A Saga of Poverty and Civic Apathy
Parsi Bagan, a bustee (slum) in North Calcutta is a Muslim dominated locality of the metropolis. The bustee was studied for its socio-economic conditions by YUBAYER HOSSAIN, a researcher in the Department of Anthropology of Calcutta University. He presents an overview of the conditions
Parsi Bagan, though it has a mixed population, Muslims are predominant. The bustee (slum) could thus reflect the general conditions of Muslims in Calcutta’s slums. Calcutta harbours as many as 5,511 bustees with 4.3 million people living in them which constitute 48.2 per cent of this city’s population.
Family Size: Parsi Bagan has 520 households which have a total of 3,458 persons. 93 per cent of them are Muslim while 7 per cent are Hindus. Each family has around 6.65 members. For every 1000 males, there were 841 females. In Calcutta this ratio is 1000:799 while in the state of West Bengal it is 1000:917. Thus it is established that male:female ratio was much higher than the one for the city. 42.5 per cent were joint and 17 per cent were extended ones.
Marital Status: Age-wise 38 per cent were in the 0-15 years category, 58 per cent in 16-60 year category while four per cent were elderly (above 60 years). Sixty per cent of the population was unmarried (i.e., 35% males + 25% females). 34 per cent were married (i.e., 18% males + 16% females). A little over 5 per cent were widowed while 0.66 per cent were divorced. Separated females constituted 0.12 per cent. Less than one per cent people were polygamous.
Parsi Bagan is a typical Muslim slum with all its typical problems; poverty, unhealthy surroundings and official indifference
Education: The literacy rate was 67.58 per cent which is not very low when compared to Calcutta’s 70.18 per cent and the state’s 57.72 per cent. But educational standard was low. A deeper look at the educational attainments revealed that close to 17 per cent could merely sign their names. The level of education was as follows: up to primary 14.19%; middle school 24.5%; secondary 6.23%; higher secondary 2%; graduation 2.75% and post graduation 0.17%.
Accommodation: Most of the houses in Parsi Bagan had just 120 square feet of space which served as living room, bedroom, kitchen and washing space, all rolled into one. The ensuing congestion leaves little scope for kids to concentrate on studies. Most houses had roofs at a height of 8 feet. 69 per cent dwellings were pucca built with tiled roof and 28 per cent had cemented roofs. Only around 3 per cent people lived in mud-built houses. 79 per cent of houses had just one room, 20 per cent had between 2 to 4 rooms. Ventilation was minimal or totally absent and darkness reigned even during the day time, 81 per cent households had no separate kitchen space and cooking was done in the single room.
Congestion: The average living space for an individual worked out to be 18 sq. feet which compares poorly with 50 sq. feet on the national level. Most households used even the space below the cots for sleeping for an additional person.
Water Scarcity: Water scarcity posed a serious problem. Municipal water taps were the only source. Only a few dwellings had private taps. Nearly 40 persons depended on a single municipal tap. Males take bath in the open while the women folk suffered the misery silently with fewer occasions to enjoy a bath. Similarly the lavatory facilities were inadequate with an average of 25 persons depending upon a single lavatory.
Unemployment: The unemployment problem is enormous with only 32 per cent of people being earners, mostly employed in stationary production or in embroidery, zari work or pulled rickshaws or drove vans and other automobiles. The female folk were engaged in paper and stationery work. About half of the population in working age group (16-60 years) had no work to do and no source to earn. In contrast, 1.33 percent of those earning and employed were child workers.
Poor Earnings: Earnings of an average household were measly. Nearly 67 per cent of the households had a monthly income of less than Rs. 2,000 per month while 33 per cent households earned above Rs.2,000 each month. Average per capita monthly income works out to be around Rs.270. Standard of living of such a population can just be imagined. The pattern of earning reveals that much of the income is consumed by food, clothing, rent and medicine. Education which enables the people to expect higher income, media that elevates ambitions and entertainment that recharges the capacity to work are absent from the scheme of things of these unfortunate people.