Last week, SPARC India spoke to Shamim Banu Salim Sheikh (age 55), a member of Mahila Milan living in Mumbai’s Rafik nagar slum in Govandi about conditions in her community. The below are her reflections on her community and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“My name is Shamimbanu. I am the taluka vice president of Samajwadi party. I reside in Rafik nagar – Govandi, Shivaji nagar near Bismillah Masjid dumping ground. My family consists of my husband, two sons and two daughters. One daughter is married. My husband and my sons are working in the fishing transport line. We have one business only.
Life in Rafik Nagar
Rafik nagar is a huge slum with around 40,000 houses. Most of the houses are kuccha (informal), at least 30 to 35% houses are kuccha since they are near the dumping ground. Securities from this area don’t allow these people to build pucca (permanent) houses. But if we go little away from the dumping ground then we see little pucca houses and more deeper in the area, you have ground plus one houses, i.e ground floor is pucca and upstairs they have patra (tin) roof or patra side walls. Most of the people’s occupation here is wastes pickers, fish sellers, vegetable sellers, kadiyas (masons), construction workers and mystry (carpenters).
All kinds of people stay here. Most of the people are Muslims from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states. Migrant workers in this area were more, now most of them have left their houses and went back to their native lands. The houses are small and 8 to 10 men would stay in one house. The reason they left from here is not food but all their work is stopped [because of the coronavirus lockdown], and they were scared that whatever savings they had would finish staying here without work.
We have a team of ladies who come together and prepare community food daily, all the expenses are done by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly (MLA) and five other councillors and supply food to different areas such as Guatam nagar, Shivaji nagar, Sathe nagar and Indian oil and also Rafik nagar. Whoever wants food comes here and takes the packet. Many people don’t have a gas cylinder in their house. If we take a cylinder it costs 1000/-. Most of them use chullas (hearth / stove) for cooking food and some get kerosene at 80/- per litre.
We have 24 hours electricity – only people near the dumping ground don’t have individual meters otherwise all the houses have individual meters. Water is also not a problem: we get ample water from last 3 years as our MLA has given us water connection to every house. He has spent crores of rupees to give us this connection. Some lanes have proper drainage lines, but the new houses don’t have drains. Even in rainy season, we don’t have much problem here. The area doesn’t get choked up any time. He has constructed a small kabrastan (cemetery) in our area, otherwise we had to go far away to cremate the body. Only problem we have here is that, because the garbage comes here there is very dirty smell in the area when they burn it. It’s not only garbage that gets burnt but there is a company nearby which throws post-mortem and other stuffs in this dumping ground . Many people have various kinds of lung diseases here. We all use common toilets. The toilets are not sufficient for everybody, some go near the dumping ground before the security comes to take charge.
Covid-19 in Our Community
Corona illness is a surprise to us, but as I said we are living here for years with all kinds of dangerous diseases, this is one kind of disease in our list. If you ever come here and see you will find people going around everywhere without any fear. Nobody from outside such as police, doctors or Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officers dares to come inside the area. Because they themselves are scared that they will get new diseases if they enter this slum. So most of the time police stays outside near the road side and don’t allow people to go anywhere.
We try and tell other people that they should keep their hands clean, houses clean, don’t sneeze or cough in public places. But all these things are for rich people and not poor people like us. In this area most of the people have at least 7 to 8 members in their houses, how are you going to tell them they should not sit together or keep distance between each other? They will laugh at you and show you their houses first to see how big is their house. It’s two and half months now, nobody from the government side or BMC has come to sanitize our area or give us any information about this disease. We hear the message when we have to call somebody from the phone. They have a tape that tells you what we have to do to stay away from this diseases and sometimes from the TV. But people here are least bothered about all these things. They are waiting, when this lockdown will be over and they will go out for their jobs.
We must be having many positive cases in our area, but nobody has come to check any family. Once our MLA had arranged a camp and sent some doctors to check here by bringing some small machine to see if people have fever, but they said there are no positive cases at least nearby my area. We are not sure how true is that. Because if people don’t listen to what government is saying than how could you test just few people and say that there are no positive cases in this slum. Many migrant workers who were living here have left from here, our MLA arranged buses and train tickets for many people, now almost 30 to 35% of migrant workers have gone.
