Namma Mane | Our Home: Frezertown

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Located in Northeast Bangalore, the Frezertown settlement is a dense collection of sheet-roofed homes on railroad land. Originally a migrant settlement of two hundred construction workers with tents made entirely out of blue tarps, Frezertown has existed for over sixty years.

Although the community is known to outsiders and government officers as Netaji slum after the main road it’s located along, its people have chosen to call the community Frezertown. The mostly Tamil speaking inhabitants live in close proximity to “Frazer Town”, a popular residential and commercial locality that was developed during the British regime, now famous for its greenery and up-and-coming restaurant scene.

Nearby,the Frezertown settlement is tucked away beside a polluted public drain  and direclty  behind the Bangalore East Railway Line. All five hundred families live in exceedingly compact, homogenous houses. Despite their extreme proximity to each other, many people express lacking a sense of community within the settlement.

Tulsi and Suresh, live in their 6m X 8m home with their children, Radhika and Darnish. Tulsi’s brother, Anandraj, and his wife Martha also live with them. Tulsi’s sister, Maria, lives a few doors down with her husband and children.  They are one of over 500 families that currently reside in Frezertown.

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A child stands and lays clothes out to dry on the metal sheet roofs above the one storied houses of Frezer town. The area, which was initially a lake, was covered up with stones and sand by the original settlers, who lived in tarp tents. As more families began to populate the small plot of land, people built an additional 300 houses and expanded as close to the railway tracks as possible. They learned to attach wires to nearby utility poles to acquire electricity for their television sets, but still do not have street lights. The twists and turns of the narrow pathways through the town, fit for only one person at a time, are a maze for outsiders.

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There are three water taps outside Frezertown on the main road that have Kaveri and corporation water running all day and night. Over 500 families share the pipes for multiple purposes, such as washing clothes and kitchen utensils, on the road. To cook and clean, they collect water in buckets and carry it back into their homes. Since there are no toilets or bathrooms inside their houses, the people are forced to share the outside space along the busy street to tend to themselves in the three public bathrooms.

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Caption: Tulsi tries to soothe her three-month old son, Darnish, to sleep and hopes the medicines given by multiple doctors will cure his fever. She used to be a maidservant for three homes, but has been staying at home since Darnish was born. She wakes up every day at 6 in the morning to cook and send her husband, a coolie, to work and five-year old daughter, Radhika, to school. She spends her day doing housework, cooking, taking care of Darnish, and watching Tamil serials on TV.

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Tulsi and her husband, Suresh, are Hindus, like most of the other families in Frezertown and display their lamps and figures of Lord Ganesha next to framed biblical images. Tulsi’s sister Maria, and her sister-in-law, Martha, are Christians. The family overall, like most in the settlement, display signs of both religions.

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With the exception of settlements of recent migrants, ration stores and tailors working from their homes are abundant in low income areas. However, there are no jobs or businesses that operate within Frezertown. Many men, like Tulsi’s mama (uncle), have jobs near the settlement as small scale mechanics, carpenters, and construction workers. Sons go to work with fathers and learn their trades at an early age.

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With the exception of settlements of recent migrants, ration stores and tailors working from their homes are abundant in low income areas. However, there are no jobs or businesses that operate within Frezertown. Many men, like Tulsi’s mama (uncle), have jobs near the settlement as small scale mechanics, carpenters, and construction workers. Sons go to work with fathers and learn their trades at an early age.

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Tulsi and her sister in law, Martha, take turns cooking meals and they manage to keep everything inside their houses organized, despite the space limitations. People in Frezertown have learned to have multiple purposes for one space, for example living rooms as bedrooms, the roofs as clothes-drying racks, kitchens as private changing areas.

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Like Maria’s son, there are many children roaming Frezertown during the day. Although there are two government schools down the main road, most children do not continue education after their primary years. They are instead seen working alongside their parents, either tending to housework or learning the family trade. There are no anganwadi schools inside Frezertown to foster a sense of community. Other than acting as daycare and preschool facilities for small children, anganwadis provide medicines for young kids and informal loans to families.

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Humans aren’t the only members of households. Apart from the fish, the family also cares for a parrot and a cat as pets. Although pets are part of their personal luxuries, they have no names for them, nor do they remember how long they have had them.

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Martha, Tulsi’s sister-in-law, cooks food like sambar, rice, and rasam on a daily basis, but does not hold a job outside the home. Her husband, Anandraj, works as a carpenter and earns money for the family. Having studied until 6th grade, Martha defers financial decisions to her husband.

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Scattered throughout the drainage area are piles of assorted waste that draw the attention of scavenging animals. Just a few feet away from these piles, people clean dirty kitchen utensils. Even though the environment is heavily polluted outside their doorstep, cleaning is a routine part of life inside the home.

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Despite living in spaces on top of one another, residents have found it difficult to organize community groups. The last major project, the installation of drains, took place 10 years ago. The drains flow into a river beside the settlement, so rainfall can cause the waste to overflow, sometimes even forcing people to leave their homes.

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Frezertown’s metal rooftops shake from passing trains and the constant motion of auto traffic on the main road.  Despite its location on private railroad land, many residents refuse to move to somewhere far away from their livelihoods. The undeclared settlement has remained stagnant for over two decades and its residents have grown accustomed to the unfulfilled promises of politicians and social service organizations.

 

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