Ongoing Saga of Slums Along the Airport in Mumbai, India

**SPARC Responds**

The slums along Mumbai airport with over 98,000 structures remain a crucially unsolved challenge for the development of the airport. The residents networks that are part of NSDF city federation have long stated that they are willing to conceded land that the airport wants for its infrastructure as long as the land not needed for this will be made available for them to live in SRA ground plus 5 buildings.

For many years the contract to build alternative housing for slums along the airport was given to a construction firm HDIL. The deal was that 276 acres of encroached land would be “cleared” as households would move to sites nearby.

The unusual act of getting transferred development rights for the 7,000 structures in which no one has moved yet has been noted by the CAG in his report.

Many other challenges also impeded this process.

  • The state cannot undertake surveys until it clears eligibility norms, which should be structure for structure, but the High court only says 2,000 cut off is acceptable. So only a very small percentage are eligible.
  • Residents what to be assured that all get houses nearby but only 7,000 are nearby so they won’t budge.
  • The deal for GVK and HDIL does not become profitable unless the land use for commercial purpose is accepted. Which means there is a stand off.

In the meanwhile the new terminal with huge array of art work is to be opened in February 2014.

Housing stock for the poor and its constant change of usage in Mumbai, India

**SPARC Responds**

The government of Maharashtra took a very bold decision about 6 years ago to build small tenements which would be given to the poor for rent. The rental housing scheme would be taken up by private sector and they would get very good TDR return for tenements they would give back to the government. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) would then hand these tenements over to organizations to manage according to a governance framework to be developed along side with the construction. 500,000 units were to be constructed. The initial tenements got constructed, but MMRDA uder new leadership did not want to manage the rental housing and preferred these to be sold. Now they get used for other purposes and the initial purpose is drowned. 

Whenever the state government of Maharashtra has taken up new and interesting possibilities to address the challenges of increasing crisis for housing of the poor, it gets drowned by an amazing paradoxical impact of poor supervision of governance architecture needed to ensure it reached the people it was meant for. A constant state of crisis for which any empty space gets used up, and a construction industry which explores any possibility to take up construction in the name of the poor but never seeks to address solutions for the bottom 40% in the city.

The 500,000 houses were never built. But the ones that were build remain empty as MMRDA did not develop the management strategy and framework for supervision. When the buildings collapsed these were the only tenements that were available and are to be used for transits accommodation. Anyone who knows about transit accommodation knows several generations grow in these homes until the time when they forget where their grandparents were moved out from and build their lives around these localities.

Planning For 58% Without Accurate Data in Mumbai

**SPARC Responds**

When we set up SPARC in the 1980s, whatever we sought from the municipality or government for slum dwellers it was not feasible because the DP (Development Plans) did not permit it. When we carefully studied the plans and saw spaces for “housing the dis-housed” and went to see the land, it always had others using it for a different purpose occupying that land. In frustration we raised this issue with the then chief secretary of Maharashtra who had also been the municipal commissioner of Mumbai about this feature of the development plan, he benignly smiled and said that the DP is a manifestation of what we envision, and that reality is very different. Interpreted for the urban poor, you can’t really ask the city what you need as land for housing because all the land we have marked for you is already occupied.

Today the DP is being prepared and all these old ghosts of lack of accurate data, unclear and contradictory data sets are coming to bite the process. When challenges to plan are not accommodated and addressed in each plan, they clearly produce unregulated response. The poor squat where they can, when they can’t find a space to stay near work, and the elite equally ignore the rules. Both pay bribes for the regulatory process to ignore their presence and turn a blind eye, and the unregulated growth increases exponentially.

Playing with data is a routine strategy that government agencies play. State and city institutions are known to inflate and deflate data on poverty in slums based on whom the report is is being planned for. So when the data used for preparing the Mumbai DP says there is a 18% dip in slums, what are we to make of this?

How do we link this to the fact that the census definition requires a slum a cluster to have more than a certain number of dwelling to be counted under the census connect with this factor? What do we do when even lower level government data collection refuses to count the households who live as renters in the mezzanines of huts?


