Author's View

The freedom from oppression that the residents experienced simply because they had water and basic sanitation, is seen to be believed. Dwijendra Tripathi and Jyoti Jumani vividly describe it in the following words:

Change in physical surroundings is bound to bring about changes in the way of life of a community. The changes may be tangible, visible and quantifiable—the changes that every one can notice. In contrast, changes in the way of life may get reflected in the ways only the community in question can experience and feel.

Water has brought about a major shift in the day-to-day chores of life. Bathing, washing clothes, mopping floor are now daily rituals for the residents of Sanjay Nagar. Earlier, the bathing pattern was erratic

The change experienced by the residents can be described in their own words:

‘The Rabaris earlier would make us do their housework in exchange for a bucket of water, Sunita recalls’, (emphasis added).

‘At times I would have to go to 5-6 houses to get the water. The owner would comment “Aren’t you finding other houses to fill water that you come here all the time?” My face would fall but would not retort, otherwise they would not let me fill water the next day.’

‘Previously we would go for toilet in the open. We had no option but to sit shamelessly even when men were passing by.’ According to Rupaben Chamanbhai: ‘Relieving on the road with men around was crossing the boundary of all maryada (decency)’

We believe that the need for providing the basic infrastructure is pressing but not for providing shelter. Poor on their own cannot get good quality basic infrastructure. The poor, however, can build their own shelter if the basic infrastructure is provided.

This statement is based on our experience of providing the basic infrastructure to the residents of Sanjay Nagar, a slum settlement in Ahmedabad. We worked jointly with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and Saath, a local NGO. The three organisations launched the Slum Networking Project designed to improve the quality of life in slums, chawls and other distressed areas. SHARDA Trust participated in this project because it was consistent with its strategy for helping the poor. What changes in the way of life of the residents did the changes in the physical surroundings bring about? Dwijndra Tripathi and Jyoti Jumani through a study carried out about three years after the physaical upgrading provide th answer: “Inspired by an improved infrastructure around them, the residents upgraded their dwellings on their own (emphasis added), at an average cost of about Rs19,000 per household  Houses made of kantan (jute-cloth) and mud have been replaced by painted walls plastered with cement. The roofs are made of concrete and tin. Improved infrastructure, access to water, and a guarantee against eviction by the Municipal Corporation have been motivating factors leading to change.

Unfortunately, almost all the city governments and even the city governments of metros have failed to provide the basic infrastructure to the urban poor. As a recent news item reports about Ahmedabad “In the last municipal elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised ‘basic facilities for all slums’ in the city. (Ahmedabad) Five years hence, when another election is round the corner, hardly five percent of the slum population has been covered. And the benefits haven’t covered the entire five percent either.” (emphasis added) If the lack of the basic infrastructure is a major problem even in metropolitan India, then we can easily understand the plight of the rural poor in getting the basic civic amenities.

Dwijendra Tripathi and Jumani (note 6) Pp 10, 13 and 17.

For a detailed description of the project seeDwijendra Tripathi Alliance for Change A Slum Upgrading Experiment in Ahmedabad (New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, 1998)

Dwijendra Tripathi and Jyoti Jumani Change After Alliance the Sequel to a Slum Upgrading Experiment in Ahmedabad (awaiting publication; quoted with permission from draft typescript) Pp. 5, 27

Nishit Dholabhai ‘Slum-Dwellers down the dumps as scheme fails to make impact’ Indian Express 30 August 2000