. “We have come here so that at least your generation can mend the errors made by the earlier generations. Please spread the message with your friends and sisters,” said Parande.

Promoting breastfeeding


On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week, SNEHA organised three rallies at Dharavi on August 2. All the 79 community organisers, and others who work with the Aahar project of SNEHA, came out in support of the message. Nearly 150 people attended the rallies

“We spread the message of breastfeeding in the rallies. We told women that it is very important to breastfeed the first half hour of birth, and then exclusively for the first six months. There were some women from the community too who came and asked us questions. Our staffers counselled them on the issue, “said Dr Ganesh Mane, programme co-ordinator, Aahar.

WP_000163 (2)

The rallies had the support of our civic officials, and especially the doctors of Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital. In fact, Dr Alka Jadhav, professor of department of Paediatrics, with Dr Neeta Naik at LTMG Hospital, Mr Nandepalli, an ex-corporator from BMC, and Mr Gaikwad, CDPO, Dharavi block inaugurated the three rallies.

Iron boost

After being told that both her children- Rahul, 13, and Pratik, 11, are anaemic, Meena Shukla is now constantly looking for iron-rich foods to feed them. Through a SNEHA programme at Janata Colony, Kandivali west, Shukla found out that both her children’s condition, especially about her younger son’s severe anaemia problem.

“My husband is a driver and I have to run the household on a tight budget. I worry about them. The younger one is so thin,” said Shukla.

Shukla was visibly excited when the programme co-ordinator, KK Jayalakshmi told her she could opt for cheaper iron-rich foods such as nachni, drumsticks among others. “I will try out the recipes at home,” she said.

Both children are on iron tablets since February. Since then, Shukla has made some changes in the diet at home (more vegetables and less junk food) and claims that the programme has helped Pratik has gain some weight.

The programme has identified about 150 adolescents who are anaemic in slum. Almost an equal number of boys and girls have been affected by the condition. Anaemia, or iron deficiency is caused by the lack of iron in the diet among others. Its symptoms include tiredness and lethargy, pale complexion, headache and coldness in hand and feet. The programme provides iron supplements for the children suffering from anaemia (which they are supposed to collect each day), regular check-ups, and counselling about how to improve the diet among others.

Nazreen, 17, for instance, would return from college tired and would go to sleep immediately. Her two other siblings, a brother and sister are also anaemic.

“These children do not eat well. Most of them skip breakfast, and directly eat at lunchtime. They also eat a lot of junk in between meals,” said Jayalakshmi.

The community organisers have to coax the children to take the iron supplements. Many complain of nausea, stomach ache, among other side effects and some have even dropped out of the programme. But the community organisers are persistent and counsel them on how to reduce the chances of side effects with the supplements.

Many children and their parents are also happy with the programme. “Two girls who would get very irregular periods have started getting regular cycles now. One girl said she doesn’t feel dizzy any more after taking the supplements,” said community officer, Najma Shaikh.

(Names of the children and parents under the programme have been changed to protect privacy)

Dharavi diaries: The mystery of Aryan’s malnutrition

Healthyurbanworld will be following a severely malnourished child for a six months and note how the programme helps the baby’s development. 

Aryan (centre)
Aryan (centre) at SNEHA’s day care centre

Two and a half year old, Aryan Kothari is sick yet again. Almost every month, he suffers from a bout of diarrhoea or fever with a cold. Aryan is severely malnourished. He weighs just about 10 kgs and is only 86.8 cms tall. He been malnourished for nearly a year and has been in SNEHA’s day care centre at Matunga Labour Camp, Dharavi since September last year. He has been on medical nutrition therapy (a supplement with essential micronutrients mixed with peanut butter) for a few months.

His mother, Lata Kothari, 22, is at her wits end. “He does not eat well. I try so hard. People also say that since both my husband and me are thin, he is also thin,”said Lata. She shares the misconception of many parents who attribute the child’s malnourishment to genes.

Aryan was breastfed well for six months before his mother tried to give him supplementary food. “He just refused to eat anything. At most he would have one or two bites. I still find it very difficult to make him eat,”said Lata. She spends nearly two hours feeding him a small meal (a few mouthfuls, usually). The day care centre teachers too complain that Aryan is a poor eater.

