Mastipur, Bodhgaya: story of an “incidental rehabilitation” scheme in the land of the Enlightenment

By Hugo Ribadeau Dumas and Abhishek Jha, PRIA

While the “city” of Bodhgaya might be characterized by a negligible demographic and geographic importance, its influence and prestige at the international scale is nevertheless undeniable. Officially labelled as a class-III town by the government, the nagar panchayat of Bodhgaya had a population of just 31,000 people according to the 2001 census. But it is at the same a major destination for tourists and pilgrims:  hordes of visitors come here from all over the world come to visit the Mahabodhi Temple, famous for being the stage of the Enlightenment of the Buddha, and recognized as a World Heritage Monument by the UNESCO in 2002.

The international dimension of Bodhgaya, and consequently its economic potential and its brand value for both India and Bihar, is a strong parameter in the urban development of the city. It is indeed interesting to observe that, despite its limited size, Bodhgaya was selected among the 63 cities all over the country that would initially benefit from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) and a City Development Plan was prepared under it in the year 2006.in 2011, the Government of Bihar (GOB) prepared again  a new ambitious City Development Plan in order “to develop Bodhgaya as an international tourist destination by preserving its cultural heritage and by providing all basic infrastructure services to its citizens and tourists in an eco-friendly way” (CDP, 2011).

Yet, despite the peculiar attention that Bodhgaya managed to draw, improvements at the local level have been actually very limited. According to the mapping conducted by PRIA in 2012, the situation in the 19 slums of the city is still critical. Sewage systems are quasi-inexistent in most of the slums, and a great majority of the inhabitants still do not have access to private toilets. The government efforts have so far failed to address effectively these issues; very few urban poverty programs have been actually implemented by the Bihar Urban Development Agency (BUDA), and the funds channelled through the National Slum Development Program (NSDP) have been insufficient to generate any substantive impact (CDP, 2006).

In this context of global visibility associated with a permanence of poverty, one slum singularized itself and experienced an unprecedented model of development. Mastipur, as the neighbourhood is locally known, underwent what we could call an “incidental rehabilitation”, as it benefited directly from its international exposure. The neighbourhood belongs to the ward 17 and is located in the vicinity of the Mahabodhi temple complex. Populated by Musahars (Scheduled Caste and Mahadalit Community as per GOB), the locality is today surrounded by the Japanese Buddhist temple and various hotels and guesthouses. In the early 1990s, Mastipur received an unexpected international assistance. The Sri Lankan President of that time, Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was himself a devout Buddhist, could not bear that the paramount pauperism of Mastipur could be sustained on such a holy land. To put an end to this situation, he decided to launch under his own patronage a Rs75-lakh in-situ up-gradation scheme with the funds of the Sri Lankan authorities.

Image
View from the roofs of the slum, with a hotel complex in the background.

The built environment of the neighbourhood was radically altered. 100 new concrete housing units were constructed – each featuring two rooms, one kitchen, and one bathroom. Each home got a taped connection to water supply, which is particularly rare in a city where only 10.5% of the inhabitants have access to such service (GOB, 2011). Proper roads and a community centre were also built at that time. On April 1993, the renovated neighbourhood was inaugurated by President Pramadasa himself, and officially renamed as “Buddhagayagama”, which means “The village of the re-awakened people” in Sanskrit.

Image
Board commemorating the rehabilitation scheme conducted by the Sri Lankan authorities.

However, the tale of Mastipur did not eventually end-up in a totally rosy-masti way. While the infrastructure of the neighbourhood is significantly better than most of Bodhgaya’s slums, its social situation is still highly problematic. The Sri Lankan project initially had genuine social ambitions. For instance, in order to address the livelihood issues, the Sri Lankan government provided thelas (pull carts), few cycle-rickshaws and training to make candles and incense sticks. The Government of Bihar issued licences to thela vendors for trading kerosene oil, but these licences soon became useless when a national law banned this activity.  President Pramadasa also had in mind to develop a long-term network of exchange between slums dwellers of India and Sri Lanka. But in May 1993, only two months after the delivery of the new Mastipur, Pramadasa was killed during a terrorist attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Since this tragic death, the involvement of the Sri Lankan State faded away, to finally disappear.

 Image

Such initiatives were not always fruitful. A Sri Lanka’s newspaper, the Sunday Time, for instance highlighted in May 1998 that the very rickshaws that had been distributed were quickly sold to be used in the trading activities of alcoholic products (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/980628/plus9.html). Field observations by PRIA also revealed a non-appropriate use of some infrastructures; the school, which was not part of the rehabilitation scheme, seems for instance more prone to shelter cows rather than students (see photo attached). Twenty years after the rehabilitation of the neighbourhood, the question of maintenance is also a matter of concern. Without material assistance available, the sustainability of the built-environment is today seriously questionable, and this problem will tend to be reinforced by the demographic growth which is adding up even more pressure on the infrastructures.

