By Joel Bolnick, lifelong friend and colleague, and manager of SDI Secretariat
I am very angry that Jockin has died. Anger is a normal response to the death of someone you love and admire. But the thing about Jockin is that you could never be angry with him for long, no matter how much he provoked you with his energy, his vision, his dogmatic certainties and his commitment – all of which knew no bounds and were always ferociously executed.
The many tens of thousands of people who met him would soon feel his magnetism. He was an enormously charismatic human being. He was an unstoppable force for good and an unbelievable champion of the urban poor. For their rights most certainly but at the same time for their humanity and for the recognition – not yet won – that they were not a mass of thugs, victims, or guinea pigs. Instead he was determined to show the ever growing number of people who understood the importance of listening to him that the capacities, the resilience, and the collective wisdom of the urban poor presented humanity with a blue print for survival and for a better future.
This makes me think of Jockin’s Mandela-like tolerance. It was not weak and compromising like a few have had the temerity to argue – but a tolerance of others that came from complete self-assurance and a deep understanding that resolution of conflict comes from seeing your own humanity in those that the gross inequalities of life forced you to challenge.
And challenge the rich and powerful Jockin most certainly did; not to score ideological and abstract victories (although he certainly understood their value) but to make a real, tangible differences in the lives of poor people.
This was something he delivered in spades all over the world. Few, if any organizations, can demonstrate a similar scale and depth in terms of their impact on poor communities – through securing tenure, installing drainage, upgrading services and incrementally building houses.
This required superhuman energy and courage. It required a brilliant mind. It required a capacity to see opportunities and seize them. Most of all, it required the capacity to mobilize, humanize, conscientize and inspire people like himself, people downtrodden, excluded, evicted, exploited, and objectified.
I am angry because my best friend is gone. The silence is deafening. No more the deep discussions, the brilliant strategy sessions, the gentle laughter. No longer the unwavering support of a man whose loyalty was monumental as was his optimism and courage.
My anger is assuaged by the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people living in slums in over 4,000 cities are also feeling shattered by the deafening silence. But that silence is momentary. Those hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers who belong to Jockin’s beautiful, rag-tag, festive but deeply determined army are on the march. They are the ones that will fill the Jockin-sized hole that the great man has left behind.
Read more messages and remembrances of Jockin’s life here.
This article was first published in The Hindu.
The government has plenty of schemes for slum redevelopment, but most of these are on paper. Importantly, sanitation is not on the agenda.
I was all of 17 when I migrated to Mumbai in 1967 from Kolar, Karnataka. I didn’t have a purpose then; my only aim was to find bread. I often wondered why I moved to this city. When I look back, I can visualise how millions have the same problem: you don’t have anything, you look out for a metropolis, you land in Mumbai.
I would never have dreamt what Bombay meant. It was a culture shock at various levels. To begin with, I’d never heard the word ‘slum.’ Moreover, the language was alien, and we had open-air, ‘airconditioned’ toilets.
A week after I landed in the city, I ended up in the thickly-populated Janata Colony, Mankhurd. Conditions were pathetic. If I needed to use the public toilet, I would have to queue for nearly 20 minutes. So I would end up squatting wherever I would find place.
I was in a slum, but I had no home. In fact, I had zero liabilities and assets, no roof over my head, no roots. I would sleep anywhere.
One of the good things about a slum is that no one ever chases you away from their doorstep. In the day, I would mark out a veranda where I could lay my head at night. I would pick up saris hung out to dry and use them as blankets. In the morning, I would go to the public tap, remove my clothes, bathe, dry myself with the same set of clothes and carry on with the rest of my day.
The questions in my head were ceaseless: how did I fall from the frying pan into the fire? For the first time ever, I saw pavement dwellers. Why did we all have to live like animals? I gradually learnt about eviction and demolition. And then about homelessness. Where could one live? I figured there wasn’t much of a choice.
My journey had begun; I needed to do something about all this. From then on, I have been organising people, taking up issues of slum sanitation, eviction and demolition, and trying to find solutions.
It’s important for me — for all of us — to talk about our slums. There is an entire section of society living in deplorable conditions, because of which the city’s health and economy are being dragged down.
The way things are, there is no collective vision; no rules either. Nearly 60 per cent of Mumbai lives in slums, but a good chunk of the municipal corporation’s agenda is devoted to gardens, roads, parking and so on; the slums don’t feature. In our lopsided system of political representation, slum dwellers have been relegated to a vote bank. They are patronised, and encouraged to live in deprivation.
Look at Dharavi, for instance. The government has no policy for Asia’s largest slum. In the past 15 years, there has been no development in terms of roads, drains, toilets, or common areas. The main road has seen encroachments, encouraged by a former politician.
Clean the city, build toilets
Mumbai lets off a big stench. People call it Slumbay. What are the reasons? Poor sanitation and environment, contaminated drinking water and crowded conditions.
Even today, 40 per cent of people in Mumbai don’t have access to a toilet. In Dharavi, 33–35 per cent of people live in 60-sq-ft areas. We’re talking about five-member families living in that space. How can you think of having individual toilets there? The airport slum doesn’t have a single toilet. How long will this continue?
Mumbai needs sanitation that is not dependent on the sewer system alone. Sewerage systems require a capital cost, which the government cannot afford. And the rehabilitation of people will cost them 100 times more than their investment in sewerage lines. Nearly 65 per cent of Dharavi is not covered by a sewer system. To do so, you need to rehabilitate 80 per cent of the people living here.
Everyone is talking about Swachh Bharat, but how many toilets have been constructed in slums under this project? The government could have claimed it had cleaned Mumbai, so working with smaller cities would be relatively easier. You have to show what you have done in a difficult situation first.
Our sanitation needs to be customised to our living and weather conditions. Unlike the West, we cannot afford individual toilets or sewer lines.
We have to work towards providing collective, shared and community toilets. We can achieve two agendas at one go: if the municipality invests money in a slum (in the form of toilets) it cannot demolish it.
The main focus should be on how to clean the city. Without getting into the politics of it, we need to ask if a mechanism has been created for the purpose. Even after we have created wards, there is nothing to show on the ground. Where and how is the money being used?