Many people have lost their jobs. They are not sure whether they will get the same job again, but the fish and vegetable sellers will continue with their jobs. The rest will have to find another job. We are all waiting for the buses and trains to start so that we can go out and start earning. Government didn’t think about people who are on daily wages. It’s good that our MLA gives us all the grains to cook food in our area so at least poor people take meals twice from here.
We had got a contract of preparing some 10,000 to 12,000 masks. We use to get 2 rupees per mask. Many people were doing this work but that is also stopped. In Ramadan month most of them had started vegetable and fruits businesses. Some were selling toys and other stuff so that they were able to earn some money out of it. But now everything is stopped. The waste pickers try and go to pick up waste but the watchman asks them to pay 50 rupees to go out from the area, and since all the shops are closed who will buy their stuff.
People do have ration cards but not all. We get only rice and wheat in the ration shop and nothing else. What are we going to doing with all the rice if there is no daal or masala or oil? How are we going to cook the food? No systems are in place; government does their own manmani (will), whenever they want they do lockdown but we are the sufferers. It seems everything has come to an stand still. “Zindagi mano thumsi gayi hai.” (“Seems like life has paused.”)
Nothing is good about what is happening, we are thanks to Allah (God) that we have a good MLA who is taking care of people in whole of Shivaji nagar. We prepare 4,000 kg of rice daily, dal, chole bjature (chickpea curry with fried bread), once a week chicken biryani and once a week mutton pilaf and feed as many people we can. Our team of ladies come together and pack the food and send it by tempo (small cargo truck) to different areas. This is only good thing.
There is a small general hospital built by MLA which takes care of small cases. They charge 10 rupees if medicine is available then they give us free medicines also. We have been given contact numbers for ambulance so that in emergency we can contact them.”
A representative from a grassroots federation in Mumbai describes how the community is self-organising for an effective COVID-19 response. This text is drawn from an interview with Selvi Manivanan Devandra conducted by Sharmila Gimonkarpril. Selvi is a community leader with Mahila Milan, a federation of women’s savings groups, active in housing and basic service issues. Indian Oil is the name of their cluster of tenements. Sharmila has been working with Sparc for the past 30 years.
My name is Selvi. For four years I have lived in Indian Oil building No. 8/C, room No. 304. Most residents of Indian Oil are people who were displaced by city and state government projects, including many pavement dwellers. Previously, I was staying in slums near Kokari Agar.
I have three children. One daughter is married, and my other two children are college students. My husband works as a security guard. I have been working with Sparc and Mahila Milan (MM) for the last 9 years.
Coordinating and communicating through WhatsApp
With the outbreak of COVID-19, all MM leaders took on responsibility for planning relief work in the area and to coordinate with Shekar from the National Slum Dwellers Federation and local politicians (Aktar Khureshi and Abbu Azmi). Most buildings have an MM leader, and each leader is in touch with a central committee. Previously, we were not involved with the central committee since we didn’t like the way they worked, and we worked to our own guidelines. But now with the challenge of COVID-19, we all agreed to come together and work for the people. We created a communal WhatsApp group, and whatever the committee decides, we come to know about it.
First we set about helping the many people who hang around because they don’t have any work. When the police visit our area, all these people run into the various tenement buildings. We decided to open the building gates at given times i.e. 8.00 to 11.30 in the morning and 6.00 to 8.00 in the evening. Now, with permission to enter buildings at certain times these people avoid running into trouble with police who are monitoring the area.
Supporting the vulnerable to self-isolate
Next we set about helping families in greatest need. This includes families that have been unable to pay maintenance charges for the last two months or so, those who are handicapped, medically unfit and senior citizens. Also those who share accommodation and have small children, and to such people and families, we give preference. Through the WhatsApp groups, we sent the list of these families to Shekar sir and the local councillor so the families can be registered as needing help. To minimise the chance of virus transmission we asked people, using WhatsApp, to stay in their houses and explained we would bring goods to their doorstep. The building president also takes responsibility for sharing all the information.
Approximately 10,000 families reside in Indian Oil, making up a huge population of around 25,000 people. The councillor provides only 200 packets per day; this is distributed to those families on the list provided by the society leaders. My son has been given an ID card (required to access subsidized food rations) and goes to Shivaji Nagar to get cooked food packets in the afternoon and at night. It is mostly families that live here. Of course, there were many men who used to stay alone here but now they have gone home, back to their families.