Image
Maspitur’s school building

Mastipur’s story highlights that slum up-gradation, whatever significant and well-intended it might be, must be compulsorily accompanied by a well-rooted follow-up, not only of the State but also of the local population. As compared to other slum areas in Bodhgaya, Mastipur was lucky enough to experience this “incidental rehabilitation” – however, the empowerment of its inhabitants was relatively not outstanding. During the whole process of rehabilitation, the participation of the community was feeble, and in the years afterwards the inhabitants did not collectively organize themselves to sustain and capitalize on the benefits of the programme, as mentioned above. One of the challenges now for Mastipur dwellers will therefore be to forge a platform upon which common issues could be discussed and rationalized at the scale of the neighbourhood. It is under this approach that PRIA has initiated in Mastipur a community-based organization called “Slum Improvement Committee”. In this committee, local problems will be debated on a regular basis and will thus be made more visible in the public sphere, so that local citizens can negotiate with the government and other agencies for their rights and entitlements.

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Mastipur, Bodhgaya: story of an “incidental rehabilitation” scheme in the land of the Enlightenment

  1. Anonymous February 12, 2013 at 11:49 am Reply

    I have gone through the story by Hugo and Abhishek on Terra Urban. This is really tragic for us that many a times we fail to carry good things forward in the absence of communitisation and participation. Our system is also equally responsible for that. If it is pain to live in a slum, then why people miss out opportunities like in case of Mastipur? Do we need any association which tells us what is hygienic and good place to live in? Or it is something else which we aren’t able to see?
    A case below narrates another side of the story.
    Speaking up from the slums
    When business graduate Al Hassan Abdallah arrived in Accra in 2005, he struggled to find a room he could afford to live in. Like thousands of other Ghanaians, he ended up in Old Fadama, one of the capital’s largest slums, popularly referred to as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.

    Seven years later, he now has a teaching job but still lives in the slum. It’s not been easy: there are frequent fires, drinking water is unsafe and cholera is rife.

    People also fear being forcibly evicted. Al Hassan carries all his valuables on him at all times, as he is not sure his home will be standing when he returns. He has struggled to open a bank account, because of the negative perception institutions often have about slum residents.

    “People don’t respect you if you tell them you are living in Old Fadama. They say we are criminals,” he says.

    But thanks to Slum Radio, a project initiated by Amnesty International to help change negative public attitudes towards slum dwellers in Ghana and Kenya, listeners in those countries have been able to hear about the challenges Al Hassan and other slum-dwellers face every day.

    Last month, Al Hassan and Mustafa Mahmoud, a community leader from Kenya’s biggest slum Kibera, co-presented a show together with journalists from Kenyan station Radio Jambo, part of Radio Africa.

    While the project finished mid-April, Al Hassan hopes to continue to do more radio from the slums.

    “The local authority in Accra wants to evict us, but they never talk directly to us. Now we have a platform to share our stories from and many people I have met who heard the programmes say they want to know more,” he says.

    Many of the stories broadcast on local stations challenge the prejudice that slum dwellers are uneducated and unemployed:

    Radio Africa listeners in Kenya have heard Mary Obonyo from Mathare talk about her cafè, the dishes she makes and how the business has helped her.

    They have listened to Samson Aluda, who at 26 is a secondary school principal in Kibera, and is studying as well for a degree in engineering.

    “We’re taking radio stations that have middle class listenerships into the slums, in order to throw a spotlight on the people living there,” said Martin Davies, managing director of Between the Posts Productions, the company working on the project with residents, journalists and Amnesty International.

    In Accra, one third of the population live in slums, while in Nairobi the figure is more than 50%. Local radio stations – Radio Africa in Kenya, Joy FM and GBC in Ghana were easily persuaded to give air time to the project, broadcasting stories from the informal settlements for six weeks.

    In return, Between the Posts Productions and Amnesty International offered the stations training, access to contacts in the slums and live broadcasts from temporary slum radio stations.

    There has been no shortage of stories to cover – a substantial one broke the day Slum Radio launched last month with Kenya’s Radio Jambo, broadcast from Mathare slum, as Martin Davies recalls.

    “The morning the show was taking place there was a fire in Mathare: It was a classic tale of a breakdown of who’s responsible for what. There had been a road-widening project going on in order to enable things like fire engines to get in.