A city like Mumbai should have had an IAS officer as the head of sanitation. Every area needs a dedicated sanitary inspector, with the additional role of mapping the area and reporting to the higher authority.
In the 80s, there were around 600 slum pockets in the city. Now it has gone up to 3,000.
No one comes to Mumbai for the pleasure of getting a house in a slum. They are in tough situations, therefore they migrate. We need to address the needs of those already living in slums by giving them better housing. We need to do away with the dehumanised category of ‘shanty’.
Former Municipal Commissioner S.S. Tinaikar used to say, “Mumbai has so much land, you can arrange to have another city like it.” Land needs to be given to the people, but not for free.
The Development Plan outlines a clear policy of homes for the dishoused. There is also a pavement policy, which former Secretary, Special Projects, Sanjay Ubale and I hammered into shape. The subsequent Government Resolution said all pavement dwellers are eligible for a house, just like slum dwellers. I was able to secure 4,710 sq.m. land for rehabilitation in Mankhurd.
There are policies, but the government is sleeping on them, while the people don’t have anyone to organise them into agitating for their due.
The government often says it can’t give land because it is reserved. So I tell people, let every slum- or pavement-dweller identify 10-15 pieces of land. If they say it is reserved for a university, ask for a third, a fourth, and so on. After 220 land reservations, can they still say no? There is land, only the will is missing.
Over a decade ago, I was working with the MMRDA on the Mumbai Urban Transport Project-II. I told the Sukhtankar Committee that the government could float a tender asking for free housing on the land in the project. The first housing scheme was initiated by us. All 20,000-30,000 families have been rehabilitated on it. That means the MMRDA has the land and houses.
The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has failed because of corruption and mismanagement; it has become a money-making mission for the government.
The first question a councillor asks these days is, “Isme mera kya hai? [What’s in it for me?]” You have 365 cooperative housing societies built under the SRA, but most of the residents have had to dedicate 20 per cent extra, or out-of-pocket expenses, like paying someone to approve a document, an extension, or adding a name to a registration. That’s why these societies have taken in only 150 families.
In an SRA house, you are charged more than five times what you pay in a slum for water. Do you expect a rehabilitated person can pay that much? An SRA home, then, is not affordable. Nobody is going into why the SRA scheme hasn’t picked up in Mumbai, and why there are so many slums. They have set 269 sq.ft. as the base under the SRA, and 300 sq.ft. in Dharavi. But a political party wants 400 sq.ft. Once this is done, airport slum dwellers will demand the same. This doesn’t just involve finding land; it’s also a question of rehabilitation.
The government is doing nothing for affordable housing, which in any case costs Rs. 5 lakh and above. Besides, most ‘affordable’ homes are outside the city, or in far-flung areas; this requires the creation of a transportation network.
Our politicians and bureaucrats have learnt nothing from the mistakes of the SRA or rehabilitation over the past 35 years. Therefore, we live with myths like ‘there is no land’. To begin with, slums are on the ground level. In urban India, you cannot afford to live in a ground-floor structure, simply because the land cost is so high. You compensate for that by getting into an SRA house. But if you want to live here, you have to change your living pattern. You live without a toilet for years; you don’t talk about it.
I’m not asking everyone to go to an SRA accommodation. Regularise or recognise a slum and maintain a standard; instead of a corrupt SRA society, slums could be more organised. We also need a housing guideline.
Women must be at the centre
Local residents, particularly women, need more representation in decision-making. For every issue, be it toilets, housing or water, women are worst affected. A man can meet his needs outside the home: he can use the toilet in his factory, or a public toilet. In most cases, women are tied to the home; their representation is token.
Use NGOs better
Today, you have more than 6,000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) registered with the Charity Commissioner. Every ward could be allotted 10 to 15 NGOs for specific issues of their choice; this will fix responsibility. The government could create that kind of flexibility, by inviting a ward’s prominent NGOs to a meeting and assigning them duties. A coordinating body could be responsible for their functioning.
In other words, identify the issue, then create a system and then monitor it, all within a budget.
NGOs, on their part, need to raise the issue of sanitation in their wards. For now, they are just “talking revolutionaries” who often don’t get down to hard work.
The government should take these issues to the people, create forums where debate can happen without fear of reprisal being targeted. Right now, there is a disconnect between the grassroots and the policy-makers.
What you see today is the result of the administration not looking after the city. Mumbai is actually well organised, with every inch of land governed by the administration. They ought to be more in control of encroachment though.
There is a Hindi saying: ‘Billi ki nazar chichde mein rehti hai [The cat always looks for the cream]’. Similarly, the politician always looks at how many votes he can garner in an area. He never looks at problems like housing or a poor living environment.
About the author
Jockin Arputham has worked for more than 40 years in India’s slums, building representative organisations to partner with governments and international agencies for the betterment of urban living. He is president of National Slum Dwellers Federation, which he founded in the 1970s, and of Slum Dwellers International, which networks slum dwellers from over 20 countries. Arputham received the Ramon
He was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding in 2000.
On 9 March 2016, SDI President Jockin Arputham was awarded VIT Person of the Year by VIT University Business School (India). The below excerpts are taken from a piece featured in The Weekend Leader about this prestigious award.
He started off with his trademark declaration, “I am a slum dweller,” and for the next 20 minutes went on to narrate his story, of how he landed in Mumbai as a teenager and went on to emerge as an activist who fought for the rights for the urban poor transcending national borders.
The founder of National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), and president of Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Jockin Arputham, 68, was speaking at a function held at VIT University, Vellore, Wednesday after receiving The Weekend Leader – VIT Person of the Year (2015) Award.
Seeking to motivate the students to think about improving the lot of the poor living in the country, he recalled his first activism in Mumbai when he led 3,000 children from a slum and dumped the garbage each of them was carrying at the Municipal office.
When the police came looking for him, he told the cops that since the Municipality had failed to collect the garbage from their colony, they resorted to this action. From that day on, the Municipality started to collect the garbage from their settlement and Jockin emerged as a leader.
“Today I work in 37 countries. I am not (just) a slum dweller, but I am a flying slum dweller. Morning I am in Mumbai, next morning in Nairobi, and (for) dinner (I am) in America,” he said.
