Thursday, 26 July 2012


Jockin Arputam of Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and Jack Sims of World Toilet Organization (WTO) spend a day together in Mumbai 25th July 2012.
Both Jack Sims from World Toilet Organization (WTO) based in Singapore and working in many countries to improve sanitation and NSDF’s Jockin Arputam are passionate about sanitation and toilets and speak of “shit.”   Both come from similar humble backgrounds and a childhood of poverty. Jack focuses on improving the image of toilets and those who manage them through a wide range of activities and campaigns, while Jockin works on the access of the urban poor to sanitation, both as a means to strengthen citizenship entitlements of the poor in cities and as a way to engage the city with slum dwellers.

Jack Sims was last in Mumbai at a Dasra event earlier this year in which he and Sheela Patel of SPARC spoke about sanitation, he about bringing the discussion about defecation out of the closet, and she about the huge deficits in cities that make universal access to sanitation very difficult. They again met in Addis at the World Economic Forum meeting in Africa, and over many coffees and breakfasts began to explore the potential for exploring a closer working relationship. Clearly seeing a synergy in the values both Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and WTO bring to this issue internationally and also in India, where WTO is beginning to work on rural sanitation, The need for Jockin and Jack to meet and deepen this engagement seemed the next logical step.

The day began when Jack and two of his colleagues came to Dharavi to meet Jockin and NSDF and Mahila Milan representatives working on sanitation. Both shared stories of their journey that made them passionate about shit, shared their strategies, and discussed how they have made choices about what they do as advocacy, practical applications of what they preach, and where they seek to go.
Then women who have constructed toilets in Dharavi and Mahila Milan representatives who help organize communities took the three visitors to the community toilets being constructed and in different stages from beginning to post-construction. It was raining heavily as this is the monsoon period, but it did not deter the visit, and after the visit the whole group met again to reflect on questions from the visit and what to do moving forward.

Jack had a whole lot of questions, took copious notes, and raised many points for discussions. Clearly urban sanitation challenges were new to Jack and he was fascinated by issues of maintenance, financial models, designs of the toilets and what can be improved, the value of technology, and many other aspects.
Since he had a flight to catch, the meeting ended with a possible list of follow ups. Firstly, that Jack would initiate a write up about what he saw as potential to work together, which Jockin and Sheela would also work on.  Jack also got an agreement from Jockin to give ideas and suggestions to explore making the community sanitation process of construction design and delivery more efficient and both agreed that building community ownership of the facility and making it the center of the community was key to the challenge of sustained sanitation accesses.


One man’s store sews denim belt loops onto jeans.  Five men sit in a room with sewing machines, the pants primed, flattened and ready to receive a belt-loop crown.  The owner lives in the room, works in the room, sews in the room.  And when the pants are looped and ready the bicycle driver arrives to pedal them to their next destination: the store where they will receive buttons.
One man’s store dyes leather.  A cowhide smell hangs alongside the pelts that are dyed to look teal, mustard, and petunia in color.  Next the leather might be fashioned into bags, pocketbooks, and belts but the shop-owner Tamma will never see the final product of his labors.  That said, Tamma will eat, sleep, and breathe leather; his home is his workshop is his life.
This hands-on production line model dominates Dharavi manufacture and makes it one of the world’s most efficient and integrated production chains.  Labor is hyper-specialized and workers have become artisans of the miniscule, excelling in the tiny arts of adding buttons onto collared shirts or sequins onto sari fabric. Hundreds of agents, contractors, and transport men link these independent laborers, thus eliminating the need for factory space or corporate affiliation.  Workers remain independent and minimize their land-use by fusing their home and workshop into one.  Space efficient, labor efficient, resource efficient—a most streamlined and specialized system of production.


New York Times blog post published this Monday described a toilet block in Mumbai’s Cheeta Camp slum that perpetually passes through stages of building, demolition, and rebuilding to the rhythm of local elections.  Government candidates in poor urban areas often promise new toilet facilities to gain local support, and many candidates even begin construction on new toilet blocks before voting commences.  Once elected, though, candidates destroy the toilet blocks they began constructing.  The facilities disappear.  This cycle has endured in Cheeta Camp for over 15 years, long enough that residents of the slum no longer expect to see a new toilet block completed any time soon.