Aryan's mother, Lata Kothari with the community organiser, Kunal
Aryan’s mother, Lata Kothari with the community organiser, Kunal

Aryan’s case is befuddling as his mother tries hard to follow most of the instructions provided by SNEHA community organisers. She tries to give him a nutritious diet and keep both him and his surroundings as clean as possible.

Recent studies have posited that poor sanitation, despite good diet, is one of the major causes of malnourishment. In all probability, Aryan is being exposed to a lot of germs. His house, though spic and span, is couched between a menagerie of houses. The house, which is on a mezzanine floor, has zero ventilation and no light. They need to switch on the tubelight all day long.

Aryan has to climb this steep staircase to enter the house
Aryan has to climb this steep staircase to enter the house

When we entered the house on a rainy day, the passage leading to the house was submerged in water. One has to climb a steep staircase to enter or exit the house, reducing his chances of outdoor exposure.

“We are trying to counsel these parents about how to feed the children and what is good for them. But if their circumstance is such that that they have to live in such unhygienic conditions, it becomes difficult for us to get rid of the problem of malnutrition in such cases,”said Dr Ganesh Mane, project co-ordinator, SNEHA.

Safety as a human right

When one talks of “access to toilets”, the first thought that pops in the mind is “sanitation”. In Dharavi, however, the immediate association with “access to toilets” is “safety of women and girls”. Why ‘safety’, you ask?

SNEHA’s toilet painting campaign

‘Safety’ because:

– groups of men and boys are always hanging around outside public toilets, loitering, drinking, gambling, sexually harassing women and girls.

– men and boys sexually find toilets an easy place to target a large number of women. Men and boys see public toilets as opportunities to stare, ogle, pass comments, whistle, grope, pinch, abuse, rape women and girls.

– women and girls feel uncomfortable, violated, targeted, harassed, denied of their basic human rights of access to safe toilets and a life free from violence.

– women and girls (and their families) feel like the onus is on them to ensure their own safety.

– women and girls are the ones who are forced to find solutions to ensure their safety such as going to the toilet early in the morning to avoid harassment and their harassers or going in a group with friends or with a family member or avoid going to the toilet several times during the day.

The 2011 Census of India found out that nearly 12 per cent of urban households resort to open defecation and another 8 per cent use public or shared facilities. Not only is this a health hazard, but it undermines the dignity of women and girls and makes them vulnerable to harassment and violence.

SNEHA addresses both, the issue of health of women and girls and the issue of gender-based violence in Dharavi, through campaigns, street theatre, meetings, support groups and vigilance groups. We raise awareness of these basic human rights in the community, and encourage and support collective, indigenous responses to combat violations of these rights. SNEHA’s men’s group members also act as vigilantes against sexual harassment of women and girls in public places, which includes the areas where public toilets are located.

Weaving lives

The patchwork quilt displayed above represents everything about the Livelihood Project and SNEHA as an organisation. “It weaves the lives of people and communities we work with,” summed Naina Fernandez, the programme coordinator of Livelihood Project.

women working at the Livelihood Project
SNEHA staffers working on a quilt

The project was started  in 2009 as a way to provide livelihood to women, and also help them learn a skill set that can help them gain financial independence. It involved educating the women on the basics of stitching and using of sewing machines. Currently 20 women are working and training at SNEHA.

Jewellery Pouch
jewellery pouches

“The women working for us do have stitching skills. We hone their abilities. I am particular about the finish of the products and insist on a professional look. I was also considering enrolling them for workshops which will increase their skill set and help us produce more products,”said Fernandez, who designs the products with inputs from her staff.

Naina Fernandez displaying a sling bag made by the women in the project

The flagship products are silk and cotton patchwork quilts. The product range has been diversified into bags, pouches, wallets, table linen, cushion covers, curtains, gift pouches, wine bags, among other products. The fabric that is donated by well wishers is used optimally. The products are sold in pop-up exhibitions such as Lil Flea, corporate houses for gifting, individuals who place orders, among others.
As a way to increase their confidence, the women who make the products are now encouraged to talk about them in the exhibitions. “Their body language changes when they start talking about their products. They are slowly gaining confidence,”said Fernandez.

