After Victory At Versova, “Beach-Warrior” Afroz Shah To Clean Up Mithi River In Mumbai

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A thin streak of grey water cleaving through one of the liveliest cities in the world can hardly turn the attention of her busy ‘city-zens’. The feeble Mithi river, which winds through Mumbai from Vihar Lake in the eastern part and drains into the Arabian Sea in the south, is now merely an 18 km long rivulet of filth. Even a few decades ago, the same river supplied drinking water for the families privileged to reside along its two banks. And now, flanked by a population of fifty to sixty lakh individuals, the river is on the verge of being permanently turning into a drain. This was quite the situation before a saviour stepped into the scene. Hailed as the famous ‘beach warrior’, Mumbai-based lawyer and environmentalist Afroz Shah, made up his mind to rejuvenate the Mithi river, which he pronounces as the “aorta of Mumbai”. Shah, who was recently chosen as a Champion of Earth by the United Nations, portrays an iron will to restore the river to her former glory.

In a tweet, the environmental crusader declared the river as his “new love” and urged every ‘Mumbaikar’ to embrace the river and take care of her. 



How the aorta of Mumbai is choking

Speaking to Efforts For Good, Shah explains the root causes of pollution in the river. “Both banks of the river are lined by slums for a long stretch. Solid waste, including plastic, household garbage and even raw sewerage keeps pouring into the river. In addition, Mithi battles with the uncontrolled inflow of industrial effluents, especially from the Kurla region,” he informs.

After the devastating Mumbai floods in 2005, a board was set up by Mumbai Municipal Corporation to supervise the protection of Mithi river. “But since it was not a statutory body, their monitoring process was irregular which did little help. There were major lapses on part of the citizens as well,” he informs.


The river cleaning project started 3 weeks ago

However, what Shah eyes is not merely the physical cleaning of the river, picking up plastic packets, bottles or scratches and strips of other non-biodegradable garbage. “My main focus is to create a circular economy, similar to the model I started in Versova beach,” he explains, “I want to make people conscious that they should not dump garbage into the river and manage their waste more systematically.” In fact, started just three weeks ago, the Mithi river cleaning campaign has already gathered around a hundred dedicated volunteers, who devote their time and efforts every weekend. Afroz Shah has split his battalion into groups of two and three who go from door to door, pleading people to stop rampant garbage dumping. “I believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy. How he inspired with his messages, one life at a time,  is phenomenal,” shares Shah, who aspires to tread the same path.

Look How A Public Campaign Changed The Face Of Versova Beach In Just 3 Yrs

In 2015, Mumbai-based lawyer Afroz Shah spearheaded a movement to clean the city’s Versova beach. It evolved to become the largest beach clean-ups in the world. In an earlier interview with The Logical Indian, Shah said that “Consistency, persistence and sincerity” have been the guiding principle of his movement. This is how Shah and his team were able to completely revamp the Versova Beach of Mumbai.

Posted by The Logical Indian on Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In Versova beach, Afroz Shah gathered thousands of do-gooders who worked tirelessly for 3 years to clean up the vast beach. They revealed the golden sand from underneath heaps of foul-smelling plastic waste, amounting to a total of 7.4 million kgs. Word spread far and wide, with praises pouring in for Shah from Hollywood celebrities to governments of different countries.

The success of the campaign has only propelled this dynamic lawyer to turn his attention to other Mumbai beaches like the Dana Paani beach and lately, the Mithi river.


“It will take me 5 years”

During his days as a law student, Afroz Shah had shot a documentary on the Mithi river, showcasing the slow deterioration. “So I had a fair idea about the extent of pollution. Also, this time I undertook a survey for around 2-3 months before starting,” he shares. In the weeks so far, around 500 metres of the river has been rid of around 4,000 kg of garbage. With a game plan in mind, Shah estimates that it will take him around five years to render Mithi completely clean. 


Not just clean, but rejuvenate

“Cleaning a river is way more difficult than cleaning up a beach,” he states. He clarifies that for cleaning a river, people need to get knee-deep or even waist-deep into the filthy water, which can be highly harmful to health. “So you need ample protective gears like gloves and gumboots,” he advises.

Finding volunteers was never a challenge for Afroz Shah. People were already aware of the problem, but they were struggling to come together and figure out a solution. “All I did was to give them the nudge that this is an emergency situation. The response was overwhelming. The widespread awareness that was created stopped the menace of garbage disposal altogether in Versova. I am hoping to replicate the same in case of Mithi,” he shares humbly. “I don’t plan to just clean a river, I want to rejuvenate it,” he adds.

Efforts For Good salutes Afroz Shah for his amazing efforts and hopes Mithi river regains her pristine purity as the vein of Mumbai.


Also Read: Toilets That Make Gardens From Humanure: An Eco-Friendly Future Can Come From Your Toilet

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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