From busy morning bathrooms in Transit Camp to water-storing evenings in New Kamala Nagar, parts of Dharavi were caught on camera by local filmmakers. Filmmaker Manish Sharma ran a crash course for Dharavi residents, who then used their newly acquired skills to make a film about gender, sanitation and toilets. The ten-day workshop, in which footage was collected by the participants, will be made into a film that highlights problems and strategies around gender-based violence faced by women in Dharavi because of lack of secure and dignified access to toilets. As in informal settlements across Mumbai, men and women face public scrutiny when they relieve themselves: either toilets are absent or the location, physical access or design of community toilets is insecure.
The participant filmmakers, young or old, skilled or uninitiated, did not want for enthusiasm. Initially nervous about holding cameras and filming in public spaces, they became film-activists, encouraging their neighbours to share their thoughts or discouraging people from peeing in public. Whether in the early hours of the morning or in the crowded midnights, their camera was with them.
Only about 10% of households in Dharavi have a private toilet. The background to this is not entirely financial and includes the need to optimise the use of space in a hyper-dense living environment, and the complexities of solid and liquid waste management. For community filmmakers like 16-year-old Santosh Vishwakarma, the chance to use a camera was an opportunity to be heard. Santosh talks about how the men’s toilet block in his locality, Dhorwada, has broken down so that inside business is conducted in the public eye. Women don't queue up to use the neighbouring women’s toilet because they're embarrassed at the sight of men relieving themselves next door.
Such stories, anecdotes, and opinions are part of the film. As the mentor-director Manish Sharma says, the film is not the solution, but a tool to understand the nexus of problems that surround toilets and women’s safety in Dharavi. He thinks that the ownership that the participants felt for the filmmaking was as important as the core issue, particularly through their exploration of community-led strategies to address the experienced and perceived threat of violence.
Addressing as it does the agendas for global health, sustainable cities and wellbeing, Indefensible Space was funded by UCL Grand Challenges and the film will be presented at an international meeting in 2015.
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