If you want to order our products, please reach us on or call on 022-26614488

Nursing dreams

“I never thought that I could become a nurse and comfort patients. I had once dreamed of becoming a doctor, but I never stood a chance with my low marks. I am happy that I can help patients as a nurse”– a student from Nurse-Aid Course at SNEHA, who is successfully employed in a nursing home who passed out in 2013


From being a high school drop-out to becoming a nurse-aid is a huge high for the girls who pass out of Nurse Aid School at SNEHA. For the girls, typically from the poorest of families in Mumbai’s slums, this opportunity builds their self esteem and also boosts their position in society where they are treated with more respect.

Tapping into the growing demand of nurses in Mumbai’s health care sector, SNEHA started the Swasthyasevika programme in 2004 to train school dropouts to become nurse-aids. The programme was an important means of providing economic opportunity for these adolescent girls. The programme has trained over 300 nurse-aids over the years and most of these girls are employed. The programme is run in three centres of Mumbai including Santacruz, Govandi, and Kandivali.

“This programme gives these girls a tremendous psychological boost. Their entire body language changes. They dare to dream big. Some of my girls are doing very well for themselves. Some are even trying to complete their studies,” said Shibani Bagchi who runs the programme.

The SNEHA team conducts several mobilisation programmes in several slums of Mumbai to enroll adolescent girls and women in the course. The SNEHA staffers go door to door and try convince parents and girls to do the course. Many parents do not see the point of sending their girls for a whole year and feel it is a “waste of time”. Also, many families are conservative.

“Sometimes girls really want to enroll, but their families are against it. I recall a case where the brother was taking care of the sister who wanted to study with us. I told the brother that he may think that marrying off his sister is good enough for his sister. But god forbid, she gets into trouble in her marriage, or her husband is not able to earn, what will she do?,”said Bagchi. The brother not only sent his sister, but also sent several other girls in the family for the course.

Apart from lessons on anatomy, and several aspects of medicine and nursing, the course also includes computer training and English speaking classes. The course also includes practical training and an internship at a nursing home where the girls earn a stipend. Most of the girls manage to get a job with nursing homes in Mumbai after the course.

nurse aid students attending computer classes
nurse aid students attending computer classes

Becoming a nurse is also a huge boost for the social status of the girl. Take the case of Sunita (name changed) who was allowed to go for this course only after three years of persuading her family. She was married when she was just 15 years old.

After the course, almost giddy with excitement at the prospect of work, she writes, “When I become a nurse, I will get up early everyday and finish the household work and go to the hospital. I love wearing the nurse’s clothes, I love being called a nurse, I will do my work diligently. when I get the monthly salary, I will contribute to my household. My relatives will love me.”

For the students who do not end up working, the course teaches them basic science and understanding of the nutrition, hygiene among other things that can help them keep their family healthy.

“I feel if we change the mindset of one girl, it has a ripple effect on the entire family,”said Bagchi.

The lure of junk food


Dotted all over Dharavi are little stores or selling goodies for children. These stores sell potato chips, biscuit packets, instant noodles, and other snacks for as less as five rupees. Children as young as three years in the area frequent these stores to get their regular dose of junk food.

While the phenomenon of junk food leading to obesity is a well known phenomenon in the US, it also has a role to play in urban malnutrition. The easy availability of junk food is a huge problem, especially in places such as Dharavi.

Women in Dharavi who are pressed for time are not always able to devote time for hand feeding children, especially when they are very young. Giving a piece of biscuit is a good way to get a child to eat on his or her own without worrying about the child being hungry. The understanding of nutrition is scant (many do not know what it means) and mothers are usually satisfied if the child eats, irrespective of the quality of food.

Some are even taken in by the advertising and talk about nutritional value of biscuits in particular. Attributing nutritional value to biscuits, some women refer to biscuits as “glucose biscuits”. Some feel that if there is a fruit illustrated on the cover, it has some additional nutrients.