Diary on Relocation: Leaving Water Street

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This document is the first entry in a diary of events that unfolded in the first week of November 2012 when several breakthroughs in negotiations between Milan Nagar, a cooperative of 536 pavement dwelling households formed in 1986, and the City of Mumbai allowed for the rebuilding of a partnership between the two stakeholders and an agreement that all Milan Nagar members would be housed in tenement housing through a relocation and rehabilitation process facilitated by the Indian SDI Alliance of SPARC, Mahila Milan and NSDF. 

This diary will tell the story of the events and experiences that make up this process. They may not be in a chronological order but will serve as an attempt to document the communications, visuals that the process on the ground in Mumbai.

Negotiating for a Swap

A number of months ago, pavement dwellers reported that people were illegally occupying tenement homes constructed by the MMRDA and BMC for pavement dwellers from across Mumbai. Of course, this created a problem for the families intended for the allotted housing. When this information was presented to the Mumbai Municipality, discussions began as to how to move the “ghuskhors” (squatters) from the tenements so that pavement dwellers could move in. What emerged from this discussion was the realization that unless the entitled households from the pavements were properly identified, empty houses would continue to be invaded in this manner, as the authorities would have virtually no way of knowing the identities of the entitled households.

It was at this point that Jockin Arputham, president of the National Slum Dweller Federation of India, suggested that the pavement dwellers who were meant to move to the land at Milan Nagar, but have not been able to due to complications there, be able to occupy the tenement homes currently occupied by the “ghuskhors.” In exchange, pavement dwellers from other parts of the city will be able to occupy the housing at Milan Nagar once it is completed. This was accepted as a logical and feasible solution.

After getting the support of the municipality and police commissioner, the plan was finalized. The municipality gave a list of the “ghuskhors” to the police, who then removed them from the tenements and remained on the site for several days. In the meantime, Mahila Milan prepared the list of entitled pavement dwellers, as well as all the necessary documentation to make the allotments and undertake the relocation as soon as the “ghuskhors” were removed.

On 5 November documentation of 70 households living on Water Street in Byculla began. Videos of each street were made, photos of every household taken, and all documentation prepared. The households participated with local leaders in the assignment of housing allotments. On 6 November the “ghuskhors” were removed and on the 7th one person from each allotted household spent the night in their new home. At this point, the NSDF team made sure every house had a functioning fan and light after the previous residents moved out. The next day, on 8 November, the first 70 households began packing and were given transportation to move to their new homes. On 9 November the families broke down their huts on Water Street and the next street will begin the enumeration process, get their allotted home and begin to plan their journey. 

On the Pavements of Mumbai: Finding Hope & Making Change


Pavement dwellings & daily life in Byculla.


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

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

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

Byculla home

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

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

Byculla home


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

Relocation & Rehabilitation in Mumbai

MUTP Relocation Project, Mumbai

**Cross-posted from SPARC’s CityWatchINDIA blog**

What is Relocation and Rehabilitation (R&R)?

Whenever people are being continuously evicted from their land by the government or some other national or corporate authority, families must relocate.  Often this happens when the government decides to undertake infrastructure expansion projects like road-widening, flyover construction, rail expansion, etc. and these project plans encroach on families living in public places like slums, railways, and power lines.  In these situations the government often tries to uproot these families and move them to remote locations.  This process of shifting communities away from public land in demand is called relocation.  Rehabilitation involves helping to situate and establish communities in their new homes post-relocation.

In this process of relocating and rehabilitating, SPARC and the Alliance help organize communities and encourage them to be active in planning and executing all relocation activities in partnership with the local government. Initiating dialogue with the families, assisting in the shift, helping with registrations and paperwork, and smoothing the social transition from one neighborhood to another are all part of SPARC’s relocation and rehabilitation program.

Concerns Surrounding R&R

While R&R often serves the wider interest of the city, it leads to hardship for the individuals who are forced to move. For this reason SPARC feels that relocation should be minimized to the extent possible, and when R&R is unavoidable the relocation site should be as close to the original communities as possible.  Throughout the R&R process, outside individuals and organizations should be as respectful of the needs and demands of the relocated communities.