Dr. Prateep Philip, ADGP, Economic Offences Wing (EOW), Tamil Nadu, who pioneered the Friends of Police movement in the state during the 1990s presented the Person of the Year award to Jockin and urged the youth to excel in their chosen fields.
To read the full article, click here.
Jockin Arputham has been fighting for the rights of slum dwellers for nearly 50 years. This blog is drawn from an interview by IIED’s David Satterthwaite ahead of World Habitat Day about what the Sustainable Development Goals could mean for slum dwellers.
Jockin Arputham founded the first national slum dweller federation in India in 1976 and went on to ally this with Mahila Milan, the Indian federation of women slum and pavement dweller savers. He has spent over 20 years encouraging and supporting slum and shack dwellers federations in many other countries – and he is President of Slum/Shack Dwellers International.
Making the SDGs action oriented
The SDGs promise so much but they are not action oriented. Many countries do not have the capacity to act. We see dreams of a slum-free world or a slum-free country or slum-free cities. But that is an ideal that needs strong political will, a strong and stable economy, and a conducive environment for the community. In Europe you might expect UN promises that everyone has a decent home to be met – but is this realistic for India?
Ambitions must be achievable
My ambition for the SDGs is limited to what we can do – what is meaningful, useful and sustainable – and implementable. So our goal is not slum-free cities but slum-friendly cities. Not a slum-free India but a slum-friendly India.
What does slum-friendly mean? That the SDG promises like clean water and good sanitation for all, land tenure for people, incremental housing and basic employment are met for all slum dwellers. If these five mandates are accepted, how can we set standards and measure what is or is not happening in each city? If there is also a mandate for people to participate, and take part, then set dates by which to achieve each of these. Even to achieve the more modest goals for slum-friendly cities means that governments have to do three times what they are doing now
Will action on the SDGs be any better than the Millennium Development Goals? So much high talk of all the goals in last 15 years but where are we in the goals and in their measurement? Are we setting unattainable goals with the SDGs?
We have seen government commitments made at Habitat I (the first UN Conference on Human Settlements) in Vancouver in 1976; then at Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. At Habitat 1, there were commitments and targets for 1990 and these were not met. There have been very few tangible achievements. I was invited to go to speak at Habitat I in 1976 but the government was bulldozing the settlement where I lived, so I stayed in Mumbai where I had fought this threat for 10 years.
Habitat III is approaching (in 2016). Will this bring more unrealistic commitments? Or will it truly be a “new urban agenda” with a clear strategy for achieving the goals with new measures? New locally-generated metrics that everyone can follow. Everyone’s participation including slum dwellers. All the UN documents and processes claim they have people’s participation but usually this is just a grand talk show.
Looking back – what was the world’s urban population at the time of Habitat 1? Just 1.6 billion people. At Habitat II there were 2.6 billion. And now 4 billion.
We have seen the growth of NGOs and big donors and their budgets but for slum dwellers, where has all this money gone? NGOs and big donors are sharing a platform in the name of the poor and the poor are left out. Local governments and slum dweller organisations are the ones working on achieving the goals but these are usually left out of these new platforms.
No forced evictions
And the threat of eviction for slum dwellers still remains. After Habitat I, we had many sister city programmes – beautiful red wine talk – but this did not deliver land tenure. There should be a commitment at Habitat III – no forced evictions. No evictions without relocations that are acceptable to those who are relocated. After 40 years we still have not cracked this. Now the pressures of forced eviction will grow as cities invest more in infrastructure.
The cost of decent relocation is peanuts compared to infrastructure budgets. It should be part of the cost of all projects that require relocation. But this needs political will and administrative skill to work with the people and design with the communities. The huge costs of forced evictions are not counted – for the residents, the lost homes, possessions, assets, livelihoods, access to schools….
Where people are moved, we need a package of meaningful rehousing through which the quality of life of the people moved also improves.
What new urban agenda?
Now, with Habitat III, either you close the dialogue that has produced so little or you come forward with what we can realistically achieve in the next 15 years and set up a system of measurement that involves and is accountable to slum dwellers. From this, we learn about what works and from our mistakes.
We need to learn how to find solutions for renters too; so often, relocation programmes only benefit those who ‘own’ their home and can prove they have lived there for many years.
Slum dwellers must become a central part of slum friendly cities especially the women savings groups who are the foundation of the slum dweller federations around the world. But how? We need community participation with a strong focus on women. Full involvement of women in developing slum friendly cities gives a clear change of life for millions of people. As the women say, I work with my sisters, my federation, my family. Women’s savings groups can manage money and this is a big change. It helps them learn to budget, and they bring their knowledge of the local situation. Then as they join together they work at city scale and interact with city government and city politicians
For each of the SDGs, you need to connect them to the ground. Create a mechanism to achieve each target. You do not set up targets without setting out system of delivery – and this system has to involve community groups and local governments. And with progress monitored locally and openly – so these are accountable for all.
Jockin Arputham was regarded for decades in India as a public enemy as he fought against evictions (and imprisoned dozens of times). Latterly his incredible contribution to how to address slums (and work with their inhabitants) has been recognised in India where he was awarded the Padma Shri award and internationally.
David Satterthwaite is a Senior Fellow in IIED’s Human Settlements Group.
**Cross-posted from The Guardian**
By John Perry, Friday 10 October 2014 10.28 BST
In nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, grassroots activists usually compete with politicians. Few of the latter, however, have spent their adult lives searching for peaceful solutions to conflict. Among nominees for this year’s prize, one has spent fifty years trying to ensure that disputes between poor communities and state authorities are not only resolved peacefully but that the poor still gain from them. He may not have stopped a war, but Jockin Arputham, together with Slum Dwellers International, the grassroots movement he leads, were nominated this year for their work in giving a voice to the poorest residents of the world’s biggest cities, showing that non-violent protest and negotiation get results.
Arputham’s activism in what are now the Mumbai slums began in the colony of Janata, where he lived and worked as a teacher. He organised children to protest at the lack of sanitation services by marching to the town hall with parcels of stinking rubbish and leaving them on the steps. By linking up with other community groups to defeat schemes to demolish the slums and leave the occupants homeless, he helped set up the city’s slum dwellers’ federation.