Children are seen scampering towards shops with five or ten rupees in hand asking for either biscuits or chips. They also go to wada pau or bhajia Chinese food stalls Many forgo regular meals (dal-chawal, vegetables, fish etc) for this kind of food with very low nutritive value. In this context the packaging of products targeted to this sector seems deliberate. Shopkeepers say that they sell over 50 packets of biscuits and chips per day.

Community organisers from SNEHA are working hard towards increasing the knowledge of nutrition in the area and the importance of feeding children home cooked food. Many mothers now understand that “outside food” is not always very good, and should try to cook fresh food at home for the children. Some children who are left at the day care centres at SNEHA also develop the habit of eating fresh food which can be nurtured at home. This may go a long way in educating the community about nutrition.

Need for creches in Dharavi


Mohan, about 18 months old spends most of his day in the crib in his dingy slum at Dharavi. The crib is in the corner of the tiny room which has no light. His mother spends hours in the mornings and afternoons working as a housemaid. Almost the whole day, the child eats biscuits soaked in milk.

Apart from gross ignorance about nutrition (many mothers in Dharavi do not even know the word), SNEHA has to deal with the lack of resources that the women face in the area. While many mothers are compelled to work, there is no real solution for lack of caretakers for children. Mohan’s mother says that she leaves her children to her sister-in-law’s care. This sister-in-law who lives a few rooms away already has four children, one of who is just an infant. One can safely conclude that the children are left to their own devices when the mother steps out.

Many such children of working mothers at Dharavi are susceptible to malnutrition. Children need the care and attention of their mother is always not possible. Many mothers are busy with daily chores and are also working to earn a living by doing off jobs such as selling utensils, embroidery, among others. Few of the other major reasons for malnutrition in children are lack of access to healthcare services, lack of quality of care, lack of good hygienic practices and absence of correct feeding practices.


Sevikas from SNEHA’s day care centres say that approximately 90 percent of the children in the centres belong to working mothers. The day care centres take in children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition and moderate acute malnutrition. In the centre, children learn to eat nutritious food (they are fed milk, fruits and other snacks), and form habits such as hand-washing, toilet training, among others. The children are also taught songs and rhymes and play with each other during the day. Children who stay in day care centres make great improvements in their health and move to their homes with better habits.

Many of these working mothers are not able to breastfeed their children exclusively for six months, let alone feed them breast milk for two years, which is recommended by the World Health Organisation. Many women resort to feeding the children cow’s milk in bottles. The sterilisation of these bottles is also a question. Many working mothers also resort to feeding easy-to-feed food such as biscuits, packaged snacks such as wafers, crispies etc.

​There is an acute need for creches for children in Dharavi with its compromised health and lack of care practices.Creches can help a child not only overcome malnutrition but also mentally stimulate him or her. Children need an environment which is safe and stimulates mental and motor development.

SNEHA gave us strength

Earlier, Sunita D’Souza, 28 would think that violence was her lot after marriage. Married at the age of 14, she would be beaten black and blue by her in-laws everyday and would suffer their taunts silently.

After associating with SNEHA in 2002, she became a sangini and since then helped a lot of women turn their lives around. From being a girl who wouldn’t step out of the house, she now confidently approaches authorities and tackles issues in her locality such as sexual harassment in public and other forms of violence and abuse.

“Now when I see a man molesting a girl on the road, it feels like a bomb blast in my brain. I cannot tolerate any girl being abused in any way.” said Sunita.

Sunita is among the 150 sanginis trained in crisis intervention during occasions of violence in the community, counselling women and family members and even filing complaints with the police. These sanginis (meaning friend in Hindi) handpicked by SNEHA work voluntarily in the community.

When SNEHA began its work on prevention of violence against women and children, it would conduct regular meetings with women. These meetings helped build perspective on gender, violence, and sexuality in the community. More importantly, the women had to be told that talking about violence in a home is not an issue of shame or dishonour.

“Some of the women in these meetings emerged as leaders. We took them in our fold to build sustainability of the programme, local capacity and leadership. Also, we needed someone on the ground at times of emergency. These women became the eyes and ears for SNEHA. They also work as a group that puts pressure on the community,”said Preethi Pinto, programme co-ordinator, advocacy and communications, SNEHA.