Shutting the local market was a priority: people were gathering around the shops or vegetable vendors and so risking the virus spreading. We asked the city government and police department to help us to shift the market to an open space nearby. It would open at specific times and the MM leaders would help check that people are maintaining a safe distance between each other.
A local politician (corporator) arranged for masks and for cooked food to be provided. And for food packets for 300 families including rice, dal (two types), sugar, wheat, oil and bottles of sanitizer. The corporator has also given equipment to sanitize our area, since the city government lacks this.
Trusted by the inhabitants and the authorities
Previously police would not allow us to leave our houses to check on families or bring food to their doors. We explained that if we didn’t, families wouldn’t get food, and that if we could deliver food to their doorsteps, they wouldn’t need to come out and risk virus infection. The police began to understand that we leaders have an important role. Now we help them maintain the law and deal with crime in the area. They regularly visit our areas which prevents people hanging around.
The MM leaders build lists of how many families are in crisis, what kind of job the head of the family does, and of how many family members. We have been working in this area for 4 or 5 years so are familiar with most of the families in our building and our neighbouring buildings. We open our office at certain times so all leaders can come and submit their lists. Then we sit with Shekar sir and decide how and when we can provide them with food grains.
Shekar sir informs us leaders of the time to come to the office and collect the food. With this crisis, we have started collecting names of those families who don’t have a ration card and those families who have ration card but are not linked an Aadhaar card [identity card] which means that they are unable to get food grains from the ration shops. The crisis has made us aware which families in our area who don’t have an earning member in their house, and so don’t have easy access to food.
Alert to the dangers of fake news
Many news items are running around on the TV channels, but some news is fake. Some say that by taking certain tablets then we won’t be affected by the virus. My neighbour, who works in the housekeeping department of a hospital bought me some tablets, telling me if I took them, I wouldn’t fall sick. I urged him not to give the tablets to anybody, explaining that they could be dangerous, particularly for people with diabetes, heart problems or asthma etc. I told him no tablet can cure this disease and to take simple precautions: only drink hot water, take a hot water steam every day and gargle twice or thrice with hot water and salt. Wash your hands regularly, don’t touch your face and stay away from others. This is only practical advice, not medication, but it is possible for us to do this at home.
Selvi Manivanan Devandra is a community leader with Mahila Milan, a federation of women’s savings groups active in housing and basic service issues.
With thanks to Slum Dwellers International (SDI) for their support in developing this blog. Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.
As of 2017, the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) and Mahila Milan in India have organized 694 groups in 81 cities and towns. Home to the oldest national federation in the network, the India SDI Alliance is a critical driver of peer-to-peer exchanges to organize and capacitate federations in Asia and the network at large. This year it became a key organizer of communities looking to find solutions to energy poverty. Success stories of energy-poor communities gaining improved access to renewable, affordable, reliable, and safe electricity through innovative strategies frequently reference rural areas but what of the urban poor communities? How can state strategies for energy security keep pace with the continued expansion of urban populations while at the same time satisfying existing demand? Can the human, financial, political, and environmental assets of the urban poor be harnessed to increase energy security and contribute to city resilience more broadly?
Both Maharashtra State and the Indian Central Government are working hard to incentivize use of renewables in the country’s energy mix. In November 2017, NSDF and Mahila Milan, with their support NGO, SPARC, held discussions with a private sector developer, the state electricity distribution company, and the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). They agreed to partner on a precedent-setting, community-man- aged pilot project installing grid-connected rooftop solar PV onto government-built, low income city housing projects in Mumbai. This small-scale embedded generation infrastructure will subsidize the energy tariff of the housing’s public utilities, including water pumps, lifts, and corridor lighting, freeing up additional financial resources for use by the cooperative in the maintenance of the buildings. Women from Mahila Milan have been trained in routine maintenance and energy use monitoring of the solar system. Ultimately, the aim is to demonstrate a model that can be locally financed and managed and contribute to energy security and financial resilience for the city at large.
As a result of the community’s organizing power, government cooperation, and the help of the private sector, the India SDI Alliance is aiming to reduce the electricity tariff for some of the poorest apartment dwellers in Mumbai. The aim is to install these systems in four more buildings in Mumbai during the first part of 2018. If the pilot proves successful, there are at least 500 such buildings housing very poor relocated or rehabilitated households in Mumbai that could bene t from replication of this project.
