Slumdweller to receive award for ‘Bombay Our City’

In March 1986 when it was announced that ‘Hamara Shahar / Bombay Our City’, a documentary film on the daily battle for survival of Bombay’s slum-dwellers had won the National Award for best non-feature film of the year, Vimal Dinkar Hedau, a resident of Shastri Nagar, Bandra West, like other slumdwellers of Bombay, did not get the news.

When I first interviewed her in my film in 1983 her hut had just been demolished. It had not been the first time. Having nowhere else to go, she, along with her son Deepak, had remained in the vicinity of her demolished home, and had reconstructed her rudimentary hut. In the interview she had said: “Why don’t they demolish the illegal high-rises? Because they are paid off. The poor cannot pay. We are here only to get beaten”

In early 1985 when she saw the completed film Hamara Shahar she had tears in her eyes. “Now they cannot ignore us, ” she said. She was wrong. Her hut has been demolished three times since then.

In March this year, when news of the award finally reached Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, Cuffe Parade, the slumdwellers organized a felicitation ceremony for me. The flower garland they gave me was the sweetest prize I have ever received. Two weeks later their huts were demolished.

I debated with myself whether to accept this National Award in view of the continued state-sponsored violence against the urban poor of our country. The urban poor are an extension of the rural poor. Everywhere they are victimized. Everywhere they resist. Everywhere their voice is sought to be suppressed. Hamara Shahar is a film in which slumdwellers speak for themselves. Their voice must not be denied.

As a member of Nivara Hakk Suraksha Samiti, I decided not to reject the National Award but to accept it as a welcome sign that there are ears in this country. And if there are ears it is our democratic duty to speak in as many forums as possible. But we reject the concept of films being given awards for aesthetic and technical reasons alone. To us, the award has meaning if it reflects an understanding and appreciation of the issues raised by the film. It must be seen as an award given in recognition of the intelligence and courage of the working poor of our country.

To symbolise this, Vimal Dinkar Hedau – who once belonged to a farming family in her native village in Yeotmal, but moved 18 years ago to Bombay when her land was usurped – has been nominated by us to accept the National Award from the President of India. A part of the prize money will be utilized for our Nivara Hakk Suraksha Samiti – The committee for the Protection of the Right to Shelter, an umbrella group for Bombay’s slumdwellers.

Anand Patwardhan
Producer/Director, Hamara Shahar (Bombay our City)


Vimal was born roughly in 1936 in Borgaon village, Yeotmal. Her father died when she was 12 but left his wife some agricultural land. Vimal, an only child, did not grow up in poverty. She studied up to the 7th standard – a rare thing for village girls in those days.

When she was 15, she took a three year nursing course at Irwin Hospital, Amraoti and was granted a Nurses Certificate of Registration in 1954. She then took a midwife training course at Mayo Hospital, Nagpur between 1954 and 1955, earning a certificate there as well.
In 1959 she was married to Dinkar Hedau. In 1960 and 1962 her sons Deepak and Sanjay were born. But later in 1962 after continuous maltreatment at the hands of her in-laws, Vimal left her husband to return to her mother’s village. She recalls the night she left in the pouring rain with her two children and describes how her nurse’s certificate was completely destroyed by the rain.

Later that year she got a job in Nivas village as a health visitor in the Family Planning Department. In 1967 her search for a Nurse’s Certificate to replace the one destroyed by rain, took her from Indore to Bombay as her files had been transferred from M.P. to Maharashtra after the state border changed. In Bombay it took time to locate her file. Meanwhile she got a temporary job at the Worli Insurance Hospital for a year and a half.

News that her mother had fallen sick took her back to Yeotmal. Her mother died in 1969. Vimal should have inherited her mother’s land but the village sarpanch and the police patil together usurped her land by getting a thumb print from her mother’s corpse. Vimal stayed on in the village for a year attempting to fight her case but because she didn’t have money and she was alone in her family she gave up and returned to Bombay, still carrying some of the documents establishing her ownership rights.

In Bombay in 1971 she finally got her new Nurse’s Certificate confirmed but now there were no nursing jobs to be had without heavy bribes. For the last 15 years she has lived in the Bandra area supporting herself and her sons by working alternatively as a blind school attendant and a tailor’s assistant. Deepak, now 26, works as a house painter whenever he gets work. Sanjay left them a few years ago to work in a nightclub in Bombay from where he occasionally sends some money. Vimal and Deepak live on a joint average income of Rs.300/- to 500/-. Vimal cannot recall exactly how many times her home has been demolished since she first came to Bombay but says that four demolitions a year would be a low estimate.

On 12 June Vimal will receive a National Award on behalf of the film-maker of ‘Hamara Shahar: Bombay Our City’, and the slum-dwellers of Bombay and India.