Like Sunita, most of the sanginis had suffered violence themselves. They can relate to other women in similar situations and help them cope with the situation better. “We suffered so much. We do not want other women to go through it,”said Shubhangi Gaikwad, who is in her late 30s. Shubhangi suffered violence from her husband for over seven years, before she approached SNEHA. She later became a sangini.

There is also an obvious shift in the thinking that women should not talk openly about violence. A few months ago, Rashida Shaikh risked hurting herself by trying to save a woman in her locality.

“That woman was being dragged by her drunk husband by cloth tied around her neck. People told me not to intervene in what they said is a family issue. I fought with them and told them that I will get the police if he doesn’t let go of his wife. People do not realise that just because I fought with the man, the woman’s life is saved,” said Rashida.

Most of these women are homemakers, from very conservative backgrounds and not very educated. It is a huge deal for them to step out of the house, confront people and try to rescue women. They now go to the police and demand that complaints be filed. The experiences with SNEHA has empowered them to confront their own problems with authorities, instead of suffering in silence.

Shobha Janga
Shobha Janga

“A policeman was refusing to file a complaint when my daughter lost her cellphone. He kept saying that the children are spoilt these days and own cellphones. I told him its none of his business and insisted a complaint be filed. Finally he had to file a complaint,” said Shobha Janga, who is a sangini since 2002.

These women have come a long way since they first engaged with SNEHA. They have empowered themselves and are now in the position to empower other women like them. One of our sanginis is even pursuing a Masters of Social Work (MSW),” said Bhaskar Kakkad, programme co-ordinator, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA.

Bhanu Dedhia
Bhanu Dedhia

Many of these women have even started working with SNEHA. “I used to be in ghunghat (veil) earlier. I have barely completed my eighth standard. I never even imagined I could work earlier. I started as a sangini and now I am a programme officer. I feel my sanginis should also become strong,” Bhanu Dedhia, who has been associated with SNEHA for 12 years.

The sanginis with Bhaskar Kakkad on the left
The sanginis with Bhaskar Kakkad on the left

The sanginis find strength in each other. “I would not utter a single word outside my home earlier. Now, I tell people that if they try to harm me, my sanginis will get together and teach them a lesson. I am not afraid of anyone any more,”said Rashida.

SNEHA starts a Women’s OPD at Kalwa


On the occasion of World Health Day on May 7, SNEHA in association with Thane Municipal Corporation inaugurated a Women’s OPD that will handle cases of violence against women and children at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Hospital, Kalwa . SNEHA is also running similar OPDs at Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical Hospital (Sion Hospital), and KEM Hospital.

The OPD offers a multi-disciplinary crisis intervention and supportive counselling services to women and children facing violence. The OPD will be functional from May 15.

The SNEHA team will also conduct sensitisation programme with the doctors so that cases of violence are referred to them. We hope this OPD offers a ray of hope for women here.

Scene from a cricket field

Shivani Singh, 18 wondered if she will be able to play cricket. She had come from “all the way” from Kandivali to Dharavi to participate in a cricket match. She was one of the two girls selected by SNEHA to play in the three-team tournament in Dharavi. The three teams were selected from communities at Dharavi, Kandivali, and Ghatkopar where SNEHA works extensively.

“I can dance. I have never played cricket,” said Shivani who goes to college.

Nagesh Kori, 17, another collegiate in her team quipped, “That’s because you’ll never play with us. We play galli cricket all the time.” They were watching their team-mates open the batting against Ghatkopar team.

Shahid Sheikh on the extreme left cannot take his eyes off the match. Rohit Kanojia, Nagesh Kori and Shivani Singh pose for a snap while waiting for their turn to bat

“Rubbish! When did you boys allow us to play?” Shivani told him making a face.

In the meanwhile, one of her team-members, Rashida Shaikh, 18, gets out on the first ball. As per the rules, it was compulsory for one girl to open an innings.

