Cities and slums coexist in India. Some view these slums as shanties that destroy the image of a world class city while others view them as informal groups that support the city for its needs. One cannot deny that slums make up the city’s key professionals; tailors, cobblers, domestic help, and gardeners - in essence the people who help the city meet its day to day needs and function efficiently. Mumbai, which is home to many of the world's largest slums, is a great example of this coexistence. It is often compared to Shanghai, China's largest city that also has a great influence on commerce, culture, fashion and technology.
Just like other cities, Mumbai’s Municipality - Brihan Mumbai Corporation (BMC) governs most of its basic infrastructure. One of its many projects was slum rehabilitation, a concept that bought in a tsunami of demolition drives across the city. 40 lakh houses were to be built as part of a ‘resettling plan’ for the slum dwellers but this plan lacked the basic infrastructure that people needed including water for drinking and other purposes. Whether city officials gauged the impact of such development on the existing resources is another question altogether.
Sapna Doshi, assistant professor at the University of Arizona presented her findings on a theoretical concept - ‘The Redevelopmental State: Governing Dispossession through Desire and Difference’. Her anthropological study analysed two slums in Mumbai that were about to be resettled under the Slum Rehabilitation Act (SRA). She talked about how slum dwellers looked at essential services such as drinking water which were, at times, mobilized through common taps and common toilets.
She made two important observations. The first was the level of engagement of women in a community development program and the second was the strength of leadership within the community. She talked about how two organizations - Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) played an intricate role in helping slum dwellers engage with the authorities. This engagement resulted in more of non-confrontational conversations rather than arguments about the resettlement process. People often talk of practicing democracy by engaging with the government; these shanties are small living examples of such engagements.
This does not mean that the resettlement plan was a success. The outcome has been messy- a few have been resettled and rehabilitated in the same area while others have been resettled in a new space. Several are also homeless; not all who were promised homes got them but a few have. Organic settlements seemed to revolve around the things that were most important for their survival such as access to drinking water and toilets.
"It is no human right to live in shit", said National Slum Dwellers Federation President Mr. Jocklin but a slum dweller summed it all up when she said "What good are toilets when we can’t feed ourselves?"