On the Pavements of Mumbai: Finding Hope & Making Change

by James Tayler


Pavement dwellings & daily life in Byculla.


In the past month a major event has come to pass for the women who began this worldwide movement of slum dwellers nearly 30 years ago on the pavements of central Mumbai. After so many years, the women of Byculla have finally begun to move into their own homes. 

In the coming weeks, SDI will cover this important story with a series of blog posts describing the history of Mahila Milan, SPARC and NSDF and how a handful of young professionals connected with a group of women living on Byculla’s sidewalks to create the spark that would eventually evolve into a national, and then international, movement. 

This first post in the series will take a quick look what it means to live on the pavement, highlighting the innovation of the urban poor and their incredible capacity to find effective solutions to the challenges of daily life. 

Byculla home

Sundar Burra offers a helpful definition of “pavement dweller” in his 2000 paper, “A Journey Towards Citizenship: The Byculla Area Resource Center, Mumbai” : 

Pavement dwellers are households who live and raise families on pavements (sidewalks). The basic requirement fo the establishment of a dwelling is a stretch of pavement, free from vehicular traffic, usually 2-3 meters long and 1-2 meters deep from the kerb to the wall of the property bordering the pavement. The first occupation of a stretch of pavement is usually a family settling to sleep on the pavement surrounded by their meagre possessions, followed byt he erection of a plastic or saching sheet stretched from the wall to a point near the curb of the pavement.Thereafter the lean-to tent will gradually be replaced with slightly a more permanent structure of second-hand poles, packing cases, timeber boards, cardboard, occasionally loose bricks covered with plastic sheets. A second floor is often build to provde additional sleepling space, though the ground floor ‘ceiling height’ is rarely more than 1.5 meters and that of the loft a metre. 

Byculla home


Please keep an eye on this space for more on the history of Byculla’s pavement dwellers, as well as the story of how the women of Mahila Milan have been able to negotiate for alternative housing in a way that provides a win-win solution for the communities and government alike.