The ongoing struggle led to confrontation with Indira Gandhi’s government. Arputham spent 29 days squatting outside the Indian parliament waiting to see her, eventually obtaining an agreement that Janata would not be demolished until its residents were rehoused. But, when he was returning home, Jockin was tipped off that he’d be arrested, so left he got off the train at the city outskirts and spent days sleeping in a drainage pipe to avoid the police. Under Gandhi’s governments Jockin was jailed more than 60 times, forced into exile, and returned to India only when she lost power in 1977.
With the equally renowned activist Sheela Patel of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (Sparc), Arputham set up theNational Slum Dwellers Federation. In addition to promoting non-violent but imaginative ways for poor communities to win battles with the authorities, they began pioneering work in enumerating slum settlements and developing community savings schemes. Such schemes, now commonplace but then almost unknown, are based on women’s ability to save small sums while working in solidarity with their neighbours, with shared targets of building up enough money to start constructing small homes or begin small businesses.
In 1996, Arputham and Patel started Shack and Slum Dwellers’ International, which today works in 33 countries on three continents. In doing so, they were pioneers of south-south exchange, in which activists from developing countries learn from each other, unmediated (if often assisted) by northern NGOs. The methods they developed in India are now being used worldwide.
The first of their key innovations was slum profiling and enumeration – profiling is a high-level assessment of the numbers of dwellings and other key aspects of a slum; enumeration provides the fine detail. Why are they important? Fundamentally, as a basis for planning what should happen to the slum and its inhabitants, and politically as a means of showing that real people live in slums, the numbers involved and the danger of trying to ignore them. The recent enumeration of Kampala’s slums by the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda provided previously absent data to the city authorities, doubling the number of recorded slums. It has given the federation an important seat at the table in discussing a city-wide sanitation project. Enumerations have often been used to show the scale of rehousing that would be required if slums were demolished – as underprovision of sites for relocating slum dwellers is a frequent issue. (It arose for example in the relocations in Brazil when World Cup stadiums were built.)
Saving schemes are the second key innovation. They are the root to improving slum conditions through self-help, and can also be used to draw in government funding on terms favourable to the savers. The South African Federation of the Urban Poor, for example, boasts 1,500 saving or credit schemes among its affiliates, ranging from 15 to 500 members. Because slum dwellers usually get no subsidy except – perhaps – publicly owned land, savings are often the key way to build up enough capital to start to build a permanent house.
There is perhaps no greater symbol of the gap between rich and poor than the city slum, especially in Mumbai, home of the world’s third most expensive office market. Alongside the flight path from Mumbai international airport, no less than 85,000 people are crushed onto a mere 110 hectares of airport-owned land. India’s high flyers can’t fail to see the slums as their flights take off. Only last month the national governmentannounced plans to start removing them as a ‘security threat’. That could be the next test of Jockin’s non-violent methods.
**Cross posted from The Hindu**
By Aparna Karthikeyan
Sanitation and shelter are for everyone, says Jockin Arputham, the Mumbai-based activist who has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
“Jockin, Slum Dweller.” That is how, Jockin Arputham, from Dharavi, Mumbai, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, introduces himself in any public forum. All his life Jockin has been fighting for dignity, for the ‘weakest of the poorest person’. Except that when he chanced into his line of work, in 1969, he had ‘no theory, philosophy, nor a political compulsion.’
Like the great majority that lives in Dharavi, Arputham is a migrant, who came to Mumbai looking for work. But the city appalled the young man. “It was a culture shock,” he says. He had come expecting a rich city. Instead, it had the worst slums.
He lived in one such slum, Janata Colony. In the first few difficult days, when he felt he had ‘fallen into the pit’, he contemplated taking his own life. So he climbed up a nearby hill, and stayed there for three days, but then he decided he wouldn’t die. Nor go back.
The next morning, he put his carpentry skills to good use, made some money and, in a few days, began sub-contracting work at the nearby Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). He learnt to give orders in Hindi; and soon the 21-year-old settled down in his new life in Mumbai.
Arputham, now 68, knows what he wants. He wants shelter, sanitation and water for every slum-dweller in Mumbai, in India, in the world. He wants every pavement-dweller relocated. He wants to see change — redevelopment — happening with people’s participation.
It was mosquitoes that made him aware of his potential as a change-maker. Arputham was conducting a coaching class for slum kids when he found the kids unable to focus because they were being bitten. The problem was mounting piles of garbage. To show the municipality the magnitude of the problem, Jockin made the kids carry a newspaper parcel of rubbish and dump it outside the municipal office in Chembur. When the police came to arrest him, Arputham said he would repeat his act until the garbage was cleared. The municipality was shamed into doing its work, for the first time in 22 years in that settlement.
Having tasted the power of protest, he decided to do more. He cleaned the filthy community toilet, again with children’s help. “By that evening, it was a beautiful new toilet!” After that, he was summarily adopted by the people who sought him to sort out civic issues. He learnt English, became an activist, a ‘self-built leader’, led huge demonstrations against the proposed eviction of Janata Colony. In 1974, when he got married, he finally rented a small house.
Arputham still lives in a rented house. He has no property, no assets. His immediate family is small — he has two grandchildren, one from each of his daughters. But his extended family is very large — the urban poor from 33 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are all members of Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), an organisation founded in 1999, to provide alternatives to eviction. SDI’s headquarters is in Cape Town, South Africa, and Arputham is its president.
But the path to fame was not smooth. In the 1970s, there were many attempts to arrest him. Each time, people, especially thousands of women from the slum, surrounded him and hid him.
When Emergency was declared in India in 1975, Arputham found that he would be put away; so he fled to the Philippines and stayed there until the new government was elected. But he carried on with his work. He set up the Bombay Slum Dwellers Federation in 1975. Slowly, the movement grew and became the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF). “The organisation is a very huge one,” he says. “I work in around 70 cities in India.”
While Arputham never wavered in his ideals, his approach changed over the years. In the early 1980s, he swapped the ‘shirt of militancy’ for one of negotiation. He moved from Janata Colony — the slum made way for BARC — to Dharavi.