Yesterday members of SPARC visited one of SPARC’s most successful community toilet blocks near Crossroad Street in Dharavi.  This private toilet block serves over 1500 men, women, and children, who pay a 20 rupee monthly subscription fee for access to the facility.  Over its ten years of operation, the site has become one of the best maintained and most successful sanitation facilities that SPARC has built (it even has four functional English toilets available for handicap use!). During SPARC’s visit to the site yesterday, one community member spoke about a recent controversy: the local corporator is trying to take over the SPARC toilet block, even though it is owned and operated by a Community Based Organization (CBO).  The corporator is interested in this acquisition because the toilet block is so clean and lucrative that he thinks he can benefit from controlling it.

Building safe, clean, and affordable toilet blocks in slums can do much to improve sanitation conditions of the urban poor, yet toilet blocks are such vital and valuable centers of community life that they have become tantalizing targets for corrupt politicians. Knowing how imperative toilet blocks are to the well-being of their constituencies, some politicians will do anything they can to leverage toilet blocks for their own schemes even if it means taking away good sanitation facilities from the public.  This speaks to the power that clean toilet blocks have in communities, but it also dissuades community members from working to create safe sanitation facilities in their neighborhoods—why spend precious community resources on toilet block construction if the neighborhood will be dispossessed of these new toilet blocks later on?

Communities need a system of accountability, a way to register their facilities so that corrupt government officials cannot steal them away so easily.  Though no system of absolute accountability currently exists, relative accountability can be improved through community mapping: surveying neighborhoods and keeping accurate records of changes and developments in municipal corporation archives. After mapping is reported, existing laws can ensure that municipal corporations will respect the communal holdings on archive.  Another approach to accountability could be institutionalizing the toilet block construction and maintenance process, which involves a streamlined and uniform model of toilet block maintenance.  Communities can and should hold primary responsibility for their own toilet blocks, but to ensure that they stay within community control these facilities must come coupled with a commitment to sustained maintenance and mapping over-time.

Monday, 23 July 2012


In his Hindustan Times article “The city needs a land audit,” Shalisesh Gaikwad references the Adarsh Housing Society Scam, a recent scandal in which Mumbai government officials constructed an apartment building for themselves on government land in Colaba under the guise of providing housing to retired personnel of Indian defense services.
In his article Gaikwad explains the controversy that has arisen between government officials who claim that the land they used for the new building in Colaba belongs to the state government and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which calls the situation a “land grab” by the government.  In response to this debacle, Gaikwad notes other instances of fraud and corruption in recent Mumbai property dealings and he explains that the people of Mumbai should be concerned about the outcome of precedent-setting Adarsh since Mumbai’s egregious real-estate prices hang in the balance.  Gaikwad ends his article calling for an audit of public lands in Mumbai as a way to help formalize dealings of urban property and establish accurate records of land availability and ownership in the city.
Indeed Gaikwad is correct that the people of Mumbai should be concerned about the outcome of the Adarsh case, but the rationale for their concern should transcend simply curbing city real-estate prices. More importantly, the people of Mumbai should be concerned that dispossessing individuals of land for “public benefit” prolongs the cramped and unsanitary conditions of slums and informal housing sites and brings down the overall livability and economy of the city.
 A land audit is certainly a must, and it must include assessments of land ownership, plot size, vacant lots, and spaces that are “informally” occupied.  The past experience of the government’s Slum Rehabilitation Act (SRA) and Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) schemes has revealed that the identified lands that benefit the urban poor are often not correctly measured or the ownership of these lands is not defined. These omissions have not only lengthened the procedure for obtaining legal land clearances for relocation projects, but they have also resulted in forced evictions and fewer slum-dwellers able to stay in their homes because of inaccurate audit measurements.
The land audit to come should aim to produce a digitized database of survey findings in addition to standard paper records of the audit results.  When records only exist in paper they quickly become outdated and remain accessible only in institutions like municipal corporations, land revenue departments, and tax revenue departments.  These departments often do not coordinate with each other, meaning that obtaining accurate information on the state of land ownership can be nearly impossible.  This in turn jeopardizes projects that are meant to benefit the urban poor.
The hopeful land audit to come has the potential to provide easily-available, accurate, and updated land records for the public.  These records would be capable of serving myriad purposes: to identify ownership records, to locate vacant and available land for relocation and affordable housing projects, to feed into formulation of policies, schemes, and detailed project reports meant for the urban poor, among other benefits. Maintaining transparency in the audit process and the records that result from it will ensure fact-checked records for all concerned residents, civil society organizations, and the urban poor themselves.