    “However, the stones that had been delivered for the road had been left in large piles they prevented any vehicle passing. Nobody was clear about who should have been spreading out the stones in order to prepare the road. As a consequence the fire engine took four hours to get through and three people died.

    “People were coming out of the slum with photographs of the skeletons, eye witness reports, all unfolding. The breakfast show really captured a cross section of life.”

    “Part of the success of the project is connecting journalists with the very eloquent but kind of hidden resources of the slums, the community leaders. That can in the future lead to far more exposure, which in turn can lead to a change in attitude,” said Davies.

    Back in Kibera, Mustafa Mahmoud, who also presents a community radio programme in his area, has already been in touch with local station Radio Maisha on creating more material from the slums.

    “People in Nairobi often think of us as illiterate beggars, idlers and thieves. It’s true that we don’t have roads, sanitation is poor and sometimes it feels as if we live in a forgotten land,” he said.

    “But by listening to our stories on air, radio audiences got to know that we are just ordinary people with normal jobs – watchmen, drivers and cooks – all people that the rest of Nairobi interacts with on a daily basis.

    We are living here by default and now the challenge is to hold governments to account over the human rights violations that take place inside the slums.”
    An Amnesty International-supported radio project in Ghana and Kenya aims to challenge public perceptions of people living in slums and give inhabitants a platform to tell their stories. (Source: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/speaking-up-from-the-slums

  2. Anshuman Karol February 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm Reply

    I have gone through the story by Hugo and Abhishek on Terra Urban. This is really tragic for us that many a times we fail to carry good things forward in the absence of communitisation and participation. Our system is also equally responsible for that. If it is pain to live in a slum, then why people miss out opportunities like in case of Mastipur? Do we need any association which tells us what is hygienic and good place to live in? Or it is something else which we aren’t able to see?

    A case below narrates another side of the story.
    Speaking up from the slums
    When business graduate Al Hassan Abdallah arrived in Accra in 2005, he struggled to find a room he could afford to live in. Like thousands of other Ghanaians, he ended up in Old Fadama, one of the capital’s largest slums, popularly referred to as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.

    Seven years later, he now has a teaching job but still lives in the slum. It’s not been easy: there are frequent fires, drinking water is unsafe and cholera is rife.

    People also fear being forcibly evicted. Al Hassan carries all his valuables on him at all times, as he is not sure his home will be standing when he returns. He has struggled to open a bank account, because of the negative perception institutions often have about slum residents.

    “People don’t respect you if you tell them you are living in Old Fadama. They say we are criminals,” he says.

    But thanks to Slum Radio, a project initiated by Amnesty International to help change negative public attitudes towards slum dwellers in Ghana and Kenya, listeners in those countries have been able to hear about the challenges Al Hassan and other slum-dwellers face every day.

    Last month, Al Hassan and Mustafa Mahmoud, a community leader from Kenya’s biggest slum Kibera, co-presented a show together with journalists from Kenyan station Radio Jambo, part of Radio Africa.

    While the project finished mid-April, Al Hassan hopes to continue to do more radio from the slums.

    “The local authority in Accra wants to evict us, but they never talk directly to us. Now we have a platform to share our stories from and many people I have met who heard the programmes say they want to know more,” he says.

    Many of the stories broadcast on local stations challenge the prejudice that slum dwellers are uneducated and unemployed:

    Radio Africa listeners in Kenya have heard Mary Obonyo from Mathare talk about her cafè, the dishes she makes and how the business has helped her.

    They have listened to Samson Aluda, who at 26 is a secondary school principal in Kibera, and is studying as well for a degree in engineering.

    “We’re taking radio stations that have middle class listenerships into the slums, in order to throw a spotlight on the people living there,” said Martin Davies, managing director of Between the Posts Productions, the company working on the project with residents, journalists and Amnesty International.

    In Accra, one third of the population live in slums, while in Nairobi the figure is more than 50%. Local radio stations – Radio Africa in Kenya, Joy FM and GBC in Ghana were easily persuaded to give air time to the project, broadcasting stories from the informal settlements for six weeks.

    In return, Between the Posts Productions and Amnesty International offered the stations training, access to contacts in the slums and live broadcasts from temporary slum radio stations.

    There has been no shortage of stories to cover – a substantial one broke the day Slum Radio launched last month with Kenya’s Radio Jambo, broadcast from Mathare slum, as Martin Davies recalls.

    “The morning the show was taking place there was a fire in Mathare: It was a classic tale of a breakdown of who’s responsible for what. There had been a road-widening project going on in order to enable things like fire engines to get in.