“You please don’t get out like this,” said Shahid Sheikh, 17, Shivani’s teammate. He rolls his eyes when Shivani asks him questions related to the rules of cricket.

Soon, Shahid was cheering for Rohit Kanojjia, 19, who had stepped in to bat for the team. Sure enough, Rohit hits many sixes and fours much to the glee of his team members.

In the third over, Mayuri Mhasde, 15, a puny girl from Ghatkopar team started bowling (it was compulsory for the girls to be given one over in the match).

Rohit happily hit the first two balls for four and a six. In her third ball, she bowled him out. Rohit looked at the wicket in disbelief. The team eventually made 138 runs.

Mayuri was however, disappointed. “I could have taken another wicket. It turned out to be a no-ball,” she said.

Mayuri Mhasde on the left and Kajal Yadav next to her talk about their love for cricket

She has been playing cricket for over two years now. “We play every day between 2 pm to 4 pm. Even my sister who is a complete recluse plays with us,” said Mayuri.

Her sister, Sonali, 18, who studies in college, also plays cricket, and is part of NCC cadet. “I want to join the army after I finish my graduation,” she said.

Another girl from Ghatkopar but from a different locality, Kajal Bhandare said that in her locality, girls are not allowed to play. “My brothers take me everywhere. So I got to play cricket,” she said.

When Mayuri went out to bat for Ghatkopar, she got out soon. “My captain, Shashank Uthale asked me to get out. I can play well. I can hit four easily. Hitting sixes though is tough for me,” she said vehemently. The team got out making less than 51 runs with most batsmen making less than one run.

“What Dada, I told you I can play? Why you didn’t let me?” asked Mayuri. Shashank had no answer.


The three team tournament was organised by SNEHA on April 2. The intention was to select a winner for a tournament organised by Indra Darshan Society, Oshiwara. The Society runs a cricket tournament every year to help raise funds a non-profit of their choice. This year, they have chosen SNEHA.

The victorious Dharavi team

After six matches, Dharavi team emerged the winner. The team will represent SNEHA in the Oshiwara match. In this team, both the girls and boys played in harmony. They practiced for days before the match.

Talking gender in Dharavi

Pointing at posters of Hrithik Roshan, a 13-year old boy said that he is “fittest” and “good-looking”. Kareena Kapoor, the boy said, is beautiful because she is “fair”and has “smooth skin”. On the other hand, Bharati Singh, though a very good comedian, is “fat” and Vinod Thakur, the dancer is not the best looking as he does not have legs. The boy was participating in a SNEHA workshop on sexuality and gender.

In a bid to get adolescents to talk openly about sex, sexuality and gender, SNEHA has organised a series of 18 workshops for adolescents in Dharavi. As part of the programme- “Managing Sexuality”-a Ford Foundation grant project, these workshops delve in topics related to body image, puberty, sexual health, gender violence, relationships, among other adolescent issues. This session about body image is one of them.

The teenagers were also explained the difference between gender and sex. While sex is defined as biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, gender is a socially constructed roles, behaviors and attributes that a society considers appropriate for men and women.

“Women cannot lift heavy weights. Men cannot have long hair. These are examples of gender constructs,”explained Jayshree Belwade, programme officer who conducted the session with the children.

In the session, the children were shown images of actors without make-up and also a video about how make-up and photoshop can transform an image of a person.

“The before-after images really shocked the children. We wanted them to understand that we should love people for their qualities and not for the way they look,”said Belwade. This workshop also stressed that self esteem should be based on one’s achievements and not on superficial qualities such as good looks. The children were encouraged to talk what they like about their bodies, and their friends.


The need for the workshops for teenagers was felt after preliminary research showed that the gender discrimination in the community was very large. “In the focus group discussions, what really surprised us was that most of the teenagers, their parents and community leaders felt that rape was the woman’s fault. They blamed it on the woman’s clothes or behavior among other reasons. Only if the survivor is a child, they felt the perpetrator is at fault,”said Sneha Kupekar, project co-ordinator, Managing Sexuality.


The SNEHA team believes that these workshops will open communication channels for these children to talk about difficult issues of sexuality in safe environments and help them cope better with realities of life.