Abstract: Slum rehabilitation with the participation of the state, private capital and slum dwellers, has become the norm in large cities like Mumbai , where land is scarce and very valuable. Slum rehabilitation schemes that involve resettling slum dwellers in tenements built by private builders who in turn receive development rights elsewhere in the city have been hailed as excellent solutions that resolve the issue of housing for the poor, even while allowing private builders to make profits. However. none of these schemes are based on recognition of the right to shelter. Women spend a large part of their lives, if not their entire lives in and around the house. Hence, the house and neighbourhood is not only a place to live in, but also a place to socialise, to earn a living, to seek opportunities for education and training and to participate in public life. Apart from the general needs for healthcare, education facilities and transportation, women’s special needs from housing are largely ignored. Women’s expectations from housing differ radically from men. However, none of these find expression in the policies, plan or laws relating to slum rehabilitation.
Keywords: slum dwellers, demolition, re-settlement, Slum Rehabilitation Schemes, private builders
This article is based on my personal experience of the resettlement of large slum settlement of about 2000 households, called Rafique Nagar from Jari Mari, near the international airport to Shantiniketan, a colony of seven storied buildings located in Dindoshi, about 15 kms away. My contact with this community began through my involvement with Sahyog, a community based school for out-of-school girls run by Chehak Trust in Jari Mari an Dindoshi.
I write this article with the memory of Sahyog’s Independence Day programme fresh in my mind. A rather unusual programme, where the rhetoric of patriotism routinely churned out by school children was missing. Instead, guided by their young teachers, the girls were singing songs from the housing rights movement — songs about demolitions, utter destitution, homelessness and the outrage of a dispossessed people. I was left wondering why the singing of these young teenagers was marked with the emotional intensity of lived experience, although they had not actually witnessed any of the brutality of summary demolitions and eviction. Perhaps, no matter how clinically one tries to uproot a community and replant it elsewhere, salved by the presence of mediating NGOs and an endless bureaucratic procedure, the trauma of losing one’s home and neighbourhood is not dulled.
In recent years, slum rehabilitation with the participation of the state, private capital and slum dwellers has become the norm in large cities like Mumbai, where land is scarce and very valuable. Slum rehabilitation schemes that involve resettling slum dwellers in tenements built by private builders who in turn receive development rights elsewhere in the city have been hailed as ‘win-win solutions that resolve the issue of housing for the poor, even while allowing private builders to make profits. However, none of these schemes are based on recognition of the RIGHT to shelter. At best, although they are called partners, the slum dwellers are unequal participants in the decision- making process with limited autonomy.
Firstly, no slum community has the right to decide whether they would like to be resettled and if so, where. Had this been so, it was very unlikely that the residents of Jari Mari would have chosen to be relocated to the distant colony of Shantiniketan, where there is no access road, no bus service and no nearby market. Undoubtedly, the living conditions in Jari Mari were pathetic, but it was close to the main road, schools, clinics, markets and bus stops were within easy walking distance. Moreover, Jari Mari provided abundant opportunities for casual employment for both men and women, which was the main means of survival of Rafique Nagar. Jari Mari is an old and large slum, which has grown over the past four decades. It has a history, a viable local leadership and a complex network of social relations that provide a vital safety net for the poor. Rafique Nagar was poor and marginalised, even compared to the other settlements of Jari Mari. However, by virtue of being part of the larger area, they derived some advantages and influence from the overall resources- physical, political and economic in the area.
The present slum rehabilitation scheme has completely ignored the fact that proximity to the workplace is a vital requirement for casual workers who operate from street corner labour markets. Likewise, women domestic workers mostly juggle housework responsibilities with paid work by making two to three trips a day between home and the workplace. Almost all these women were thrown out of work by the relocation.
Needless to add, that there can be no compensation for the loss of identity And history. This is not as esoteric as it sounds. The history of a place teaches people how to deal with crisis, that networks to activate in times of want. Jari Mari has a commendable history of inter-community relations, which makes it safe and largely, hospitable place for all religious and linguistic groups. For all of us in Mumbai, who have begun to accept as inevitable the segregation of religious communities, Jari Mari has a lot to teach.
In public institutions, familiarity with the people who staff the local administrative offices, hospitals, and schools allow the poor to negotiate within systems through informal contacts built over decades of interaction.