Dharavi alone has 89 slum pockets, he says, sitting in his office. The walls are painted in jewel colours. But the real jewels in the room are Jockin’s awards — the Ramon Magsaysay in 2000; Padma Shri in 2011; and an honorary Ph.D. from KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, in 2009.
As the founder, and now reluctant president of NSDF (he wishes to resign, but nobody will hear of it), he’s especially keen to include women in the organisation’s activities. “I’m running this organisation because of the strength of the women. In India itself, more than 10-12 lakh women are members. Men are good bullies; they tend to take the credit, even if women run the show.”
In the slums where NSDF functions, migrations from rural to urban India are touching new highs, and sleepy little towns are today being transformed into bustling shanty towns.
‘Achche din’ has to reach out to these people too, argues Arputham. “Show me one budget that is talking about the other citizen of the city. You look at the city corporation agenda, which I look at every week. Three per cent of the agenda is connected with the slum-dwellers whereas their population is 60 per cent. The rest of the city hogs the whole agenda.”
“I’m known world over as ‘Toilet Man’. In South Africa, where it’s a stigma to say toilet, I made them talk about it. In the United Nations, I built a demonstration toilet in the UN plaza.” And demonstrated to Kofi Annan how Indians squat! He has built more than 20,000 (toilet) seats in Mumbai alone.
It was from Dharavi that Arputham drew plans for inclusive growth. He insisted on new standards on redeveloped housing, an increased floor-space-index. Over the years, Arputham has built 30,000 houses in India, and 1,00,000 houses abroad. Funding for his work comes from many sources. Thanks to his work, he has met both Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 will be announced on October 10.
‘Jockin-sir’, as Mumbai’s slum dwellers call him, is an inspirational figure helping India’s dispossessed stand up for their rights, find new homes, and plot a way out of urban poverty
Jockin Arputham chats with children about school in the Madanpura slum in central Mumbai. Photograph: Reuters
**Cross-posted from The Guardian**
By Srinath Perur
Parveen Shaikh was born in a pavement dwelling of sacks and plastic sheets in Sewri, on the eastern edge of Mumbai. She married another pavement dweller from across the road. “Born on east side footpath, married on west side,” she jokes. When her first son was a little over a month old, the city’s bulldozers came to raze her home. The road was to be widened.“I was taking down the bamboo supports when Jockin-sir’s people came with a stay order,” she says.
“Jockin-sir” is what thousands of former and present slum and pavement dwellers in Mumbai call Jockin Arputham, the founder of the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) and president of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI). In Mumbai and across the world, Arputham has long been an inspirational figure within an alliance of organisations helping slum and shack residents to stand up for their rights, find new homes, and plot a way out of urban poverty.
A woman named Kanta from the alliance – which also comprises Mahila Milan (Women Together in Hindi) and SPARC (Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres) – came to meet Parveen and her neighbours soon after the demolition was deferred. She wanted the women to participate in a savings scheme by contributing small amounts daily. Kanta was chased away with abuse, but she persisted in coming back and convinced the women to meet Arputham. They softened after meeting him a few times: “We wouldn’t bathe for days together, we’d smell, our hair would be wild. No one would come near us, but Jockin-sir would sit with us and eat.”
Previously the women, who mostly worked at construction sites or as household help, hadn’t been able to save because opening a bank account required proof of address and a guarantor. Squirrelling money away didn’t work, Parveen says, because many of the men around were alcoholics who’d “beat it out of us”. With the alliance’s savings scheme, the women were able to accumulate amounts that would help their families transition into replacement housing, with its bills and maintenance costs.
Six years ago, Parveen and her family moved into a room measuring 225 square feet with a toilet and a bathroom, obtained at no cost through the alliance. Now she works for the organisation, like Kanta, reaching out to women living in slums and on pavements. Her two sons are in middle school; the older wants to be an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, the younger an automobile engineer, and they wish they had a larger house with rooms of their own. “I remind them every day that we came here from the footpath,” Parveen says.
Jockin Arputham holds court. Photograph: Srinath Perur
Normally garrulous, she quietens as we walk down a street in Byculla, south Mumbai. The street is dense with pedestrians, scooters, cars and push-carts. The pavements are occupied by people selling clothes under once-colourful parasols. They used to have people living on them, but this stretch has now been cleared and its inhabitants resettled.
Further on, the pavements are packed with shacks built with plywood or sometimes bricks, divided into warrens by pieces of cloth and flimsy partitions. Their fronts are dominated by drums and buckets used to store water and clothes hanging on lines. Some shacks are double-storied, with a ladder leading upwards. On the corner where road meets pavement is a shared open drain with grey sludge, likely the source of the odour in the air. Parveen says it reminds her of how she used to live.
Why do people migrate to cities to live like this? Parveen – whose parents came from a village in rural Bihar before she was born – says if the government provided people with means of sustenance in their villages, they would happily live there. But they’re forced to move to cities where there is work, if not housing. Around 65 million Indians live in slums. And in Mumbai, India’s most populous city, around 60% of its 12 million people live in slums – defined by the Census of India as being “unfit for human habitation” for a multitude of reasons.
“I am a proud slum-dweller,” says Jockin Arputham, 67, sitting in his office on the ground floor of an eight-storey building in a redeveloped portion of the Dharavi slum. He has lived in slums for most of his adult life, working, first in Mumbai and then across the world, to organise slum residents and improve the quality of their lives. His work has won him the Magsaysay award in 2000 and, earlier this year, a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, put forward by the Swedish minister for public administration and housing, Stefan Attefall, and supported by ministers from Norway and South Africa.
“There is a war between the urban rich and the urban poor,” Arputham says. “And I’m trying to make peace between them.” According to him, the upper classes think of slum residents as lazy, criminal elements out to swindle the resources of the city. “It’s the opposite,” he says. “We are not impinging on resources. We don’t take much water, electricity, public transport. We are the human resource of the city.”
Sometimes, he says, an expensive car, its occupants rendered helpless by truant domestic help, will drive into a slum looking for them. “Their clothes aren’t being washed, their food isn’t being cooked. City life for the upper middle-class can’t survive without domestic help – and where do they come from?” There is no affordable accommodation for them in the city, he points out, causing them to live in slums. The land officially set aside for the homeless in Mumbai, Arputham says, is less than 6%, while the requirement, going by their number, should be closer to 60%. “And you blame slum dwellers for your poor planning.”
