Urban poverty is multidimensional and the inherent vulnerability of the poor is manifested by their lack of access to economic and livelihood resources, land and housing, physical infrastructure and services, health and education facilities, social security networks and empowerment. At present there are various State and Central level programs that are working towards urban renewal, city upgradation, housing for the poor and city beautification. Irony of these programs, which by aim are directed towards growth and development of all-, is that they are pushing the urban poor further deeper in the clutches of the above vulnerabilities.
Jeetesh Rai from PRIA shared his experience with TerraUrban, from a displaced slum in Bhopal- Sabari nagar basti, Kotara Sultanabad, Nehru Nagar, that has surfaced and questioned many of these forces, inherent power game, lack of accountability and inefficient governance that has resulted the women of this slum to be continuously subjected to sexual abuse.
Sabari Nagar Basti is home now to the resettled slum dwellers from J.K. road, who had been displaced two years back under the flagship scheme of JNNURM and city beautification.
The women of this basti have been continuously subjected to sexual abuse, fear and intimidation from the local goons and with no help from the concerned authority are living a traumatic life without any dignity. This might just be one of the cases to highlight why Madhya Pradesh has been the state that tops the atrocities and abuse on women.
The slum dwellers shared with Jeetesh, how by force they had been evicted from their J.K. road residence by police in 2009. In the afternoon of 14th March 2009 when the slum dwellers of JK Road, Bhopal had gone to their work place (most of them worked at BHEL(Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited)/BHEL area, Bhopal), Bhopal Municipality Corporation (BMC) warned women, children and girls, who stayed at home, to leave the slum at the same time without any delay, otherwise, BMC threat them to demolish their slums. By midnight the slum was bulldozed over by force and on request by the slum dwellers were given the present area of Sabri nagar basti which was a vacant land as a temporary location with a false promise that after 3 months these dwellers shall be houses in the new JNNURM housing. Three years hence, these slum dwellers have no home to call of their own.
The present location where the slum dwellers are residing in the most in human conditions is adjacent to lake, their homes are subjected to flooding during rainy season with no social and physical infrastructure or any employment opportunities offered to these slum dwellers.
The situation is further worsened, by the threat and fear of the ‘local goons’ that harass the women of this slum and the police authorities being silent on the issue. The women of the basti quoted how the local goons have connection with the local councillor and the MLA. They cited example of how a vagabond named Babu had beaten up a young girl in the slum since she refused to favour him. The goons are quick to use physical force against any men who raise concern and voice to protect the women of the slum. Unfortunately, when the slum dwellers approached the local police- Kamla Nagar Police station, the concerned officer instead of arresting the goon, arrested the vulnerable slum dweller and tortured him for three days. The goons have publically declared that they shall not shy away from ‘raping’ the women of the slums. These displaced slum dwellers who worked in BHEL factories which is now 25km away from their present address are now even in loss of any work opportunity, since the fear of leaving their women folk alone is preventing them to travel to such long distances.
The strategy that the women of this slum has adopted to protect their daughters- is to marry them off at very young age! Safety of their daughters comes before their education, growth and development.
Urban poverty and its alleviation appear to be in a vicious circle. In the disguise of rights to the slum dwellers, this case of Sabari Nagar has highlighted how the slum dwellers have been entrapped in unemployment, lack of housing and security, sexual abuse and fear. This is clearly a result of schemes that are unaccountable and non- participatory. Rights and voices of women especially have not been considered in many of these urban poverty schemes.
M.P. has seen JNNURM and is now taking leaps towards Rajiv Awas Yojana, but has it incorporated ‘participatory planning and accountability’ as a precursor for any action or development? Do authorities realise the impact of these haphazard unplanned and ill executed schemes on the lives of the slum dwellers, especially the women? Are urban poverty alleviation schemes- gender sensitive? Women use and experience urban space differently from men and are subjected to various other pressures, but our schemes have always been oblivious to this reality. Women need to be included in the planning and development of these schemes from day one. There is the urgent need to critically analyze the ‘State-citizen interaction link’ and how urban poor interact with state and state authorities, and how accountable is the state towards the rights of the urban poor.