Over 50% of slums in urban India have no access to toilets.  Without the privacy and hygiene of proper toilet facilities, members of the urban poor risk their health and safety every time they relieve themselves. Those living on the pavements and in some slums need to resort to defecating out in the open, an undignified and uncomfortable activity which poses health dangers because of the waste left out in public space and safety concerns for women and children who expose themselves out in the open.  Women often wait until darkness to relieve themselves for privacy and safety reasons, another unhealthy and unpleasant consequence.  People who reside on the side of the railways often need to use the dangerous rail lines themselves as a toilet since no separate facility exists. This results in a steady stream of deaths each year as people are caught unaware while defecating and run over by speeding trains.

Khatrabai Londhe, a woman from Ghatkopar community in Mumbai, explained some of the safety problems that her community faced when they had no toilets available and had to result to open defecation:  “We use open land for defecating.  People passing by can see women squatting.  The day before yesterday an old women went out to defecate at seven in the evening and a man came from behind and grabbed her. . .  Men hide behind the bushes and watch women when they are squatting.  If they see a woman alone, they creep in and molest her.”

People should not need to engage in risky, humiliating, and potentially life-threatening behaviors in order to relieve themselves.  Because of this, the Indian government has demanded that government municipal corporations provide community toilets for public use, but unfortunately the government has not been able to grant toilet access to everyone in need.  Furthermore, the toilet blocks built by municipal corporations are often poorly designed, over-used, and unmaintained such that the facilities do not improve sanitation conditions very much.  Those who depend on municipal corporation toilets complain about the lack of cleanliness in the facility, the over-crowding of the space, and poor maintenance such that larvae often emerge from the toilet and crawl up their bare legs.

Access to a safe place to defecate is a basic human need.  Poor communities need alternatives to the methods of human waste disposal currently available to them, and they are capable of producing solutions to the problem if they can obtain the financial and organizational tools that will lead to collective mobilization and action.  Many solutions to the problem of defecation and sanitation exist, and with negotiation and collaboration within communities functional toilet blocks can be constructed and maintained.