    “However, the stones that had been delivered for the road had been left in large piles they prevented any vehicle passing. Nobody was clear about who should have been spreading out the stones in order to prepare the road. As a consequence the fire engine took four hours to get through and three people died.

    “People were coming out of the slum with photographs of the skeletons, eye witness reports, all unfolding. The breakfast show really captured a cross section of life.”

    “Part of the success of the project is connecting journalists with the very eloquent but kind of hidden resources of the slums, the community leaders. That can in the future lead to far more exposure, which in turn can lead to a change in attitude,” said Davies.

    Back in Kibera, Mustafa Mahmoud, who also presents a community radio programme in his area, has already been in touch with local station Radio Maisha on creating more material from the slums.

    “People in Nairobi often think of us as illiterate beggars, idlers and thieves. It’s true that we don’t have roads, sanitation is poor and sometimes it feels as if we live in a forgotten land,” he said.

    “But by listening to our stories on air, radio audiences got to know that we are just ordinary people with normal jobs – watchmen, drivers and cooks – all people that the rest of Nairobi interacts with on a daily basis.

    We are living here by default and now the challenge is to hold governments to account over the human rights violations that take place inside the slums.”
    An Amnesty International-supported radio project in Ghana and Kenya aims to challenge public perceptions of people living in slums and give inhabitants a platform to tell their stories. (Source: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/speaking-up-from-the-slums

  3. terraurban February 12, 2013 at 4:23 pm Reply

    This is a good example Anshumanji. I have had a similar experience in the slums of Joburg in Alexandria. The slum has been able to create a movement of sorts. It is an historically important location, Nelson Mandela also stayed in one of the shacks there once. Cashing on the history and culture of the place the local radio is being successful in sensitizing not just the local residents about their own colony but also convince the government to not ‘destroy’ the slum and prevent the forceful rehabilitation of the slum dwellers.We need to find such ways too. The other day I was speaking to some people who are involved in community radio projects and I learnt that our government does not encourage community radios as of now because of security reasons. Unfortunately security reasons become even more severe in slums. The key is to bring the socially excluded right in the main stream – not as the other 50% of population as they are perceived at present.There are also unfortunate ways of ‘slum tourism’ that some places are doing – but that is almost like a slap on urban poverty!

  4. Manohar Ranade February 16, 2013 at 6:53 am Reply

    After reading the account of Mastipur, I recalled a story I heard long time ago. It was about some unknown Sadhu.
    After long pinance he came to know that his next birth is of a pig. He also came to know the place and the time of his next birth and was very much disturbed. He called one his trusted disciple and told him what he came to know about his next birth and the visible identity – marks. Sadhu said that he does not want to live as dirty pig even for a moment in that filth. He ordered him to be ready with a big stone. As soon as he gets separated from the womb, the disciple should hit him and kill him instantly.

    His disciple was ready with a big stone at the place and time as per the orders of the Sadhu. As soon as he identified that piglet, he raised the big stone in his hand and soon the piglet yelled, “Hey!!!! Don’t kill me. I am enjoying the sweet smell and the blissful environment around me here”.

    I wish we environmentalist should learn to restrain ourselves and control our compassion!!! Unless someone desires to change the state of his surroundings, it is foolish to undertake any activity, which you think it will make him more comfortable. Let us not waste our time and energy!!!!!!!

  5. terraurban February 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm Reply

    Tathabrata Bhattacharya • i like the piece..n quite amazed that people thought of bustees then..
    anyways,the case of mastipur is one of a fervent soul who wanted to serve God through humanity. But alas, our governments don’t thing that way. serving the almighty is the last thing on their list. Today where mastipur stands was inevitable as has been rightly said in the piece. But i feel things can still be done, because there is a base to begin with. But i feel our biggest problem is will. all of us are lacking it. right from the planner to the implementer. visit the TCPO library and you’ll find plans from all decades, but what those (now yellow) pages are still waiting is someone to translate them into action.

  6. terraurban February 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm Reply

    Manahor Ranade • I have read the blog about Mastipur. Let us learn that people do not accept things or ideas that are thrust upon them. Out of compassion, if you honorably place a piglet on the upholstered seat of a king and offer a delicious plateful of sweets, first action it will take is to smell the seat and tear it apart to find out what is smelling there, suspecting of his normal eatable, completely ignoring the plate full of sweets. The response from the Mastipur residents is somewhat similar.

    Please learn the lesson. It is only proper to wait for the demand by the the residents of such localities and their assurance that they will pay for any kind new thing which you feel to be proper, either in terms of money or even labor and maintain it and develop it further

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