SPARC R & R Philosophy and Involvement

SPARC supports communities in the relocation process by giving them the tools to conduct surveys and enumerations in their current settlements and future settlements, establishing savings and credit programs so that families have enough money for the shift, and arranging for inspections of the new locations provided by the government to make sure they have legal utilities available and enough space for all in the new relocation site.  SPARC also assists with rehabilitation activities like transferring ration cards and election ID to the new relocation site, updating tax paperwork, arranging for government BEST buses to make new stops at relocation sites, identifying good schools in the new neighborhoods for the relocated children and fighting for affordable tuition for these children, and seeking employment opportunities close to the relocation site for relocated community members.  In addition to these activities, SPARC also requires that grievance redressal mechanisms exist at the community, federation, and government levels so that people know where they can go to express concerns.

SPARC believes that communities subjected to R&R must be well-organized and deeply involved in the relocation process from the beginning.  Throughout the relocation the state contracting institution and relocating communities must communicate and develop a mutually acceptable arrangement for relocation. SPARC can help facilitate this communication since the organization’s role is respected by both parties.

 SPARC’s History of R & R

In 1995 pavement dwellers were included in the list of people entitled to government R&R and SPARC began helping pavement dwellers throughout India relocate onto freed government lands.  Also in 1995, SPARC helped design the R&R policy for the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), which affected slum dwellers along the railway track.  Since then, SPARC has worked with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to relocate these households. In 2000, households from Rafique Nagar along the airport runway were relocated with the Government of Maharashtra’s department of housing facilitating this process. In 2008 SPARC also began working with Tata Power Company to relocate 2,000+ households away from electricity lines so that the company could expand and update its distribution network to provide more reliable power to households throughout Maharashtra.

MUTP Relocation Project, Mumbai

MUTP: An R & R Success Story 

In the 1990s people riding on the Mumbai railway system could reach their fingers out of the rail cars and touch the slums.  Slums encroached on the rail lines all up and down the tracks, with some people making their dwellings just a few feet from the trains whizzing by.  People living on the side of the railway needed to constantly cross the tracks for daily activities like visiting the markets, walking to school, defecating, or gathering water.  Day to day countless people were hit and crushed dead by the trains. Train drivers suffered psychological trauma from killing so many innocent people, even though they drove at only 15 km/hr to avoid as many killings as possible.

 One Mahila Milan member, Sulakshana Parab, explained how she lived on a small 6×13 plot on the side of the railway in Tata Nagar, Govandi, with no water, electricity, or toilet access.  She would spend her days in constant fear that trains might kill her husband, children, or neighbors while they were out of the house.

Something had to be done, and the Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP) was the response.  MUTP required that 10m of space be cleared and protected by high walls on either side of every rail line.  This would enable trains to run safely along the tracks at 45 km/hr, allowing three times as many trains to run through the city each day and one third of the prior commuting time for all those dependent on rail to get to work.  With nobody living along the rail lines, many fewer deaths-by-train would occur and train drivers could do their job without killing innocent civilians.

In order for the MUTP dream to become a reality, the city would have to relocate some 20,000 people away from the railroad track. But where could they move?  The World Bank agreed to fund the project on the condition that the people living on the side of the railways get relocated and rehabilitated to a safe and permanent location.

Even before relocation was announced, some rail-side communities had began forming into federations to protect women in the community who faced danger of rape and assault when were forced to defecate on the rail tracks because of a lack of proper sanitation facilities.  Upon hearing about a possible relocation for all rail-dwellers, federations rallied to organize themselves for the proposed move.  First they made plain table surveys and maps and numbered every house in their neighborhoods.  Then they assigned individuals in the community to represent every block of twenty households, and registered each of these households so that they could prove the existence of their rail-side homes to the governments.  Every Sunday for eight years members of the federation went out to survey lands throughout the city in hopes of finding suitable lands for relocation.

