Promoting Livelihoods In Basti Hzt. Nizamudin

There is no dearth of talent in the basti. All that people need are the opportunities.  Providing opportunities is what the Hope Project is all about. 

Founded in 1980 by the Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, the Hope Project strives to enable the poor and vulnerable living in Basti Hzt. Nizamuddin to realize their hidden potential and to help themselves.

Predominantly a Muslim neighbourhood, the basti draws pilgrims from all over the world seeking the blessings of Hzt. Nizamuddin Aulia, the 13 th century Sufi saint who lies buried in the heart of the basti. Over the centuries, his shrine on the outskirts of the city became engulfed by the burgeoning capital of Delhi and today the old settlement has become a bustling, congested urban village.

Steeped in history and culture, the basti is a labyrinth of lanes, medieval monuments, tombstones and shrines of Sufi saints and poets. Local legends, delicious cuisine and the famous Qawallis (Sufi music in praise of God) make the basti a fascinating experience. However, Nizamuddin is also home to a large number of Muslim migrants from poorer parts of India, the destitute, deserted women, runaway children and beggars living in squatter settlements along the city sewers, under bridges and in parks. They have poor access to health and education facilities and employment opportunities. Most of them work in the informal sector as daily wage labourers, rag pickers, maids, vegetable vendors and petty shopkeepers. Women, in particular, are vulnerable as they observe purdah (female seclusion) and are often discouraged from leaving the basti without an escort, making it difficult for them to seek health care facilities or livelihood options. Social conventions, such as early marriages and female seclusion also ensure that girls stay at home without getting an education.

In the last 20 years the Hope Project has evolved from a simple milk distribution program to a multifaceted community program addressing the health, educational and livelihood needs of the community. Today it runs both curative and preventive health care programs, a school, vocational training courses, a crèche and a women’s production unit. The German community has supported the Project in many ways through the years.

In August last year, the Project received a generous grant from the German Embassy to set up a training kitchen. This kitchen gives students hands-on experience and practical training in home science. All the adolescent girls in the school do home science as a subject. In this course, they are taught the basics of housekeeping, cooking, laundry, hygiene and nutrition. Before the kitchen came up, we used to convert our small classroom into a kitchen for the home science class. The students’ ability to adapt and make do with the basic facilities never ceased to amaze me: 3 course meals would be prepared with the help of a small, kerosene stove and the table would be so beautifully decorated that it was fit for the Queen of England! But we always yearned for a proper and safe kitchen where students could get an opportunity to bake and learn how to prepare dishes that they had never tasted before. An oven, for instance, is a novelty in most households in the basti and so you can imagine the delight and the curiosity with which the students attended their first baking class: cookies and cake. A great way to learn about the world – through its cuisine!

Cooking classes are not reserved for girls alone. Boys are encouraged to explore their creativity in the kitchen as well. The Project seeks to counter gender stereotypes and show boys that cooking can be fun so that perhaps one day they can assume some of the domestic chores instead of leaving them to their mothers and sisters.

The training kitchen plays another major role in the Hope Project. One of the major hurdles facing the community is economic. Community women often approach the Hope Project for jobs. Most of them are not trained in any skills. However all of them manage a home and have developed skills (often unrecognized) in this field. The Project tries to build on these traditional skills so that the women can enter the job market and / or get a better income.

Cooking is an important part of women’s lives. There are also hundreds of eateries that dot the basti and the delicious aroma of kebabs and biryani float through the basti in the evenings when dinner is being prepared. The Project will be helping the basti women to start a catering service so that residents of Delhi can place orders and get a chance to share this wonderful food with their families and friends. The kitchen will ensure a workspace with high standards of hygiene. Earlier this year, our students prepared pakoras and shammi kebabs for Mrs. Rau accompanying the German President on his state visit to India. So she can vouch for them! The rich culinary tradition of the basti is captured in Recipes from an Urban Village: A Cookbook from Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin.

All these recipes were contributions from the women of the basti.

Finally the training kitchen will be used to upgrade the skills of the domestic workers so that they can meet the requirements of high-income colonies in the neighbourhood and negotiate a better salary. Apart from teaching the basics of hygiene and work ethics, skills would include basic literacy and use of electric appliances. The Project envisions setting up an employment agency so that the women can match the needs of prospective employers with the skills of domestic workers.

In its efforts to respond to the livelihood needs of the community, the Project attempts to harness traditional skills and channel them into ventures that will bring in money. There is no dearth of talent in the basti. All that people need are the opportunities. Providing opportunities is what the Hope Project is all about.


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