The India slum dweller federation efforts are enhancing city resilience by improving access to affordable clean energy, building skills in poor communities, and supporting multi-stakeholder collaboration.
In the coming weeks, SDI will share the case studies from our 2017 Annual Report titled ‘The Road to Resilience’ here on our blog. Emerging from the field of ecology, ‘resilience’ describes the capacity of a system to maintain or recover from disruption or disturbance. Cities are also complex systems and a resilience framework addresses the inter- connectedness of formal and informal city futures. Moreover, it enables a nuanced reflection on the nature of shocks and chronic stressors – recognising that the latter are particularly acute in slum dweller communities and that this critically undermines the entire city’s economic, social, political, and environmental resilience.
As with personal resilience, city resilience demands awareness, acknowledgment of reality, and a capacity to move beyond reactivity to responses that are proactive, thoughtful, and beneficial to the whole. The most enlightened individuals and cities will be those that understand their responsibility to the most vulnerable and to the planet. Our 2017 Annual Report showcases some of SDI’s achievements over the past year on the road to resilience. Click here for the full report.
Success stories in accessing affordable, reliable, and safe electricity for the poor are commonly registered from rural areas but what of the urban poor? There is far less real world success in addressing challenges the poor face in cities across the world, limited understanding of how cities will manage the secure supply of clean and affordable electricity for urban informal communities as urbanisation continues, and less precedent for how urban poor residents can play an important role. That being said, organized urban poor communities affiliated with the SDI network are beginning to demonstrate the critical role of the urban poor in practically contributing to clean energy transitions while simultaneously increasing resilience.
On the 28th of November 2017, Mahila Milan and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India inaugurated a 12kWp rooftop solar PV system on a large-scale government housing complex in Govandi, Mumbai (SRA Building 11C in Natwar Parikh, Indian Oil Compound). SRA is the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, the state level authority administering a government program that provides housing for Mumbai’s poor. The solar PV system installed at building 11C makes use of enabling net-metering policy and a capital subsidy, incentivizing the tapping of Mumbai’s vast rooftop solar potential. Connected to the grid supply the system imports as well as exports electricity allowing the housing cooperative a saving of around Rs. 1.9 lakhs annually (roughly USD 1500).
Communal facilities supplemented by the newly installed solar PV system include: common area lighting, elevators, and crucially the pumping of water from underground tanks to overhead tanks. These energy costs are conventionally borne by levies paid by the building’s residents. A reduction in the cooperative’s overall electricity bill means more money for maintenance. As with other NSDF managed projects, 100% of routine maintenance of the solar system is done by trained Mahila Milan members.
The Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission aims to position India as a global leader in the production of solar electricity. There’s real momentum in powering the country’s development through an increased use of clean generation sources, reducing carbon as emissions associated with fossil fuel generation.
SDI’s Indian Alliance aims to install these systems in 4 more buildings in Mumbai during the first part of 2018.
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.
**This article originally appeared in The Hindu, Sunday Magazine on 4 January 2015.**
By Kalparna Sharma
2014 ended on a grim note. The horror in Peshawar with the gunning down of 132 children by the Taliban left everyone, not just Pakistanis, shaken. So as 2015 dawns, will things change, get better, more peaceful?
On current calculations, there is little to indicate that the trend of violence, seen not just in this subcontinent, or in West Asia but around the world, is anywhere near peaking.
At times such as these, when we are filled with despair at the state of the world, and indeed even our own country, where hate-filled talk against people of other faiths and persuasions is now out in the open, I turn to individuals who face life with a courage.
So let me begin this year with the story of a woman in Mumbai. Parveen Sheikh is in her early forties. She is a member of Mahila Milan and organises women in Mumbai’s slums so that they can tackle together some of the myriad problems all of them face.
Parveen was one of eight women I met recently in an office in Dharavi. We discussed politics, problems and possibilities. Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, Devendra Phadnis, is considering setting up a special committee to deal with Mumbai’s problems to be headed by the Prime Minister. What should be the priority for a city like Mumbai, I asked.
Housing was the consensus. Affordable housing for the poor should be top priority.
