Community Policing in Slum Settlements


By Skye Dobson, CCI, & SPARC

As with many projects in the SDI network, the Tanzanian federation’s community policing project was in large part inspired by the experience of slum dwellers during a peer-to-peer exchange. These exchanges are a key ritual in the SDI toolkit and the principal mechanism through which lessons are shared amongst the 1.2 million slum dwellers in the SDI movement. The exchange that catalyzed the Tanzanian project involved members from the Tanzanian Urban Poor Federation visiting the Indian federation in Mumbai.

In most of the slum settlements in which members of the Tanzanian Federation live, crime is an ever-present threat and police response has been inadequate. Slum dwellers in the Tanzanian Federation were frustrated by the inability of the police to effectively meditate conflicts within the community. The Tanzanian Federation learned that their fellow slum dwellers in India were running an effective community policing project and organized an exchange to Mumbai. To ensure maximum benefit from the exchange, the federation invited the Commissioner of Police for Dar-es-Salaam to accompany them.

The exchange participants learned that in Mumbai, where slums are notoriously under‐manned in terms of police personnel, the Indian federation launched the Panchayat project. The project has been successful in increasing citizens’ safety rights and addressing the distrust that exists between the poor and the police. Despite the fact that more than half of the population lives in slums, the Tanzanians learned that the proportion of the police allotted to these areas accounts for less than a third of the force.

The exchange revealed that the idea behind the Panchayat is that community disputes should be resolved at the local level whenever possible. The Panchayat mediates family and neighbor quarrels as well as instances of domestic violence. They have been able to do this effectively and thus greatly reduce the caseload for the police. Women form the majority of the Panchayat due to their in depth knowledge of the community and time spent at home.

The Panchayat members have gained such a positive reputation that they are now asked to help the police maintain peace and order when there are festivals in the city. They are also invited to meetings by the police department on critical issues. At present, there are 64 active Panchayats in Mumbai and the federation anticipates this number will grow.

The Tanzanians appreciated the community policing principle of dispute resolution at the local level. These slums disputes if not resolved can lead to serious and pervasive crime. Upon returning home, the Tanzanian Federation decided that this principle would form the core driver of the Tanzanian project, as well as civic education and counseling to youth and children on safety and crime prevention.

Implementation of the Tanzanian Federation community police program began with an enumeration focused on crime and safety within slum settlements in Dar es Salaam. The enumeration – a community conducted household survey – allows the federation to identify key priorities of the community.

Following the identification of areas and issues to be prioritized, the Federation established community police teams. Training and orientation of the community police on their roles and responsibilities was conducted and the federation worked hard with the regional police force to ensure the linkages between its work and that of the community police were clear.


In Tanzania, as with the Panchayat in India, the federation has been especially effective addressing domestic quarrels and disputes among neighbors. The central role of women in the implementation of the community policing is setting a new precedent for crime prevention within cities. Moreover, through the counseling program, slum youth are taught about the effects of drugs and the importance of attending school, which it also believes is reducing crime prevalence.

The implementation of Federation community policing program has thus prompted new thinking in the country’s slums, particularly regarding issues of crime and safety – so much so that the Chief of Police of Tanzania has encouraged all regions in Tanzania to initiate community police programs. Indeed, while the Federation community police program started in Dar-es-Salaam – where five Federation groups are now engaged in community policing activities – the initiative has since been expanded to Arusha, Dodoma and Mara. In each of these cities, the Tanzanian Federation has developed a very close working relationship with the Regional Police office. This has resulted in a shift in the way slum residents are viewed in matters of crime prevention.

As the Tanzanian Federation moves forward with its community policing project, it seeks to establish livelihood projects to support the work of the volunteers. While the federation has received financial support in Arusha and Dodoma from the regional police office, the federation thinks it wise to bring additional resources to the project to ensure a continuity of service. The community policing teams require small funds for communications, transport, and trainings. One group in Dodoma, for instance, has already begun supporting its activities by selling soft drinks. In addition, the federation hopes to secure more funds from the Government and private sector.

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 II

Pune, India

By: Ariana K MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

We left the city in an early morning haze of pollution and sunrise, making our way through flat green valleys and into Western Ghat mountains. We are on our way to the smaller city of Pune about three hours north of Mumbai. With a population of roughly 3 million, Pune is the second biggest city in Maharashtra state after Mumbai (population ±16 million). 

Mahila Milan (MM) has had a presence in Pune for years. Savita Sonawane, one of the longest-standing members of MM in Pune, first met the women from Mumbai when she was only 22 years old. That was nearly twenty years ago. Today we meet Savita in MM’s Pune office, located above a community toilet project constructed and managed by MM. She is sitting alongside her daughter and her two baby grandchildren. Savita has made lifelong friendships with the other women of Mahila Milan, and with Celine d’Cruz, a colleague of mine at SDI who has spent thirty years working with the women of Mahila Milan in Mumbai and Pune. Celine and Savita sit cross-legged beside each other, laughing as Savita’s granddaughter, little Arya, writes out the alphabet and pours us imaginary tea. These connections, these friendships, make up the foundation for Mahila Milan’s strength, their ability to persevere, their determination and courage. 

Alongside a group of local leaders, Savita manages projects ranging from housing construction, slum upgrading, and government sponsored resettlements. Starting with management of daily savings, the MM women learned the necessary skills for management and coordination of human as well as financial resources. 