When we consider women’s rights in particular, several other aspects of development are also necessary to consider. Women spend a large part of their lives, if not their entire lives in and around the house. Hence, the house and neighbourhood is not only a place to live in, but also a place to socialise, to a living, to seek opportunities for education and training and to participate in public life. Apart from the general needs for healthcare, education facilities, and transportation, women’s special needs from housing are largely ignored. These needs are not related only to the specific roles that women perform— mother, housewife, etc. They are also related to the fact that women come into n general roles— worker, community leader, neighbour, through different pathways than men. Given this, women’s expectations from housing differ radically from men. However, none of these find expression in the policies, plans or laws relating to slum rehabilitation.
An important part of bringing women’s issues to the fore is through the emergence of a local female leadership. This leadership may be organised through party membership, or local mahila mandals or informal through being vocal in public meetings, creating public rows over water. Sanitation, electricity and initiating negotiations between neighbours and galli members. While the formal presence of women in decision-making bodies is vital, the sense of ownership and self-assertion among the women in general is of equal importance. Women leaders derive their authority and credibility from the active participation and assertiveness of other women in the community. Otherwise, the token presence of women members is of no consequence, because they cannot depend merely on their own skills to make their voice heard. The Rafique Nagar women are largely new migrants, who have joined their husbands in the city recently. They have limited experience of urban life and very little education.
Had Rafique Nagar continued to be part of Jari Mari, women in Rafique Nagar would have come into public life gradually under the influence of the female leadership in the adjoining areas. There was conducive environment for such development. There was the security of being part of a predominantly Muslim and Dalit neighbourhood, where political interests as oppressed and exploited social groups overrode linguistic and regional differences. Simultaneously and even complementarily, the gradual improvement of physical conditions and social change through assimilation in the larger community would also have occurred.
However, when this community was relocated in an isolated colony, surrounded by largely non Dalit Hindu settlements in a largely middle class area, the equations changed dramatically. Women’s religious and class identities became paramount as right wing local leaders made aggressive forays into the colony — insisting on Marathi medium schools, wanting land to be reserved for temples, etc. The predictable reaction was the emergence of an overtly religious, highly conservative Muslim leadership that put the demand for a ‘kabristan’ first on the agenda, tool over control of public space and intensified the surveillance on women. Understandably, women echoed these demands in solidarity with the men. As a consequence, one sees a ghettoisation in Shantiniketan, which was almost completely missing in Jari Mari, where women from all communities were quietly, persistently -and quite successfully, breaking boundaries and expanding their space.
Women’s right to shelter must include respecting and protecting women’s understanding of space. Notions of privacy and social life differ from class to class and from men to women. Indeed, the doors looking out at the corridor walls discreetly placed far apart from each other was shocking even for us who have lived in similar houses all our lives. Women in the slum, no doubt, often chafe at the lack of privacy in slums. However, they are also acutely aware of the advantages that it offers. Women share child care responsibilities in the gullies of slums, they cook while they chat, girls walk confidently to school under the alternately protective and interfering gaze of male neighbours. In the present tenements, which have a segregated kitchen and living room, women are cut off from the rest of the house while they cook. They cannot watch over children or participate in family conversations, or watch T.V. with the family. The doors, which were initially kept open, allowing women to walk in casually into each other’s homes, are increasingly being closed and barricaded by doorbells and knockers. Whether these new norms privacy are actually preferred by women remains to be seen. However, it is finitely clear that social interaction between women has become more limited. Women when invited for community meetings spend nearly an hour catching on family and neighbourhood news before they prepared to concentrate on the agenda of the meeting. They tell us that they enjoyed being together after many days and want more meetings, not for anything else, but to be able to meet and chat. Undoubtedly, gully interactions are the most important way for women in the slum to be able to share news, form opinions and seek emotional social support. Of course, they also act as means of social control. However, in an environment where women have no secure public space at all — as in Shantiniketan, virtually, all social life independent of the family, is finished. Undoubtedly, this will dis-empower women because they cannot function in public space independent of men. As this community also happens to have a strong tradition of segregation between the sexes, this means that women have no right to any place except the home.
To conclude, I have decided to focus on only two aspects of the right shelter and development for women in the specific case of relocation. Women’s presence in community life and public life is closely linked to the shape structure and texture of their physical environment. Over the years, women in slums have created ways in which to utilise the physical space of the slum to empower themselves, and create a space for articulating their demands. When relocated into a new and completely alien environment, women are left clueless as to how to negotiate gender relations in both private and public life. Added to this, the pressure of economic hardship imposed by unemployment, the increased cost of living and the hostility of older residents make women eve more vulnerable within their home and their community.
NEHA MADHIWALA. Has done Masters in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Has worked on participatory action research projects on health expenditure, globalisation and working women in the slums in Mumbai, non-formal education and reproductive health of adolescent girls. At present, she is Director of ‘Sahayog’, an NGO working on health and education among resettled communities in Mumbai.