Bengaluru, April 19: If you are under the impression that real Bengaluru thrives in malls and pubs, then look beyond. Do try to visit ISRO Colony slum, right in the heart of India's IT hub, in Cambridge Layout.
A 30-minute walk through the narrow, smelly lanes of the slum is enough to tell that the authorities are far more discriminatory towards the poor and marginalised than the well-heeled residents could ever imagine.
In the name of human habitation, the slum is nothing more than a ghetto, which would put David Boyle's Oscar-winning celluloid version of Mumbai's poverty, Slumdog Millionaire, to shame.
Rickety, blank-eyed elderly sitting outside their homes, pot-bellied children running helter-skelter and women sweeping their bedrooms which are only decorated with a few damaged aluminium utensils are the most haunting images one could carry back with them after witnessing the inhuman living conditions of the slum dwellers.
The slum welcomes its visitors with a blue-painted board which says "ISRO Colony" in bold letters. For a second one might be tricked to think that the settlement of the poor has some connection with the country's prestigious space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, which is also abbreviated as ISRO.
On the contrary, instead of stars and moon, India is hoping to colonise in the future with the help of the ISRO, Bengaluru's own ISRO Colony is infected with flies and mosquitos. Thanks to the huge drain that flows right at the entrance of the colony, along with a constant nauseating smell hovering in the air, mosquitoes and flies have ensured that dengue and diarrhoea remain constant companions among the inmates.
The slum, with a population of around 4,000 people residing in tin-roofed one-room houses, is a part of the high-profile Shantinagar Assembly constituency which also houses some of the most expensive commercial and residential buildings in the city.
Out of the 224 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka, Bengaluru has a total of 28 of them. The voting for the Karnataka Assembly elections will take place on May 12. The counting of votes will take place on May 15.
The crumbling cemented houses--around 450 of them--in ISRO Colony have only six public toilets to be shared by hundreds of inmates. The women of the slum told OneIndia that the biggest problem that they face every day is because of dirty and overflowing toilets last cleaned more than a year ago.
"We all use six toilets. They are very dirty. Women here have all developed infections," Leena, a middle-aged woman who works as a housekeeper told, matter of factly.
Her neighbour, Chandra, who runs a small shop in the slum, said that they don't get regular water supply. "Look at my village (ISRO Colony). Can anyone stay here? But we are poor and we have to stay here no matter what," Chandra lamented while selling a packet of chips to a boy.
Mostly inhabited by Tamil and Telugu-speaking people, who are all Dalits, residents of the slum said that politicians come to them only during the elections. At least 15 people told OneIndia that money and liquor are offered to them for votes. When asked do they take money, all candidly confessed that they do from all parties.
Abdul Aziz, a scrap dealer who has been staying in the slum for the last 40 years with his wife, said that he has asked people in his locality not to take money from politicians. "Nobody listens to me, perhaps I am too old," said 60-year-old Aziz standing at the entrance of his house. Aziz and one more family are the only two households belonging to the Muslim community in the slum.
Being a "minority", Aziz said he never faced any problem. "We all stay here like one big family. We have no problems with caste, language or religion. We need water, clean toilets and proper houses," said 24-year-old Supriya, who works as a domestic help.
Supriya lamented that most of the grown-up men in the slum are addicted to alcohol or ganja. "They don't work. Only the women here work and earn money," Supriya flashed a smile which does not conceal the problems faced by the women population in the locality.
It is the because of women like Supriya in the slum that children are going to schools. "I work and two of my small children are going to school. My husband is an alcoholic too. All I hope is that they get good education and jobs and leave this place," said Kajol, another woman in the slum who works as a domestic help.
Abdul Khadar, an activist who runs an NGO JK Women's Welfare Trust, said that some slums, like AK Colony just two kilometres away from ISRO Colony, are in better conditions.
"ISRO Colony slum is one of the worst in Bengaluru," said Khadar. According to the Karnataka Slum Development Board, the city has at least 600 slums. More than 1.4 million people live in Bengaluru slums. "They are definitely a huge vote bank for political parties, but it is poverty that rules the slum dwellers," said Khadar, summing up about life and living in a Bengaluru slum.