From Mumbai to the World: Building a Slum Dweller Movement

by James Tayler

Mumbai, India

By Jockin Arputham, President, SDI and National Slum Dwellers Federation of India (NSDF)

It is sometimes hard to imagine that it is 28 years since the National Slum Dweller Federation of India (NSDF) linked up with Mahila Milan and SPARC to negotiate solutions to demolitions of hutments on the pavements of Byculla in Mumbai.

Little did we know at the time that we were giving birth to a new social movement that was going to spread across the globe.

Over the years the process of savings, enumerating, mapping and negotiating, started by 536 women pavement dwellers, has resulted in security of tenure for hundreds of thousands of families in thirty-four countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

In the meantime most of the women founders of the global movement have continued to live in their hutments on the pavements of Mumbai. Finally in November 2012 the founders of Mahila Milan – and SDI – began to move into their own homes. 

The day they moved was a day to remember.  What a sight it was to watch all the households pack their belongings onto trucks or buses and then leave in a colorful procession of vehicles from Byculla to Mankhurd. As they made their way through the city they passed many communities associated with the National Slum Dwellers Federation where crowds of Federation members stood under banners, waving and shouting. It was wonderful to dream that this procession, after passing through Mumbai, would continue through India and then circumnavigate the globe, knowing that in over 20,000 informal settlements they would receive the same welcome from crowds of Federation members who either knew them personally and loved them, or had heard about their amazing struggle from their friends and family.

The women of Milan Nagar live in “pukka” houses now, but as long as there are slum dwellers without secure tenure, access to services and improved housing, their work is not done. 

Read about SDI’s work to build this movement from informal settlement communities throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America in our 2012-13 Annual Report.

To read more about the work of Mahila Milan, NSDF and SPARC, refer to the Indian Alliance’s page on our website, or these articles: 

“Slum/Shack Dwellers International: Foundations to Treetops,” by Sheela Patel, Sundar Burra & Celine D’Cruz 

“Beyond evictions in a global city: People-managed resettlement in Mumbai,” by Sheela Patel, Celine D’Cruz & Sundar Burra

“Developing new approaches for people-centred development,” By Jockin Arputham

“SPARC and its work with the National Slum Dwellers Federation and Mahila Milan, India,” By Sheela Patel 

“The work of SPARC, the National Slum Dwellers Federation and Mahila Milan,” By Sheela Patel & Diana Mitlin

“Towards a pro-poor framework for slum upgradign in Mumbai, India,” By Sundar Burra