Parveen’s personal experience illustrates how politics and policies deal with the daunting problem of the homeless in one of India’s wealthiest cities. While the government introduces schemes to deal with the ‘slum problem’ (as if it involved buildings, not people); for people like Parveen, the solution is often worse than the problem.
Parveen lived for decades on a pavement in Sewri, in the north-eastern part of Mumbai. The threat of eviction was constant. Yet, thousands of families like hers remained where they were, making a living by earning daily wages, using public — usually dysfunctional — toilets, and awaiting with dread for the inevitable flooding followed by disease that descended on them every monsoon.
In 2008, Parveen and her neighbours were told that they were going to be resettled. The road had to be widened. The pavement was to be broken. So they would have to move. “I was dying with happiness,” says Parveen. She had never imagined that in her lifetime, she would live in a pucca house.
With tremendous excitement, the families moved to the distant suburb of Govandi. What they found was certainly pucca; a seven-storey building identical to the hundreds scattered across Mumbai as part of the slum resettlement scheme. But you stepped inside and there was nothing. The rooms that were supposed to be their new homes were just bare walls; no lights, no fans, no windows, no doors, no toilet seats, no taps. Anything that could be stolen had been removed. But they had a roof over their heads. And for that they were supposed to be grateful!
The other side of resettlement is rehabilitation. In their new neighbourhood, far from the old, Parveen and the others could find no work. Parveen’s husband was a head loader. Earlier, he could walk to the place where he got daily work. Now he would have to spend a good part of what he earned to travel before finding work. Women who worked as domestics in a mixed neighbourhood had no work in an area inhabited entirely by people like them. So this was a strange formulate for rehabilitation.
Worse still, the area where most such urban poor have been ‘dumped’, as Parveen says, is right next to Mumbai’s garbage dumping ground. According to a recent journalistic investigation, people living in this area suffer from acute health problems, particularly respiratory, and their life expectancy is a third lower than that of people in other parts of Mumbai.
But the point of telling this story is not just to paint the grim reality of being a poor person in a very rich city, but also to recount the unbreakable spirit of women like Parveen. Instead of throwing up her hands in despair, Parveen set about dealing with the problem. With the help of her women’s group and support from the federation of slum dwellers, they have fixed their building. There are doors and windows and taps. There is water. There is even a lift, something that they did not have for the first four years.
Parveen breathes fire when she speaks of the authorities and their attitude towards poor people. But she will not let that get her down. What stands out is her determination to fight the system by organising other women like her. That surely is a recipe to deal with despair.
With no electricity, kids study under a street light at night.
**Cross-posted from the SPARC/MM/NSDF blog**
If you can read this, you’re not affected. For most urban dwellers electricity is available at the flick of a switch, to power our numerous appliances from our coffee machines to our computers and TVs, but not for all: many of the urban poor still have no access to electricity although the power cables are literally just two meters above their heads.
In the new Energy Justice program of SPARC we have just recently started a survey in order to better understand the needs and problems of the urban poor related to energy. Last week we have been at a settlement of pavement dwellers next to the Western Express Highway in Goregaon, Mumbai who have lived there for at least the last 10 years. Although none of the households have access to electricity, they have energy expenditures between 300 and 750 Rupees per month just to be able to illuminate their homes in the evening with candles and to charge their cell phones at the next kiosk. This costs them between 10-15 Rupees daily.
Pavement dwellers at Goregaon Western Express Highway.
It is hard to believe, but most of Mumbai’s households have to manage with less than a dollar per day per capita, some of them even with half a dollar. It’s no wonder then that these households seek to avoid spending any money where it is not absolutely necessary and therefore cook their meals on traditional three-stone-stoves. Because most of the men work as casual laborers and are out of the house, it is the task of the women to collect the wood which lasts between 1 and 2 hours every day. Cooking with open fire or on three stones is not only time intensive but also health threatening as the smoke causes respiratory diseases. And this is not done with a cough – the Worlds Health Organization (WHO) estimates that annually more than 4 million people die because of cooking with solid fuels, of which 50% are children below the age of 5. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/)
We have started our new Energy Justice program in order to develop solutions jointly with the urban poor that will provide better access to modern energy and reduce costs. We will keep you updated here about the further development of this project.
Author : Vincent Moeller is working for SPARC as an advisor on Renewable Energy and Climate Change since June 2014.
**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.