In Mumbai city, in 2010, over 200 women died during childbirth. Not in the far flung corners, but in the heart of the financial capital. Find that hard to believe? Visit Govandi, a half hour train ride from posh Colaba, and it becomes apparent why.
One of Mumbai’s new upcoming suburbs, Govandi is where much of the new construction boom is happening. It’s filled with glittering malls and swanky residential complexes called Bay View and Greenfield acres. Never mind that there is not a single water body in sight for miles. Or meadows.
In the midst of these glittering glass structures, are two of the city’s biggest slum colonies, Rafiq Nagar and Shivaji Nagar, where nearly 5 lakh people live. They make their living sorting garbage in the local dump yard, a short distance from their shanties.
Here I met 25 year old Shakira. A few months ago, she nearly died giving birth to her son. She had registered to deliver at the local civic hospital, but stopped going there for checkups after the third month because she could not afford the auto fare. The hospital is located nearly an hour away, and every trip back and forth costs close to Rs 200. Something families earn here in a good week. So she turned to the local Dai or midwife, and nearly haemorrhaged to death.
It’s a story you hear across these slums. There is not a single health post or maternity centre here which means people have to spend the better part of their day and savings getting to a civic facility. When they do get there, they are told to buy the medicines outside. Even those meant to be given free. Why would these women spend their money on folic acid, iron and calcium – essential when you are pregnant – when they can’t be sure of three square meals a day?
Stung by the figures Mumbai municipal authorities have ordered civic hospitals to maintain records of maternal deaths and hold an internal inquiry into why they are happening. An utterly pointless exercise given that most of these deaths are happening inside homes.