Due to the lack of availability of toilets in many communities and the dissatisfaction that communities feel towards toilets provided by municipal corporations, SPARC has launched its own community toilet block initiative in partnership with local communities.
SPARC believes that community toilet blocks are the best way to confront the issue of unsatisfactory sanitation conditions in slums.  SPARC advocates for community toilets rather than individual toilets because the size of most slum dwellings means that in-house toilets tend to dominate the interior space of the home, leaving less space for living and sleeping.  Furthermore, the smell of in-house toilets overwhelms homes and requires constant maintenance and attention.  Alternatively, community toilets allow for more space in individual homes and less overall time spent on cleaning and maintenance of the toilet facility.
Toilet block construction projects facilitated by SPARC differ from the toilet blocks built by government municipal corporations in many ways.  Whereas municipal corporations will build new toilet blocks without consulting communities, SPARC ‘s toilet blocks utilize community participation at every level—in design, construction, and maintenance.  SPARC toilet blocks are always connected to a main sewer line with access to adequate water and electricity even if that means building both overhead and underground tanks, whereas municipality toilet blocks do not always come with legal grid connections and extra capacity.  SPARC toilet blocks ensure privacy by including separate entrances and areas for men and women, and a separate squatting area for children.  SPARC toilet blocks also always come with a care-taker, appointed from the community who is responsible for the facility.  This is an improvement upon the municipal corporation model that does not consider maintenance of the toilet block to be a priority and does not account for maintenance practices in pricing or construction.  Last of all SPARC sells monthly subscriptions to the community toilet block where monthly family passes cost Rs. 20-25 irrespective of the number of family members or the number of toilet uses.  This system, coupled with an additional income of 1 rupee per use paid by passers-by, ensures that the toilet block remains financially accessible to all families while also funding its own operation.
SPARC sees community toilet blocks not only as a product that has the capacity to improve sanitation in slums, but also as a process in which toilet block design and construction can serve to rally community members to mobilize, organize, collaborate, and negotiate.
SPARC’s model of toilet block construction, subscription, and maintenance seems to deliver the desperately-needed clean and safe waste disposal facilities that families seek, which in turn improves health, productivity, safety and quality of life within urban communities.   SPARC has constructed 358 community toilet blocks to date and has also secured contracts to build another 613 toilet blocks moving forward. This means 371450 individuals in 74,290 families currently have access to safe and clean toilet facilities, and the number of people impacted by the projects continues to rise as new contracts are secured.  SPARC’s community-built toilets work because they are affordable and well –maintained and because families have a stake in their creation, use, and maintenance.
After a SPARC toilet block was constructed in her community, Sukubai Dengle from Kamgar Putala slum in Pune raved about the many improvements brought about by the new toilet block: “The two-storey toilet block has been built by SPARC and Mahila Milan. There is water in the toilets and no queues. There is no tension. And the toilets are so clean. I have a toilet in my house, but actually I like the new public toilets so much that I prefer to use them. Ever since the new toilets have been built, there is less sickness. The old toilets used to be so dirty that larvae used to come out of the chambers. The filth caused sickness. And children used to defecate in the open drains. Now there is such a good arrangement for children to squat that they go to the toilet happily. The new toilets have made a big difference in my settlement. I feel I live in a good area.”
Community toilet blocks are much more than structures or products; they are catalysts that enable community mobilization, coordination, empowerment, and improvement.  Proper sanitation in communities and safe and clean facilities for disposing of human waste have an impact that reaches beyond basic safety and health, instilling in poor communities a sense of ownership, commitment, and pride that will inspire further organization and growth.


Throughout India over 3,000 dalits (untouchables) remove shit from public toilets every day, stinky excrement sloshing in barrels balanced atop their heads.  They come at night and remove the sloppy excrement from holes in the earth.  They load it into barrels and carry it far away to prevent public toilets from overflowing.
The necessity of dalits to manually remove and process human waste stems from India’s broken sanitation system, a system that frequently allows 8,000 people to share the same 40 toilets and that leaves over 50% of the poor with no options other than to defecate in open spaces. The uncontrollable quantity of human waste that all Indian cities deal with results from three major infrastructure problems: many cities lack sewage systems, those that have sewage systems do not extend their services to slums, and the ratio of people per toilet seat is so high that excrement does not have time to decompose before public toilets overflow with waste.
Unlike land, water, or electricity, which many poor people have found ways to obtain illegally, sanitation cannot be stolen from a nearby source.  There are no shortcuts. In order to be sustainable, sanitation requires collaborated and co-produced solutions with people, technology, and city governance structures all contributing their resources and ingenuity to the issue.
Despite immense need, the Indian people demonstrate deep abhorrence to addressing issues of defecation, its processing and treatment.  As a result the poor lack motivation to address problems of sanitation even though the health consequences that result from unsanitary conditions abound.  Why waste money constructing more toilet blocks if you face the possibility of eviction?  Why pay to defecate in filthy and stinky toilet facilities when you could just as easily go on the streets?
In sanitation surveys done by SPARC’s community groups, surveyors have found that slum-dwellers feel that they lack incentive to build up the infrastructure needed to bring sustained sanitation to their communities.  Thus, we believe that technical options need to expand exponentially to address these local challenges.  Technical solutions must be costed and also managed at the city level to help specific communities and households decide on the best sanitation method (individual household toilets, community toilets, water treatment, etc.) to meet their particular needs.  When sanitation comes coupled with the government’s promise that it will endure in communities regardless of slum rehabilitation schemes, the poor will likely be more receptive to exploring long-term solutions.
Additionally women must be involved in new sanitation initiatives in order to make sanitation projects sustainable, since women understand their community’s style and needs and also they can educate by example and teach the next generation about proper sanitation practices and behaviors.  In the past women have been left out of discussions of sanitation improvements in slums, but they will be the key implementers of behavior changes that come with better sanitation and they deserve to participate in sanitation projects as they arise.
If implemented properly, sanitation can become a sustained basis for community engagement with city and neighborhood authorities.  Proper sanitation facilities will lead to slums safe from disease and infestation, and they will also grow to inspire better tariffs, garbage collection, health education, and safety in partnership with government authorities moving forward.