Those who live on the pavements have it even worse than slum dwellers, says Arputham. “You’re lying down with your wife on the footpath and car lights fall on you. What kind of society lives like this? We need to give dignity to human beings.”
Only a couple of decades ago, slum and pavement dwellers could be evicted summarily because they were seen as encroachers. Now, owing in large part to his efforts, policy recognises slum residents as valid inhabitants of the city, entitled to compensation and alternative housing.
Some shacks in Dharavi slum have two storeys with a ladder to reach the top floor. Photograph: Image Broker/Rex
Arputham was born in Kolar Gold Fields, near Bangalore, in the south of India. He moved to Mumbai when he was 18 to work as a carpenter. Having no place to live in, he began sleeping outside people’s houses in Janata Colony, a slum of around 70,000 people in Mankhurd. There was daily wage work to be had at the nearby Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), where a new reactor was being constructed.
For two days, he worked as a sweeper, offering himself to contractors. Then, seeing that the contractors themselves didn’t need any credentials, he started a company called Lift and Shift and began hiring labour to clear garbage, clean the grounds and move machines. This made him relatively well off in the slum. He’d buy sweets and snacks for the children of the colony and ask them to sing for him, which turned into regular musical gatherings. At some of the parents’ urging, he began to run an informal night school where, since he hadn’t finished school himself, he got the older children to teach the younger ones.
The colony had no garbage collection, which led to a mosquito menace. The municipality had chosen to ignore the settlement, and Arputham took this on. He announced a picnic for which 3,000 children from the community turned up. Each of them was to bring along a bundle of garbage wrapped in a newspaper sheet. The picnic began early in the morning, and the long procession of children was led to the as-yet-unopened municipality office to dispose of their loads. He laughs and claps his hands at the memory: “In half an hour the whole compound was full of garbage.”
Later in the day, incensed officials and police came to the colony, and this ultimately led to the municipality beginning regular garbage collection. “That is the first day I tasted the power of community,” Arputham says. He went on to construct toilets, build paths, organise work camps, and soon found that he was a leader. Yet he never had a home of his own in the colony – he was taken care of by the community.
In 1970, when the colony received a notice that the land would be cleared for use by BARC, it was natural for Arputham to lead the opposition. “No eviction without alternative” became the slogan, and the movement for the first time united all 1,200 slums in Mumbai. He took the struggle to Delhi in 1975, met political leaders and sat in protest outside Parliament for 18 days before the prime minister Indira Gandhi granted him an audience. He mimics her looking at him from above her glasses like a stern headmistress: “What is your problem? Why are you doing this?”
Arputham told her, and returned to Mumbai with a written assurance that the colony would not be cleared. But the prime minister didn’t keep her promise. On 17 May 1976, Arputham was arrested. A force of 12,000 policemen stormed the colony and evacuated the 70,000 residents overnight to a swampy area four kilometres away (that turned into another, still extant, slum called Cheetah Camp). BARC would use the cleared land to house 3,000 employees.
Arputham had developed a brand of urban guerilla tactics that he recounts with impish glee: obtaining stay orders that would be shown to the police only at the last minute to cause them maximum inconvenience; dealing with delaying tactics of officials by sending groups of unwashed women whom they’d try to get rid of as quickly as possible; amassing crowds of thousands to paralyse the city; hiding from the police among crowds of women since he’s a small-built man, on some occasions even under their sarees.
“I used to stop Bombay city. I never used violence, but I taught people how to be a nuisance.” Records say Arputham was arrested more than 60 times. But this was mostly on paper, the police trying to obey instructions from above without risking another protest on the streets.
The struggle for Janata Colony united slum dwellers across India, and brought attention to their summary displacement as cities developed. In 1975, Arputham started the NSDF to protect the rights of slum and pavement dwellers. Over the next decade, court rulings and campaigns changed government policy so that India’s cities began to look at providing sanitation, power and water to slums, and replacement housing when slums had to be torn down. Organisations such as SPARC conducted surveys to come up with a cartography of urban poverty – how many people lived in slums, on pavements, by the railway tracks, how long they’d been living there, what basic amenities they had or lacked – that would be the first step towards rehabilitation.
Daily life in Dharavi. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA
It’s mid-morning and Arputham is sitting outside an administrative office in a replacement housing unit called Natvar Parikh Compound in the eastern Mumbai suburb of Govandi. Around 7,000 families, including Parveen’s, live here in 56 eight-storey buildings. “From 1974 to 1990, the government said there was no land to house the poor,” he says. “We developed and demonstrated how non-government land could be used.”
The key was to identify land that had been allotted to institutions or to industries in less crowded times, but remained unused. This land in the city could be exchanged for a valuable commodity: the right to develop real estate towards the less-crowded north of the city. An acre of land given to the government for housing would earn the right to develop one acre of built-up area, an instrument that could then be traded in the open market. The compound we’re in is an example: 2.3 hectares of land allotted decades ago for industrial use, then traded for TDR (Transferable Development Rights) and converted into housing for the poor.
The buildings are seven storeys of housing plus a ground floor for shops and small businesses that provide employment to some of the people living here. Small units manufacture bangles, handkerchiefs, bags. One of the buildings’ common areas has a pile of litter; a resident who’s showing me around says, “People here have lived amidst garbage. It takes time to unlearn habits.”
The replacement ‘houses’ are really single rooms with a small toilet and bathroom, 225 square feet in all, provided free of cost to slum and pavement dwellers. These cannot be sold or rented out for 10 years. Among those living here, some are better off than others. Mumtaz Ansari’s room has eight people living in it, and has an air-cooler, fridge, TV, washing machine and two almirah cupboards. Another house in the same building has only a few utensils. In another, an old woman who can’t see appeals to me to convince her family to get her cataracts operated upon. Her daughter-in-law tells me they just got her a prosthetic leg – her left leg was amputated due to complications of diabetes – and they’re waiting till they can afford the cataract surgery, which after all is not essential.