In addition to embarking on these many surveys and enumerations, federations initiated their own savings programs.  At first most families could not scrape together 100 rupees of savings, but after participating in well-structured and reliable savings programs implemented by the federation families reached the point of having 15,000-17,000 rupees each stored away in their individual housing savings: enough to construct a new home.  The savings programs also enabled people to take out loans in emergency situations or to start their own businesses.  With strong savings rail-dwellers became confident that they would be capable of building and funding their own homes if they could acquire a suitable plot of land.  Some communities hosted housing exhibitions with model homes made out of cardboard, saris, or cement and other real construction materials to introduce the community-at-large to the various designs that were being considered for the new homes.

Originally the government had planned to temporarily resettle the rail-dwellers in Mankhurd in northeastern Mumbai.  The government was not sure who owned the land in Mankhurd, but the federations knew that the land was available because of the extensive surveys they had carried out over eight years.  Families began to relocate to Mankhurd, and soon after they settled in there the World Bank adopted a policy that governments undertaking relocation had to provide new shelter for families before their current homes could be demolished.  Because the Indian government had not lived up to this demand, the once-temporary Mankhurd land was ruled to become a permanent relocation site for the rail-dwellers.

In total 20,000 people were relocated away from the rail-side under MUTP, and 17,000 of them were assisted in the relocation and rehabilitation process through the work of SPARC, NSDF, and Mahila Milan.  In the new Mankhurd relocation site, children are safer since they can play outside without the threat of speeding trains.  “Here the kids’ lives and our lives are saved,” Sulakshana Parab remarked.  She was relocated from the rail-side to a new apartment in Mankhurd Building 98 and speaks highly of her new home.

The federation in Mankhurd now takes the form of a “Central Committee” of 17 buildings, each of which has its own leader.  The Central Committee has done much work to clean the sewage connection and ensure that it stays functional, and they also work on improving the general cleanliness and garbage management of the Mankhurd neighborhood.

When people lived along the railway tracks the threat of trains was petrifying and nobody wanted their sons or daughters to marry into the rail community out of fear that eventual grandchildren would grow up in unsafe conditions.  Once the families moved to a permanent and safe location, this mentality changed.  Formal buildings made the rail-dwellers formal and acceptable citizens.

When instituted correctly relocation and rehabilitation can be a huge opportunity for families to uplift their living situation, safety, and employment.  The key is that communities themselves must provide the energy and momentum to move the relocation process forward, and they must drive the process from its inception.  The poor know what kind of solutions will actually address and overcome their problems, and they are capable of making these solutions come to life through proper organization and collaboration.

Diary from Mumbai: Part III


By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

It is nearing the end of my stay in Mumbai, and I know I am going to miss this city as soon as I board the plane. I have spent the past week getting to know her streets and her people, and it is an experience I will certainly not forget. Mumbai is the kind of city that stays with you – the fragrance of the food, the colors of the sky at dusk, the buzz of people and traffic in the streets. Like other great cities of the world, its rhythm is invigorating and awe-inspiring – the vibrancy and speed of everyday life, set against the beautiful backdrop of history. 

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to revisit Dharavi: to walk the streets and narrow alleyways of the potters’ village and the recycling areas of the vast informal city-within-a-city, the world’s most well known slum. 

We make our way from Bombay Central to Dharavi by train. It is past rush hour, so the great crowds I have heard so much about have subsided. The train is cool and quiet as it rumbles along the Central Line, and it is not long before we arrive at Sion station, the entrance to Dharavi. Actually, there is more than one train stop in Dharavi, making it very easy to access from almost anywhere across Mumbai. This, along with its central location, is one of the main factors contributing to increased interest in Dharavi as a site for private re-development. But re-development plans have not taken into account Dharavi’s place as a commercial hub in Mumbai’s informal and formal economies. They have not accounted for the outdoor kilns in the potters’ village, or the vast workshops where all means of recycling take place. Nor have they accounted for the long tradition of food production, leather shops, and textile mills. For now, plans are at a standstill. But there is a long road ahead if the vibrant economy of this bustling town is to be preserved.