The first project we visit is at Yerwada, a settlement near Pune city centre where Mahila Milan has facilitated a very impressive slum upgrading project. Old tin shacks have been torn down and replaced with one, two and three story single and multiple family homes in the style of townhouses and small apartment blocks. The most fascinating thing about this project is the use of space. Most of the homes’ footprints are no bigger than 250 square feet, but adding the second floor nearly doubles this space, giving the family a significant increase in their amount of living space and allowing for space for extended family to live comfortably together. One woman’s home is a narrow triangle of only  170 square feet. The second story nearly doubles this, and MM has ensured that she she has permission to build a third story once she can afford it.  

Pune, India

In addition to reconstructing the homes, MM worked hard to to realign the structures in order to widen pathways and make space for municipal water, sewerage and electricity connections. The pathways, widened from crevices to lovely pathways, are lit by street lamps. Each home has been designed in partnership with the family, so no two are alike, and construction overseen by the women of MM. They are painted bright colors, and front doors hung with bright flowers. It is clear that this is a community. Not a slum. Not an informal settlement. It is a neighborhood, with families living and working, improving their homes and kids walking home from school. 

Next we travel a bit further out of Pune to a settlement called Shanti Nagar, where the second phase of slum upgrading is taking place. Being further from the city, this settlement is far less dense than Yerwada, making roads and pathways wider and the footprints of houses larger. They have recently started demolition of homes here, so much of the settlement is still under construction. Of course, convincing people to demolish their homes and live in rental housing for six months can be a challenging task, and MM must take each family’s situation into consideration. Some people are not ready to make this kind of commitment. Children are in the midst of exams, or they do not have the money to pay rent while their house is reconstructed. These are things that would hardly be taken into consideration if the government, or even an external NGO, was heading up the process. But with MM working on the ground within their own communities, there is sensitivity to these realities. 

On our way out of Pune we visit a resettlement project that is still under construction. The government has requested that MM assist in relocating just over 1,000 families to these new buildings to make way for various public works projects. Mahila Milan has agreed, but it is going to be a challenging task. They have not been involved in the design phase of this development, and the blocks of flats are looming structures, towering high into the sky and far from the city centre. Perhaps the one saving grace are the middle-class developments sprouting up on either side. Jobs as domestic workers and drivers for these middle-income families might serve as incentive  for families to relocate here, as they will be next door to (some) economic activity. But still, for many this will be a hard move. The buildings lack character. The footprints are small, there is little cross-ventilation, and the location is not great. But Savita says they will come. They have to. And once here they will form housing societies, start daily savings, become an organized community with a voice, and they will be heard. 

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.

Strengthening Civil Society Voices on Urban Poverty

The Indian SDI Alliance, SPARC-NSDF-Mahila Milan, alongside long-standing partner PRIA initiated events in various states in India to seek deeper community participation on government poverty linked programs in cities. Participants explored ways that state and city authorities and NGOs can facilitate effective partnerships with communities, making space for them to be centrally involved in upgrading, infrastructure and design projects.

This small video attempts to share glimpses of initial workshops help in Patna, Bihar, and Ranchi in Chhattisgarh, India. These initial workshops will be followed up more in depth engagements, so stay tuned to the blog for updates.

Indian government bestows its highest award on SDI founders

The national government of India has bestowed its highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri award, on Jockin Arputham, President of SDI and the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) of India, and Sheela Patel, Chair of the Board of SDI and founder of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC). The entire SDI family wishes our two dear colleagues and friends a hearty congratulations!

In its citation for Jockin, the Indian government notes his pioneering strategies for facilitating learning between and among the poor, as well as the significant results these methods have achieved. Such an approach to horizontal learning stands as a significant alternative to dominant development models of training workshops and programs determined by professionals:

Through the same sorts of slum-to-slum learning exchanges that he initiated in India, Jockin Arputham has now extended such efforts to several neighboring countries. Through the Slum Dwellers International, which he helped found, Shri Arputham has assisted urban poor communities in South Africa to organize themselves and work effectively with the government and, in Cambodia, to set up the country’s first government-sponsored resettlement program for squatters. Likewise, the Federation’s community-organizing techniques and practical know-how has been exported to Sri Lanka, Nepal, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several countries in Africa.

In electing Jockin Arputham to receive the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the board of trustees recognized his extending the lessons of community building in India to Southeast Asia and Africa and helping the urban poor of two continents improve their lives by learning from one another.

Ms. Patel’s award cites her commitment to developing a model of professional NGO that supports the work of community-based federations of the urban poor. In particular, the citation notes her success in bridging the gaps between government and such organizations of the poor:

In 1984, she founded SPARC along with other professionals. SPARC came into existence to address the problems of pavement dwellers, the poorest of the poor in the city of Mumbai, who were not recognized as legitimate citizens by public authorities. Soon thereafter, SPARC entered into an alliance with NSDF and Mahila Milan. It would be fair to say that the patient advocacy of the cause of pavement dwellers by this alliance led to their recognition by Maharashtra Government’s State policy and programme to resettle and rehabilitate them.

Smt. Patel and Shri Jockin Arputham, President of NSDF and of SDI, worked closely together to support and create federations of the urban poor both in India and abroad, with a special focus on the empowerment of women – through their savings collectives – and who have now become forces for change all over the world. If one main plank of the alliance’s efforts was to support the organizing processes of the urban poor, the other plank was to build partnerships with municipal, state and central governments so that government policies and programmes would be designed and implemented such that they not only benefited the poor but cities as well.