Clearly, beating urban poverty is a precarious project which goes far beyond simply having a roof over one’s head. Over the years, the alliance has developed a set of practices and interventions to make the transition easier – many of which revolve around women’s leadership and participation. According to Arputham: “Women are smarter. They know everything about everyone in a settlement. And they are natural communicators.”
The small savings scheme, run entirely by women, helps develop preparedness for maintaining an establishment. The rooms are usually allotted in the names of women so they are less vulnerable to domestic abuse and familial instability. Care is taken to relocate slum residents within a couple of kilometres of their previous address so that work is not affected. A committee interfaces between residents and the police so both sides aren’t harassed. The alliance provides food rations, medicines and cash loans to residents when they have to tide over a difficult period.
Mumtaz Ansari in the room she shares with seven others. Photograph: Srinath Perur
Arputham and the alliance encourage communities to work from within – which is why so many of its employees are current or former slum residents themselves. Parveen says: “If someone tip-top comes and says, ‘I’ll give you a house,’ the first thought that comes to mind is he’s making a fool of you. He’ll take photographs, sell them to foreigners, make his money and vanish. But if I go and say, ‘I’m your sister, I used to live on the footpath,’ they listen.”
Arputham says about working on behalf of the poor: “You can’t become another rich grabber, another competitor.” I ask if he saw the film Slumdog Millionaire. “Oh, no,” he exclaims and turns away in disgust. He was invited to a screening but soon walked out. “I couldn’t take it. You are exploiting the slum dweller.” Later, at an event, Prince Charles happened to introduce him to the film’s director, Danny Boyle. “I kicked that fellow,” he says (not meaning it literally).
The alliance runs a not-for-profit construction company to undertake slum improvement or rehabilitation projects. One is from the city for construction of toilets in slums: these are paid for by the city, but their construction and maintenance is supervised by women from the community. Most slum and pavement residents in Mumbai use common toilets, and when these are insufficient, go in open areas or by railway tracks. This, in addition to issues of hygiene, leaves residents, especially women, vulnerable to assault.
At BMC Colony, in the northern suburb of Goregaon, Arputham holds a meeting, sitting on the floor at a low table, women in front on him on mats. A new block of toilets with 45 seats has just been constructed here. “Toilets have become a symbol,” he says. “Now, ministers come to inaugurate them.”
Two women from a slum in Aarey Colony are visiting because they currently go in the open and would like a toilet. Beyond the usual reasons for wanting a toilet, the colony faces an added threat, unusual for a city – leopards. As the city presses upon the neighbouring Sanjay Gandhi National Park, leopards have begun entering settlements and have sometimes killed squatting humans, especially children, after mistaking them for prey. Arputham tells the two women how to petition the corporation, and asks them to stay in touch with the women here and learn from them.
“Unity and strength: that’s what my women are learning, that’s what they are teaching,” he says, with visible pride. So far, the alliance has relocated and rehabilitated around 37,000 families in Mumbai. Across India, their surveys have counted around 4 million families of the urban poor and made them visible to the system.
SDI was founded in 1995, with Arputham as its head, to link organisations dealing with urban poverty across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. SDI today spans 33 countries where 90% of the world’s slum population of 800 million people live. Earlier this year, it won the $1.25m Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Now, he and SDI have been proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“All these awards I accept on behalf of the slum dwellers who were my university, my teachers,” Arputham says. “The money goes to the organisations. If I can give all the poorest of the poor a house, that will be my biggest victory.” In recent times, his poor health has slowed him down a little. Still, Parveen says they have to force him to rest: “He never seems to sleep. He just dreams with his eyes open.”
**Cross-posted from the London Review of Books**
By John Perry
Worldwide, one billion people live in slums. By 2050, it might be two billion. India has the world’s second largest slum population, after China. In 2009, the government launched a plan for a ‘slum free India in five years’: since then, slum growth has continued unabated. Mumbai has more than nine million slum inhabitants, up from six million ten years ago. In the face of such statistics it is easy to be pessimistic. Yet most slums are hives of economic and political activity. Shack/Slum Dwellers International and its president, Jockin Arputham, have been nominated by the Swedish housing minister for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The movement began in Mumbai fifty years ago. Jockin went to live in the slum district of Janata, where ‘the houses were made of cardboard’, in 1963, at the age of 17. He had a paid job as a carpenter but in his spare time set up a school. His first peaceful protest against slum conditions was to organise the children to march to the town hall with parcels of stinking rubbish which they deposited on the steps, to demand a proper refuse collection service. Jockin soon became the main ‘agitator’ (his word) in fighting proposals that would have led to 70,000 people in Janata losing their homes.
After 29 days squatting outside the parliament in New Delhi, Jockin secured an interview with Indira Gandhi. She reluctantly agreed that the demolition wouldn’t take place until residents had been properly consulted. Jockin insisted on having the decision in writing. But the letter was a ruse, and officials tipped him off that he’d be arrested when his train arrived in Mumbai. On the city outskirts he pulled the communication cord, escaped and spent nights sleeping in a drainage pipe. By day he was accompanied everywhere by crowds of women from the community. But he was eventually arrested and jailed more than sixty times for organising protests, before being forced into exile.
He returned to India when Gandhi lost power in 1977. He toured the country to set up the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF). With the Mumbai NGO SPARC they carried out pioneering censuses of slum settlements. With a women’s organisation, Mahila Milan, they set up communal savings schemes through which thousands of slum dwellers are able to accumulate enough money to improve their homes or invest in small businesses.
I met Jockin in 1991 on behalf of Homeless International. He wanted me to meet the state housing minister to hear about his attitudes towards slum dwellers. We went for dinner. Jockin hardly spoke as the minister explained how the slum problems were being solved. The next day, Jockin took me on a whirlwind tour by train and auto rickshaw. In Goregaon I met Sita Shivaji, who’d been forced out of a slum settlement by the authorities and dumped 15 miles outside the city. She was working with 51 other families in a self-build project financed through a savings scheme. Ten miles away in Jankalyan, I met Yasoda Vilas, who’d also been in a displaced community, this one living in shacks alongside a railway line. Community pressure secured them a building plot where 115 families were just about to start work. Fifty other railway dwellers’ groups were working with NSDF and SPARC on similar self-build projects.
