The Slum Dwellers’ Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

**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.

Jockin Arputham: From Slum Dweller to Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

‘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.”

The Houses Were Made of Cardboard

Jockin visiting Mathare Slum_2

**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 Visits South African SDI Alliance in Cape Town

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

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.

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

Community leaders in Khayelitsha welcome Jockin. 

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

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)

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town

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.

Jockin Arputham visits Cape Town


Cities Alliance Voices Support for SDI Nobel Peace Prize Nomination

SDI is pleased to share the below letter of support from Billy Cobbett, Director of Cities Alliance, for SDI’s nomination for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Included is a link to the press release issued by Shelter Norway reporting the nomination. 

Dear Consultative Group Members and CA Partners,

I am really delighted to write to you today and to draw your attention to the nomination of Cities Alliance member Jockin Arputham  and  Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) for the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 ( SDI is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the Cities Alliance.

SDI has been associated with the Cities Alliance since it was launched in 1999, increasingly influencing our common agenda.  Cities Alliance members were delighted when SDI decided to join the partnership and became a formal member in 2008.  Working through its’ affiliates, SDI has subsequently become a  key implementing partner – for example in our Country programmes – and globally, as a powerful advocacy partner. In the latter role,  SDI has played a critical and positive role in re-shaping the global debate around slums and slum-dwellers, demonstrating that they are not only an essential part of the solution, but also the originators of  practical and  innovative solutions. SDI forces governments – Mayors, Ministers, and Presidents  – as well as multi-lateral and bi-lateral organizations to recognize slum dwellers as citizens, neighbours – and future Mayors.  It is also worth recording that the majority of SDI members are women, a powerful fact also represented in its local, national and global leadership profiles.

SDI has certainly had a huge influence inside the Cities Alliance and, I am sure, within each of your organisations. The very fact of this nomination is an extremely powerful recognition for SDI’s impact, and very good news for all CA members and partners working for more inclusive, equitable  and productive cities. We welcome the fact that SDI was nominated by the Swedish Minister for Public Administration and Housing Stefan Attefall, and also welcome the important political support from Norway and South Africa, all active CA members.

In particular, the Cities Alliance welcomes the recognition of the tireless work of SDI President Jockin Arputham, previous recipient of the prestigious Magsaysay Award,  and an inspiration to all  who have benefited not only from his intelligence and leadership, but equally from his  infectious enthusiasm and optimism.

On behalf of the Cities Alliance and its members, we extend our warmest congratulations to Jockin and all SDI members. You have done us all a service in providing such an effective voice for slum-dwellers all over the world. I also call on all CA members to consider how they can add their weight to this important and very welcome nomination.




SDI Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Shelter Norway reports that SDI has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Below is the full press release in English.

**Press release**


Jockin Arputham and Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), the largest urban slum dweller movement in the world, have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. The nomination of the network of pavement dwellers, landless and homeless, in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, is an unprecedented step in the life of a man who has risen from the streets of Mumbai to global prominence as the beacon of people-led approaches to urban development. The bid was put forth by Swedish Minister for Public Administration and Housing Stefan Attefall. The bid also has high level political support from Norway and South Africa, including Derek Hanekom, South African Minister of Science and Technology and former Minister of Land, who has also announced his support of this nomination. In his nomination letter Minister Attefall chose the warning of the Greek philosopher Plato to the Athenians as the basis of supporting Mr. Arphutham’s candidacy: “the income of the rich should not exceed the income of the poor by more than five times. Any more would create economic inefficiency and generate “the greatest social risk”: civil war”. 

The struggle against urban inequality and associated civil strife has been waged by SDI for two decades through the organization of the poorest of the poor, primarily women, in cities. Arputham’s career as an activist against inequality, displacement, and for more inclusive urban development spans half a century.

His contribution to avoid “the greatest social risk” in developing world cities is considerable. While trying to seek a solution for 70000 inhabitants against eviction in the Janata colony in Mumbai, Arputham was arrested 64 times from 1964 to 1975 by the Indira Gandhi government. Riots and bloodshed were avoided and a peaceful solution found thanks to his interventions. His example has built SDI into global “champions of peace” in cities by building social capital and cohesion among the poorest of the poor. Arputham has been doing this through innovative civil, peaceful disobedience methods organizing and mobilizing women. Dialogue between oppressed and oppressor — not confrontation — has been SDI’s unique hallmark . 

The present situation in the growing urban slums of the developing world is dramatic. Slum populations, according to the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN Habitat), are currently growing by a staggering 25 million per year. In 2050 more than 70% of the global population will live in cities. In the developing world half the population will live in urban or peri-urban slums.

Urban poverty is thus the radical new face of inequality. Most of the mushrooming new slums in Asia and Africa are not even on any official map. During the coming decades population growth in the cities of the South will increasingly be self-generated and not caused by migration. This is, according to Mike Davis, author of the provocative book “Planet of Slums” (2010), guaranteed to shape a future of street wars.

The US based Journal of the Army War College in 1993, after the Mogadishu debacle the same year, when slum militias inflicted 60 per cent casualties on elite army Rangers, declared that the future of warfare lies in the streets, in the sewers, in high rise buildings and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world.

Against this background, international development agencies have to rethink their urban roles. But they are not. How can they contribute to preventing urban Armageddons – a low intensity urban world war, as predicted by both observers like Mike Davis and military agencies like the Pentagon? How can they add human development perspectives to a military analysis that seems weak on objective, social assessments? And that might be outright wrong with regard to the willingness of poor slum dwellers to revolt. This is where SDI makes the difference supported by Swedish International Development Agency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs — Norway, Gates, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. 

The historic experience with slum populations is that people are trying to stay safe and improve their lives, and that they have too much to lose. It is an experience that has led SDI, the leading international movement for slum inhabitants working in more than 33 countries, to advocate dialogue and partnership with local, national and international authorities instead of confrontation and revolt. They feel used and betrayed by middle class rights-based activists that “never give anything back”.

SDI and its president have more than any other international player contributed towards improving the plight of the urban poor – in particular female household leaders. In a situation with increasing inequalities on city level, resulting in many conflicts and civil wars, Arputham and SDI have countered such trends by promoting the interests of poor women, building alliances between ethnic groups, advancing the situation of refugees, such as linking with Mother Theresa for Bangladeshi refugees in India in 1972.

SDI has been promoting an international alliance and partnership between slum dwellers organizations on three continents delivering housing, water and sanitation and other slum upgrading facilities relevant for millions of people. The results and impacts are well documented. Mr. Arputham realized that slum dwellers had to change their strategy from confrontation to cooperation. This approach has now reached millions of the poor whose fate will make or break the social fabric of our rapidly growing cities.

You can also read the press release here