In a welcome move, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation of the Government of India has released its decision to re-draft Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), India’s “Slum Free” policy, according to an article printed in Hindustan Times this Sunday.
Rajiv Awas Yojana was announced in 2009 to address the issue of slums through provision of land tenure and support for upgrading. But to get this (financial) support, cites would have to make city-wide plans for slum upgrading based on a city-wide database of slums. In the two years since, this rather ambitious initiative has met with reluctance from several states, primarily because of the financial requirements (50% of the contribution is to be borne by States), disagreements around the type of land tenure to be provided to all slum dwellers and complex, top-down guidelines for city-wide data collection. Increasingly, more concerns are coming in from cities implementing the first pilot projects and unable to meet the objectives effectively.
In response, the government has chosen to re-draft RAY. Increasing RAY’s focus on developing infrastructure in existing slums by improving amenities and common facilities will be the main focus of the revisions.
RAY is a program with the potential to bring about a huge difference in the life of India’s urban poor.  Yet under the program’s original vision of creating a “slum-free” India by allocating funds to build new houses for the poor, RAY did not address the multi-faced nature of the problems that the urban poor face. There is now a huge opportunity to develop a really comprehensive urban poverty alleviation strategy through RAY if this program is seen as providing the urban poor with security of tenure and basic amenities, universally to all cities, rather than building a few houses through subsides that will reach a very small proportion of the urban poor.
In order to be successful, RAY must find ways to involve the community in its plans for creating a slum database and in finding solutions to upgrade slums.  Slum communities have first-hand knowledge of the complexity of their problems, and they are capable of devising the most feasible and viable solutions to the situations they face.  The urban poor already struggle to improve their situations day after day, constantly adjusting and upgrading their homes to make them as durable and comfortable as possible.  RAY should not ignore the hard work that these communities have already put forth towards their own development.
 RAY, in its revisions, should find ways to catalyze and stimulate the growth that poor communities have already begun to display.  This can be done through creating Community Based Organizations (CBOs) of the urban poor and providing them access to the resources and capital they need to make the change themselves.  Allocating money to water and sanitation, enabling mechanisms for individual home improvement,  rehabilitation of livelihoods for relocated slum dwellers and planning for future growth are some of the many ways that this sort of change can take form.


Sameena Hanif Khan has lived on Jhulla Maidan Road in Byculla since childhood.   Her home is made of a mixture of cement, brick, and tin sheets, a single room 3.5 square meters in area with a smaller loft accessible only by an outside ladder.  Her home recently obtained access to a legal electricity connection, but her water still comes from an illegal pipe that runs beneath her floor.  Sameena knows every centimeter of her home.  Her family has been living here for 57 years; she’s been here for 50 of them.  But she cannot recall with certainty the number of people who currently reside in her abode.
This seems to be a common phenomenon among families living on the pavements in Byculla.  Jaitun, who lives just down the street from Sameena, also has a slew of family members who call her 3.5 square meter room and loft home.  Jaitun tentatively says that eight people live with her, then goes on to list at least ten people who stay in her single room and loft on a regular basis.  She explains how two people sleep on a wooden table outside the house, three on a wire bed that pulls out from underneath the table, and three in the loft.  The rest sleep on the floor of Jaitun’s main room, but she does not give details about how many people that might be.
Sameena has slightly more exact figures.  She is married and has six children, many of whom have their own children.  Her four daughters, two sons, and three grandchildren all call her roofed space on the pavement home.  Her sons are both married, so she’s not even including her two daughters-in-law in the tally even though they also stay at her place.  Sameena has a husband and the two of them sleep outside beside a small inlet in her front wall that doubles as the family general shop during the day.  One son sleeps in the loft with his family, while the other son sleeps on the floor of the main room with his wife and children.  She doesn’t say how she squeezes in the daughters.
A home of any size is a luxury.  When considering viable designs and living scenarios for the urban poor, flexibility lies at the core of everyone’s needs. As families grow larger and available property becomes ever-more limited, there’s no telling how many people each home will need to accommodate.
At left, Sameena and her family stand outside of their home and family shop. At right, Jaitun and some of her family members pose outside her home on Jhulla Maidan