In the centre of Mumbai, Dharavi is thought to be Asia’s biggest slum, housing perhaps a million people within one square mile. There I met a Muslim woman, Farida, whose family with 325 others had also faced eviction, this time by the army. She was one of ten activists arrested for refusing to move. They were eventually allocated land in Dharavi only to find their ‘plot’ was a stinking pond. They spent months filling it and then building very basic new houses.
In 1996, Jockin started Shack/Slum Dwellers International, which has grown to cover 33 countries across three continents. It’s probably the world’s biggest and most effective network for south-south exchange among poor people, inspired by the co-operative models and peaceful forms of protest that Jockin pioneered in Mumbai.
In Brazil its affiliate Interação is also promoting savings schemes. Dilma Rousseff’s government, determined to tidy up the favelas before the World Cup, has resorted to force. But, as Jockin’s work has shown, repression and forced removals don’t work. Eventually, slum dwellers have to be engaged in finding ways to meet their needs in the places where they already live.
SDI President Jockin Arputham (right) and Rajiv Jalota, Additional Municipal Commissioner for Greater Mumbai Municipality (left).
*Cross posted from South African SDI Alliance blog*
Jockin Arputham, president of Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) received a warm welcome from the South African Alliance in Cape Town yesterday on the last of his four-day visit. As a long-standing, much-valued friend of the Alliance he spent the day with community leaders in Khayelitsha and with representatives of the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Province. Jockin spoke about the power of savings and the Indian Alliance’s partnership with the Municipality of Greater Mumbai. In this context, Jockin was accompanied by Rajiv Jalota, the Additional Municipal Commissioner for Projects in Greater Mumbai Municipality.
Community leaders in Khayelitsha welcome Jockin.
An official welcome from Tamara Hela, community leader from UT Gardens, Khayelitsha.
The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) has mobilised and profiled several settlements in Khayelitsha that are set to proceed on water, sanitation, drainage, re-blocking and community facility projects. Jockin’s visit linked Khayelitsha’s community leaders – many of whom are fairly new to ISN and SDI processes – to the broader context of the South African Alliance and SDI as a global network.
National coordinators of the South African Alliance’s two social movements, Patrick Maghebhula (ISN) and Rose Molokoane (FEDUP) welcomed Jockin by speaking about the Alliance’s history with the Indian Alliance. They referred to the South African slogan – Amandla Imali Nolwazi: Power is Money and Knowledge – and its roots in the relationship with India.
“This slogan started influencing me after we went to India (in 1991). We shared ideas around democracy with the Indians. We saw that after 40 years of democracy millions of people in India were extremely poor. We realized that if you sit around and wait for democracy it will come…but it will come with its own laws that might not cater for you. We need to do something to translate these laws to our own life. And so we learnt the experience of self-reliance from the Indians. We need to drive our own lives – and we do that with savings. This is how relationships with government were formed in India. Our savings and our information give us power to influence laws. We know, that yes, we may be poor, but we are not hopeless“
(Rose Molokoane, National FEDUP co-ordinator)
Rose Molokoane, national FEDUP coordinator.
In the keynote address, Jockin emphasised that
“Savings are a life line. We talk about savings the whole time because money is what speaks. But when you collect money – door to door – you also collect information. When you have information you can plan action and if you act, something will happen. This is why money and information guarantee us power. We need to think about how to support ourselves”
As 40 – 50 % of Mumbai’s population – 19 million people – lives in slums, many millions do not have access to toilets. In fact, the ratio translates to about 1 toilet for every 800 people. The NSDF has therefore been working together with Mr Jalota and the Municipality to construct community planned and -owned toilet facilities. This experience, Mr Jalota explained, would help to develop more policies for Greater Mumbai.
Jockin founded the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India (NSDF) in the 1970s. Often referred to as the “grandfather” of the global slum dwellers movement, Jockin was educated by the slums, living on the streets for much of his childhood with no formal education. For more than 30 years, Jockin has worked in slums and shantytowns throughout India and around the world. After working as a carpenter in Mumbai, he became involved in organising the community where he lived and worked (Reference). He helped found SDI and has been awarded many prestigious global awards, most recently the Skoll Foundation award for social entrepreneurship. On behalf of SDI Jockin has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
SDI is increasingly receiving international attention and recognition. The recent Nobel Peace Prize nomination bares testament to this. The Nobel committee nominated Jockin Arputham and SDI for the social progress in improving conditions in cities across the developing world and facilitating dialogue between the urban poor and government authorities.
SDI is one of seven innovative organizations receiving the 2014 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. Winners of the Skoll Award share several characteristics; among these, each is led by a social entrepreneur and has developed an innovation that enables it to effect large-scale change related to one of the world’s most pressing problems. The Skoll Awards are designed for leaders whose experiences in social change allow them to contribute to a peer network committed to continuous learning and shared expertise. The Skoll Awards help organizations scale the impact of their work to a larger national or global level by providing a multiyear grant for core support to expand programs and capacity. Beyond monetary investment, Skoll Foundation fosters collaboration and partnership between organizations.
SDI is being recognized by The Skoll Foundation for its work in supporting slum dwellers around the world in improving their cities. SDI has been operating in the urban poverty space for 15 years and has been a leader in creating a united and organized voice of the urban poor on the international stage. SDI’s network of urban poor federations is primarily built around women-led savings schemes. These savings operate as a mechanism for monetizing social capital in communities and assists communities to negotiate with formal authorities to leverage far greater resources for developing their neighborhoods. Since SDI is focused on the local priorities, needs, and capacities of slum dwellers, it has developed the traction to advance a grassroots agenda of creating “pro-poor” cities that address the pervasive exclusion of the poor from the economies and political structures of 21st century cities. SDI understands that organized communities have a catalytic role to play in alleviating urban poverty – at the household, settlement, city, national, and international level.
Jockin Arputham will be accepting the award at the 11th Annual Skoll World Forum in Oxford from 9-11 April. The Skoll World Forum is the premier conference on social entrepreneurship which focuses on best practices, new innovations and connecting leaders from social, finance, private and public sectors to one another to further global social progress. The Award Ceremony and key sessions from the World Forum will be streamed live.
For more information of the 2014 Skoll Awards, click here.