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Women Leaders Struggle for Water Taps and Security in the Indian Slums

About 65 million people live in India's slums, according to official data

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Slum dwellers
Children from Indian slums. VOA
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Ahmedabad, August 22, 2017: Hansaben Rasid knows what it is like to live without a water tap or a toilet of her own, constantly fearful of being evicted by city officials keen on tearing down illegal settlements like hers in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

The fear and lack of amenities are but a memory today, after she became a community leader in the Jadibanagar slum and pushed residents to apply for a program that gave them facilities and a guarantee of no evictions for 10 years.

“We didn’t even have a water tap here — we had to fetch water from the colony near by, and so much time went in just doing that. People kept falling sick because there was just one toilet,” she said.

“Now that we have individual water taps and toilets, we can focus on work and the children’s education. Everyone’s health has improved, and we don’t need to be afraid of getting evicted any day,” she said, seated outside her home.

Also Read: Actress-turned Interior Designer Twinkle Khanna comes forward to support Education for Slum Children

Jadibanagar, with 108 homes, is one of more than 50 slums in Ahmedabad that have been upgraded by Parivartan — meaning “change” — a program that involves city officials, slum dwellers, a developer and a nonprofit organization.

Every household pays 2,000 rupees ($31) and in return, each home gets a water tap, a toilet, a sewage line and a stormwater drain. The slum gets street lights, paved lanes and regular garbage collection.

Each home also pays 80 rupees as an annual maintenance fee, and the city commits to not evicting residents for 10 years.

Negotiation skills

A crucial part of the program is the involvement of a woman leader who brings residents on board, deals with city officials and oversees the upgrade.

Nonprofit Mahila Housing Trust has trained women residents to be community leaders in a dozen cities in the country, including more than 60 in Ahmedabad.

“Women are responsible for the basic needs of the family, and most also work at home while the husband works outside, so the lack of a water tap or a toilet affects them more,” said Bharati Bhonsale, program manager at Mahila Housing Trust.

“Yet they traditionally have had little influence over policy decisions and local governance. We train them in civic education, build their communication and negotiation skills, and teach them to be leaders of the community,” she said.

About 65 million people live in India’s slums, according to official data, which activists say is a low estimate.

That number is rising quickly as tens of thousands of migrants leave their villages to seek better prospects in urban areas. Many end up in overcrowded slums, lacking even basic facilities and with no claim on the land or their property. Yet slum dwellers have long opposed efforts to relocate them to distant suburbs, which limits their access to jobs. Instead, they favor upgrading of their slums or redevelopment.

Earlier this month, officials in the eastern state of Odisha said they would give land rights to slum dwellers in small towns and property rights to those in city settlements in a “historic” step that will benefit tens of thousands.

In Gujarat state, as Jadibanagar is on private land, it is not eligible for the city’s redevelopment plan.

“These homes are all illegal, but that doesn’t mean the people cannot live decently,” said Bhonsale.

“With redevelopment, there is demolition and a move, and that can take longer to convince people of, with the men usually making the decision. But with an upgrade, the women make the decision very quickly by themselves,” she said.

Bottom up

Elsewhere, in Delhi’s Savda Ghevra slum resettlement colony where about 30,000 people live, nonprofit Marg taught women residents to demand their legal right to water, sanitation and transport.

A group of women then filed Right to Information petitions, to improve their access to drinking water, buses and sanitation.

“The women bear the brunt of not having these amenities, and are therefore most motivated to do something about the situation,” said Anju Talukdar, director of Marg.

“The leaders are the ones who show up for meetings, are engaged and keen to learn how to use the law to improve their lives,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Contrary to perceptions that slums are run by petty criminals who resist efforts to redevelop or upgrade, women leaders in Jadibanagar and Savda Ghevra are actively engaged in bettering everyone’s lives.

Leaders often emerge from a bottom-up process, with reputations for getting things done — in particular, resisting evictions and securing basic services, according to research by Adam Auerbach at the American University and Tariq Thachil at Vanderbilt University.

“They are themselves ordinary residents, living with their families and facing the same vulnerabilities and risks as their neighbors; they, too, want paved roads, clean drinking water, proper sanitation and schools for their children,” they said.