An article published in Times of India earlier this week announced that though the majority of people living in UN-surveyed cities possess tenancy documents of some type, many still fear forced eviction from their homes.  The article referenced the UN Millennium Development Goals of 2012, which claimed that the most obvious violation of housing rights faced by the urban poor today is eviction without due legal process.
Forced eviction is the first of countless problems that the poor will face as they struggle to find safe and sanitary housing alternatives.   Poor communities may not get resettled into permanent housing locations for months following evictions.  After being evicted family breadwinners often cannot continue with their jobs, either because long commutes to work prevent them from living out their previous livelihoods or because the market and commerce districts of their old communities disappear along with their old homes.  The poor may face problems of sanitation and safety when they released into the streets without homes to return to.  Children often cannot continue with school once uprooted.  The knock-on consequences of eviction go on and on and on. . .
Many people conceive of urban development as the modernization and expansion of facilities.  Better sewage systems, bigger malls, new sports complexes, expanded airports, reliable power lines, luxury condominiums –all of these improvements within a city can serve as emblems of urban progress.  But in most big cities, these facility improvements come at the cost of relocating people who live informally in slums and on the pavements.  Expansion does not occur without the opportunity cost of poor peoples’ futures.
Development in its purest form extends beyond the elite classes.  When contemplating human development and progress, we must assume a more holistic view.  Uplifting the circumstances of the poorest of the poor will enhance the economy, education, health, standards of living–sectors that endure beyond the momentary gratification of glitzy buildings and material prowess.  When considering worthwhile approaches to development, we must seek solutions that can reach all sectors of society at once.  Only through united and democratic progress can we achieve the momentum necessary to cave urban issues.


An article published in Hindustan Times this Sunday revealed the results of a recent survey done by the Economist Intelligence Unit called Hot Spots: Benchmarking Global City Competitiveness.  The survey assessed many of the world’s large cities to determine global competitiveness by analyzing how cities fared in terms of their economic strength, physical capital, financial maturity, institutional effectiveness, social and cultural character, human capital, environmental and natural hazards, and global appeal. Through these parameters, the survey defined competitiveness as a city’s ability to attract capital, business, talent, and tourists.  Though the Indian cities surveyed excelled in economic strength, their performance in other categories placed them all in the lower half of cities ranked, with Ahmedabad ranked at number 92 in the world, Bangalore at 79, Mumbai at 70, and Delhi at 68.
Urban experts who were interviewed for the article recommended different actions that Indian cities could take to raise their global appeal; the creation of safe public spaces, the geographical expansion of cities into their suburbs, an expanded political system that would emphasize local politics were some of the main suggestions offered.  That said, none of these experts mentioned the dark underbellies of the solutions they proposed.
Creating public spaces involves clearing out lands where pavement-dwellers and slum-dwellers have made their homes, essentially evicting them.  Expanding cities geographically demands uprooting people and relocating them to less-desirable locations in hopes that these new suburban areas will become more robust overtime.  Empowering local politicians shifts public responsibility onto representatives whose stakes in the decisions on the ground are limited. All of the recommendations presented in the article are idealistic, top-down solutions, executive decisions made by those who will not need to personally endure the day-to-day effects of these reforms.
When considering how to best address the problems that cities face, agency must come from the urban poor themselves.  People living in cramped, unsanitary, and deprived conditions know how to uplift their situations if they can access the basic resources they need for development.  Rather than aiming to achieve a competitive edge by attracting tourists and business, perhaps cities should define competitiveness as a desire to become successful, to prosper on their own terms.  The urban poor will stand at the core of this movement, as they are the ones who will benefit the most from urban successes.

Friday, 20 July 2012


Today many members of the SPARC Khetwadi office attended a general meeting to discuss the the progress that has been made on the organization’s current projects and initiatives.  The photo above was taken immediately following the meeting.