We start off in the potters’ village. Here, thousands of local people work with hundreds of pounds of clay every day, stamping, pounding, molding and spinning it into beautiful pots, urns, serving dishes, candle holders for Diwali and statues of the Indian god Ganesh. Orders come in from all over Mumbai. Pottery is sold to housewives and retailers. We walk for half an hour, past shops and workshops, each one with a home overhead. Men sit inside, spinning handmade pots on wheels. A woman is polishing water pots outside her home, rubbing wet clay onto just-fired pots to smooth over imperfections. There are hundreds of the same pots lined up a few feet away. I ask her how much these sell for. Sharmila, one of the women working at the Indian support NGO, SPARC, translates for me. “About 100 or 120 rupees,” she says. This is equivalent to about US $2. This isn’t much, of course. But it is US $2 more than nothing, and when you multiply it by the 50 or 100 pots beside her, it’s a significant income. Multiply that by the many other workshops around her, and it becomes clear that Dharavi is more than a small piece of Mumbai’s vibrant economy.

From here, Sharmila takes me to another area of winding streets, this time lined with one recycling workshop after another. I have heard about Dharavi’s recycling industry, but again it is something else to see it up close and personal. Each workshop is busy with men and women sorting through, cleaning and producing every type of plastic imaginable. Women sit outside in the alleyways sorting through plastic cutlery and take-away boxes, as men work away inside on melting and shredding them to be reused across India and beyond. Dharavi is home to the largest plastic recycling industry in India. If the proposed redevelopment took place, where would this industry move to? How could it not be accounted for? How could it be seen as anything less than integral to the very heart of the city’s economy?

The next day I visit the Mahila Milan-NSDF office in Byculla. This was the neighborhood where SPARC first began its work back in the 1980s, when they made links with the community of pavement-dwellers who had their homes along these streets. Today, the streets are still lined with homes and shops, people milling about, living and working in the heart of central Mumbai, just blocks away from Bombay Central train station. Again, I am struck by the presence of the informal right alongside the formal city. Not even alongside it, but smack in the middle of it. Part of it. Contributing to it. We spend some time speaking with the women of Mahila Milan living here. They have been members of MM for over twenty years. They have negotiated with local government for toilets, for water taps, for electricity. Now each home is hooked up to the electrical grid, they have access to community toilets, and many people have water taps inside their homes. And they have prevented demolitions, prevented the threat of middle-of-the-night bulldozers and unannounced evictions.

The women know they will not be able to stay in Byculla forever, but in many ways it is better than moving out to Mankhurd, further away from jobs and schools. They made their homes here on purpose, and although they know they will have to leave eventually, it becomes clear yet again that a home is so much than a formal house. It is a community, a sense of security, access to the services and opportunities that bring rich and poor alike to the cities of the world. Why then should the right to enjoy these be a privilege only afforded to the rich? In Mumbai, the poor have claimed their space in the city – their right to it. Now the question is how they will hold onto that, and how the rest of us will support them.

For more photos from Ariana’s trip to Mumbai, visit our Facebook page.

Diary from Mumbai: Part I


By: Ariana K MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

Mumbai has a constant buzz. That is the best way to put it. The city is always moving, coming and going in all directions And full of light. I arrived in Mumbai three days ago, and immediately was taken aback by the vibrancy of it. Even as I made my way from the bustling airport at 1am to my hotel, taxi cabs lined the streets and pavement dwellers sit in front of their tin shacks, eating around fires.

I am here to visit the Indian SDI alliance, an impressive trio of organizations consisting of Mahila Milan (the women’s savings collectives, which are federated citywide as well as nationwide), the National Slum Dwellers Federation (a network of male-dominated slum dweller federations operating at the same scale as MM) and the support NGO, SPARC. I have heard tales of the dynamism, innovation and success of MM-SPARC-NSDF, but truly there is nothing like seeing it for yourself. The same goes for Mumbai, for Dharavi, for all of it: you can read all the books, see the movies, read the newspaper and taste the food abroad, but there is nothing like coming face-to-face with the life of the city, of the people, to make you really understand.