Women leaders, while still a minority, are “rarely token figures” serving male heads of households, and are “just as active, assertive and locally authoritative as their male counterparts,” they said in an email.

Rasid in Jadibanagar, whose two sons and their families live in homes alongside hers, is certain her leadership helped residents improve their homes and their lives.

“Everyone wants security and nicer homes, and they are willing to pay. Someone just has to get it done,” she said.

“I am illiterate, I cannot read, but I know now how to talk to officials and the developer and tell them what we want, and make sure they deliver,” she said. (VOA)

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India China’s Fight Over the Doklam Plateau Explained

Doklam or Donglang, is a disputed area between China and Bhutan located near their tri-junction with India

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picture from- indiaopines.com

By Ruchika Verma

  • India and China have an old history of disputes
  • This time, the dispute is regarding the Dokplam Plateau
  • The area is of strategic importance for both the nations

Disputes between India and China are not at all uncommon. The rivalry between the two nations is famous. There have been several disputes between the two on the India-China border in past, and there seems to be no stopping for these disputes in the present or future, for that matter.

India and China have a n old history of repeated disputes. zeenews.india.com
India and China have an old history of repeated disputes. zeenews.india.com

In June 2017, the world witnessed yet another dispute arising between India and China. This time the dispute was about China building a road extending to Doklam Plateau, which both nations have been fighting over for years now.

Also Read: China is likely to get involved if India disrupts $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

History of the dispute 

Doklam or Donglang (in Chinese), is a disputed area between China and Bhutan located near their tri-junction with India. India doesn’t directly claim the area but supports Bhutan’s claims on it.

India fits into the picture, as this plateau is an important area for India. Not only is Bhutan one of the biggest allies of India; China gaining access over the Doklam Plateau will also endanger India’s borders, making them vulnerable to attacks.

Dopkam plateau is an important area near India, China and Bhutan's borders.
Dopkam plateau is an important area near India, China and Bhutan’s borders.

Apart from the hostile history of the two nations, the Doklam Plateau is also important for India to maintain its control over a land corridor that connects to its remote northeastern States. China building a road through Doklam surely threatens that control.

A complete timeline of what happened in the recent Doklam Standoff 

On 16 June 2017, Chinese troops with construction vehicles and excavators began extending an existing road southward on the Doklam plateau, near India’s border. It was Bhutan which raised the alarm for India.

On 18 June 2017, India responded by sending around 270 Indian troops, with weapons and two bulldozers to evict the Chinese troops from Doklam.

On 29 June 2017, Bhutan protested against the construction of a road in the disputed territory.  According to the Bhutanese government, China attempted to extend a road in an area which is shared both Bhutan and India, along with China.

Between 30 June 2017 and 5 July 2017, China released multiple statements justifying their claim over the Doklam plateau. They cited reasons as to why the Doklam standoff wasn’t really needed. And how China has not intruded into India’s territory to incite the standoff.

On 19th July 2017, China asked India again to withdraw its troops from the Doklam. On 24th July 2017,  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in his statement, asked India to withdraw and behave themselves to maintain peace.

India and China seem to never agree when it comes to their borders. BBC
India and China seem to never agree when it comes to their borders. BBC

Also Read: Why India Must Counter China’s High-Altitude Land Grab?

What followed till 16th August 2017 was China constantly alleging India of trying to create trouble. They accused India of trying to disturb the peace and not withdrawing the troops, even after repeated reminders. They also accused India of bullying.

India, however, kept quiet during the whole fiasco, only releasing a statement regarding their stand and position at the Doklam standoff.

On 28 August 2017, India and China finally announced that they had agreed to pull their troops back from the Doklam standoff. The withdrawal was completed on that very day.

On 7 September 2017, many media reports claimed that both nation’s troops have not left the site completely. They were still patrolling the area, simply having moved 150 meters away from their previous position.

On 9 October 2017, China announced that it is ready to maintain peace with India at the frontiers. India reacted in affirmative, the peace was established when Indian Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman’s visited Nathu La.

The issue between the two nations may rise again. Pixabay
The issue between the two nations may rise again. Pixabay

The Doklam issue, for now, is resolved. However, given the history of disputes between India and China, it won’t be a surprise if the issue resurfaces again in near future.