Friday, 13 July 2012


 This poem was written using excerpts of transcriptions from interviews with street children who stay in SPARC’s Mumbai shelters.  6 boys between the ages of 9 and 18 were interviewed by SPARC affiliates in March of 2012, and quotes from their stories are woven together in this poem.
Echoes of Mumbai Street Children
Grandmother would shout at me.
Father is a truck driver and never stays at home.
I had bad habits.
Drinking. Eating Gutka.
No food, no proper clothes to wear.
My parents used to beat and shout at me
I don’t want to go back to my native
My parents use to beat and shout at me.
Stepmother and father would always drink and beat
Beat me and beat my younger brother and my sister.
I ran.
I ran away.
I ran away from the house and came to Mumbai.
I used to roam in trains everyday,
stayed at Mumbai Central Station
for one night
one day
I met with an accident.
I was admitted in the hospital.
I used to roam.
A policeman took me to SPARC shelter
I get to have bath every day,
even soap;
clothes to wash,
to wear.
I also get bed and bed sheet.
Sleep .
I have stopped taking all the drugs .
I work in caterers company.
I would like to have my own business.
I am very happy.
Here we all stay together
like brothers.
Gopal uncle takes care of us
like brothers
we all play together.
Photo of children in SPARC’s Dadar night shelter, some of whom are quoted in the above poem.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Lata Godke and her family had always lived on flood-prone land in Pune. “Every monsoon we had a tough time,” Lata recalls. “If you were asleep at night you would never know if the house was flooding or not.  Sometimes everything would get wet and we would realize too late.  So we stopped sleeping at night.  And then at times we had to leave our house, run out of the house and stay at nearby schools.” 
For years the government had intervened by temporarily shifting Lata and others in her community to other housing sites during the worst rains each year, but then Lata and her neighbors would return to swampy land and ruined settlements.  Back at home, Lata would need to spend money and time replacing her spoiled abode with new plastics, sheets, and materials.  And then the rain would come again.  Something needed to change.
In 2003, a group of women from Mahila Milan stepped in to orchestrate a permanent relocation of the people living in the flood plane by encouraging them to take advantage of government subsidies that were being offered for permanent houses on different land.  Lata remembers seeing the Mahila Milan women arriving and organizing the community to arrange for the upcoming relocation and construction.  The Mahila Milan women helped families submit proof of their residences and started community savings programs to help families financially prepare to acquire permanent homes.
Lata explained that when she saw the Mahila Milan women organizing the community for the relocation, she wanted to join the organization so that she could understand exactly how the government resettlement scheme worked and how it would affect her family.  Even though she is illiterate, Lata realized that she could participate in Mahila Milan’s documentation activities and savings programs. 

After her family was successfully relocated to a permanent house in a safer site in 2004, Lata joined Mahila Milan.  Now she uses her connections in the community to run the savings programs that enable relocated families to pay back the loans for their homes in small installments. 618 families have moved into permanent homes in the new housing site. Of these families, 56 families have completed payments for their homes while the rest have each repaid over half of the home’s total cost.
Nearly ten years later Lata’s new, permanent neighborhood is flourishing and community members are so proud that they relocated on their own terms. Children scamper around the paved streets in their school uniforms, and women from the community now harvest and sell corn at a local market while their husbands are at work. Every new home is made of pucca (cement) and includes a kitchen, bedroom, hallway, toilet, and shower room. “We are no longer worried about the elements,” Lata giggles.
 Because Lata and her neighbors had a positive experience utilizing government subsidies for relocation, Lata now tries to encourage others in undependable housing to take advantage of government relocation schemes.  “I think other people should take what the government is giving them –they can get a good house,” Lata remarks.  “If you are very very poor you think that it is not possible to construct [good] houses.  But when the government is helping us the money is not a very big amount.  We can pay it and we can build such houses.”
 Lata describes the power that Mahila Milan can have in motivating communities to take advantage of opportunities that will improve their living conditions.  “When we go to the settlements we go as members of Mahila Milan.  We are people like them –we are not from the government,” Lata remarks.  “Since I have experienced things, I can give them good advice.”