Yesterday was my first day in the field. Alongside a colleague from SPARC, I visited three of Alliance’s projects in Greater Mumbai. First we stopped at a housing project in Dharavi called Rajiv Indira, designed by the women of Mahila Milan. The building is light and airy, with children playing and riding small bicycles in the wide corridor. On the ground floor there is an open courtyard, where women congregate with their kids, chatting about the day. All but the top two floors of the building have been constructed with 14-foot ceilings so that families can build a mezzanine floor to maximize the 225 sq ft space.

The women make this happen through financing from various sources, but savings is a big part of it. Not only does money collected through daily savings go towards financing the actual housing projects, but it also serves as a means to organize, mobilize and unify the group around a common vision for the community. Even after moving into the building, the women continue to save in order to pay for maintenance and further improvements to their homes. It is not a project-based activity, but instead becomes the very core of their activities.

I have read so much about Dharavi. How residential and commercial uses co-exist. How many millions of dollars are generated there. How high the population density is. How poor some of the living conditions. How vibrant, and dynamic a place it is. But again, nothing compares to reality. It is not simply a slum – Dharavi is a town. The true essence of an informal city, existing right in the centre of the formal city, feeding into it minute to minute and day by day. We make our way to a community toilet project, turning off the main (4-lane) road and onto a crowded, winding side street. We pass a Hindu temple, painted bright with garlands and incense adorning the entrance, and are shaded by green canopies of tall, old trees. A white cow passes us on the right.

We arrive at the community toilet and it is bright, airy and clean. My colleague explains that it is used by 226 families (roughly 1,300 people), each of whom pays 20 rupees per month (about USD .40). Others pay 2 rupees per use. There is a caretaker who looks after the facility daily, closing it only from 1am – 5am. He has a room upstairs that he shares with his family, and there is a lovely roof terrace with a mosaic tiled floor that can be used by the 226 families for community events and meetings. There are basically two other options for toilets in Dharavi: 1) shit wherever you can find a hole, which often means holding it in until it is safe (especially for women), and of course causes numerous health risks; or 2) use one of the government-provided communal toilets, which tend not to be well looked after, and are often dark, smelly and unpleasant to use. By making this a community project, it has kept the toilet clean and pleasant to use. One of us even stopped to pay the 2 rupees to use it during our visit!

The last site we visit is a housing project called Milan Nagar, also designed by the women of Mahila Milan, located in Mankhurd settlement quite a ways from the centre of Mumbai. This group of women were pavement dwellers, perhaps Mumbai’s poorest population, and some of Mahila Milan’s oldest members. They lived in shacks along the sidewalks, crowding the streets near Bombay Central station. The women tell us that one of the biggest differences in their lives today is that they are no longer called “pavement dwellers” – that they are respected by others because they now live in formal housing. But pavement dwellers chose their spots on the streets to be close to economic activity, and the women say this is one of the challenges of their new home. It is further to go to work, and they cannot come home between jobs to spend time with their children. There are three different design options within the building, each one consisting of a mezzanine floor like the building in Dharavi. The homes are modest but beautifully maintained, with sparkling pots and pans and spotless floors. Children play in the hallways, and music pours down the stairwells as a family upstairs prepares for an upcoming wedding.

After spending the afternoon at the SPARC offices, housed in a beautiful old municipal building in South Bombay, another colleague whisks me off to a Mahila Milan function in honor of a Hindu holiday celebrating the beginning of spring. This is the real thing. There are hundreds of women, all dressed in colorful saris and their best gold jewelry. We are asked to come on stage, and are honored with flowers, and decorated with saffron and turmeric on our foreheads. We eat sesame sweets and listen to the women speak about their daily realities, from the importance of daily savings to their struggles with crime. Before the close of the evening, traditional music comes on and the women begin to dance. We are drawn into the crowd and a young women smiles and grabs my hand. We dance together, laughing and I doing my best to imitate her every move. It is infectious – the vibrant soul of this community. Empowered and real, dancing under the scaffolding of 900 new homes.