ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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COVID-19 and the Women at Work

An Ethnographic Account of Sanjay Colony, Bhatti Mines

Delhi has witnessed a massive disruption of livelihood and economic activities due to COVID-19. With a historical context of an abandoned mine housing refugee families at the contours of the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhatarpur, Sanjay Colony is a slum that is far removed from the everyday hustle of the city. This paper explores the ways in which initiatives by women during the COVID-19 pandemic changed the neighbourhood character and opened up the possibilities of reimagining place-making with the objective of establishing sustainable economic engagement. It focuses on the shift that has taken place from daily wage employment at nearby construction sites to self-employment by women. With initiatives like mobilising for relief work by the Bhatti Mahila Evam Bal Vikas Mandal to spearheading the renovation of the crematorium grounds, engaging in road construction, and even working towards organising a market led by women producers and sellers, the slum created opportunities to rethink street livelihood amidst the pandemic. This paper brings forth an ethnographic account of how women propelled the reimagination of the neighbourhood through their nano-enterpreneurship.


[The authors are independent researchers at All contributed equally to this work.]

Our paper gives an ethnographic account of the consolidation of Bhatti Mahila Evam Bal Vikas Mandal (BMBVM) as a group of more than 1,000 women who work towards facilitating neighbourhood development in Sanjay Colony through an entrepreneurial transformation of work practices. Our journey began with a distress call in April 2020 informing us about the countless families living in Sanjay Colony, Bhatti Mines, struggling to survive without food. We were working with many organisations at that time to manage ration requests across Delhi. As researchers, we were conducting fieldwork primarily to contribute to community-mapping and preparation of lists for ration distribution and medical emergencies. We were more concerned with households of single mothers and pregnant women who, during the lockdown, faced compounded difficulties in accessing food and healthcare.

The lists kept getting bigger, and we were working on the ground to execute distribution for each ration drive. The frequency of such visits increased as more and more save our souls (SoS) requests came in. We got a call from the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) to take infant baby food for distribution in Bhatti. As mapped by the community, we realised that the first list of single mothers with children below eight years crossed 500 in a matter of two hours. When the distribution ended, we tried to understand why the condition was this severe in Bhatti. The answers ranged from Bhattis distanced location close to Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary to rampant cases of domestic violence, substance abuse, diseases and accidents due to daily wage work at construction sites.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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