Case Study: Ward Bazar Sita Ram, and its Councillor Rafia Mahir

Feb 2, 2023

The case studies published by CYP cover a wide variety of youth-centric issues. They provide insight into the work of young people, ranging from elected representatives to sarpanches, from civil bureaucrats to policymakers. It is a highlight of their contribution to socio-economic and political development in diverse ways, the challenges they must confront and what a day in their life looks like.

Case Study: Ward Bazar Sita Ram and its councillor Rafia Mahir. 

Ward No. 78 Bazar Sita Ram has elected a new councillor – 24 year old Rafia Mahir from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). A visit to the ward provided insight into the pressing issues the area and its inhabitant’s face, along with Rafia’s plans to tackle them. Bazar Sita Ram lies in the heart of Old Delhi, surrounded by key historical sites - the Jama Masjid, Turkman Gate and Razia Sultan’s tomb, as well as the bustling markets of Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar.

(1.1 Street in Bazar Sita Ram)

Before entering politics and standing for elections, Rafia has worked as a child-rights activist and a social worker. Her work involved the running of Child Care Institutions (CCI) or orphanages, but she specifically overlooked education, vocational training and documentation. She also actively worked with ChildLine to help the children in her own neighbourhood, especially those affected by substance and sexual abuse. Rafia believes that by working beyond the constraints of a social worker in the capacity of a councillor brings her the power to make more large-scale change. As an elected representative for a ward, Rafia has the power to introduce family-strengthening measures (such as counselling services for parents) so as to prevent children from needing CCI’s in the first place. Some of the key areas she plans to work on are education and health and to secure children’s lives with a healthy and trauma-free environment. 

While explaining the demographic and geographical make-up of her constituency, the councillor elected in Delhi’s 2022 MCD elections emphasised the cultural and historical richness of her ward, which is home to a number of artisans, craftspeople and scholars. This richness has not been displayed enough says Rafia, who wants to begin efforts to change this by popularising the heritage walks. With this initiative,  young people from the area are responsible for interacting with visitors and providing them with information regarding the architecture and history of Bazar Sita Ram, which are only superficially known by the visitors. Although Bazar Sita Ram and its surrounding areas are known primarily for its cultural vibrancy and culinary richness, it  seems like little effort is actively being made to preserve its old buildings and havelis by the concerned authorities. Most of the architecture that contributes to the aesthetic appeal of Old Delhi is decaying. 

During a guided tour of the area, one could observe the basic infrastructural lacunae and an urgent need to rebuild streets, sewage pipes; and build toilets. Bazar Sita Ram remains a neglected area in terms of targeted development initiatives and adequate funding. Moreover, there seems to be two contradicting priorities – a) preserving the cultural heritage of the area which would entail little to no alteration of existing buildings/havelis and streets; and b) infrastructural development to improve the living conditions of Bazar Sita Ram’s residents. For instance, some people that reside in small quarters within old havelis have requested for the building of flats. However this may mean the removal of old havelis. As a councillor elected after a 15-year incumbency, Rafia must now  undertake the difficult responsibility of tackling these divergent issues.

(1.2. Multiple houses built on top of each other in the central area of an old haveli)

Basic cleanliness and sanitation facilities, including the provision of a regular water supply are some of the immediate issues in the ward. Removing old wires which no longer work but continue to hang above the locality’s narrow streets will be one of Rafia’s first initiatives after her oath taking ceremony. She also plans to build toilets and a Mohalla Clinic in a portion of a defunct school as one of her priorities. However, she is once again faced with a challenge; opening of Mohalla Clinics in the area continues to be a difficult task due to the lack of available space in what is already a congested area.

(1.3. Loose wires hanging across the roads, they do not work)

According to Rafia, young people between the ages 15 and 25 constitute 50% of her constituency’s population. As a 24 year-old herself, she feels that they lack proper direction, guidance and mentoring, given that young people in the area rarely attend college. In the area, young people’s access to higher education is hindered by the lack of quality secondary education, as well as the distressing financial status of a majority of families who choose to employ their children in various enterprises; these have been the source of their livelihood for generations. Rafia believes that only a small amount (roughly 10%) of young people are socially conscious and driven to contribute to societal transformation. More importantly, most of them work outside the ward and there has also been a rise in the outmigration of educated youth from the ward. She hopes to reach out to youngsters in her constituency actively working for social causes at their colleges and encourage them to work for the ward, independent of any political party so as to improve the area instead of moving out of it.

(1.4. Inside a government run school. Classrooms were locked.)

6 MCD-run schools in Rafia’s ward continue to remain closed due to reasons such as the COVID-19 pandemic among others. She plans to reopen the defunct schools as well as improve the quality and infrastructure of existing ones. Skill and personality development for Bazar Sita Ram’s youth is another focus area for Rafia. She plans to open centres that young people can access free of cost for training and counselling. This will encompass English speaking, career counselling, interview training, training in interpersonal skills and also inclusivity/diversity related sensitisation. This initiative, exclusively for young people in Rafia’s constituency, will be covered by the MLA fund and the Councillor fund.  She also talked about how most young people in her ward are not exercising their right to vote during elections, which she feels is also an essential part of their holistic development.


(1.6. 1.5 & 1.6 are pictures of a school that has been shut since 2003. The Ward Councillor plans to build toilets and a mohalla clinic on one side of the school)

Bazar Sita Ram may enter a new phase of development if its new councillor is able to fulfil the objectives she has set out. Its existing problems seem to be deep-rooted and multi-layered. Old Delhi continues to be romanticised as a cultural, culinary and historical hub while its development, both physical and social, has been stagnant. Its youth population continues to face issues pertaining to mobility in terms of education, health and financial growth and there is a need for a robust and context-specific plan to help Bazar Sita Ram’s inhabitants. The fact that every developmental aspect requires attention, effort and funding means Rafia has a monumental task ahead of her.