By Shivani Singh, PRIA
Today, more than one billion people in the world live in slums. In the developing world, one out of every three people living in cities lives in a slum. The word “slum” is often used to describe informal settlements within cities that have inadequate housing and squalid, miserable living conditions. They are often overcrowded, with many people crammed into very small living spaces. These settlements lack basic municipal services such as water, sanitation, waste collection, storm drainage, street lighting, paved sidewalks and roads for emergency access. Most also do not have easy access to schools, hospitals or public places for the community to gather. Many slums have been unserviced and unrecognised for long periods, over 20 years in some cities. Like all informal settlements, housing in slums is built on land that the occupant does not have a legal claim to and without any urban planning or adherence to zoning regulations. In addition, slums are often areas where many social indicators are on a downward slide; for example, crime and unemployment are on the rise. (Cities alliance, 2014)
One of the downward slides of social indicators is seen how women and children living in slums often get victimized living in such unsafe and insecure environment. This was best narrated by Ms Purnima Gupta, a leader, social activist and change maker of Bihari Basti, New Delhi.
I met Ms Purnima Gupta Vice President of Jugghi Jhopari Ekta Manch in Gandhi Peace Foundation while attending the Media Meet on 12th February for putting forth the demands of urban informal sector workers in front of media person. She reached 15 minutes before the scheduled time. This gave me enough time to talk to her and get to know about her. Our conversation started with general introduction about each other. She was looking very enthusiastic for the meeting and kept looking at the watch. She said, “We all should come for any meeting a bit early so that the meeting starts on time.” I then realized that time is money and who knows it best than the people from informal sector.
Purnima lives in Bihari Basti (Slum) near Shastri Park Metro Station since 1985. The settlement is resided by around 2000-3000 people mostly working as vegetable sellers, rickshaw pullers, vendors, hawkers on daily basis. The ‘slum’ is inhabited in majority by both Hindus and Muslims. Like many slums it also lack basic infrastructure. Which is a cause of concern for Purnima.
When told to share about the problems they face in slums she raised the issue of women safety as something that requires immediate attention. She said, “Women in Delhi are unsafe but women slums are at greater risk.” While they are victims of domestic abuse, women also experience harassment, rape and violence outside of the home. Men go out for work but many women stay back home in Bihari Basti. They are victim of many social problems. Thus economic empowerment is important. They are not mentally prepared to go out and work. So best would be to provide them vocational trainings and home based jobs.
Ms Poornima disclosed that the situation of women and children is pitiable in slums. They are exposed to various social problems such as prostitution, drug addiction, rape, murder, theft, gambling to name a few and when we complain to the police they also support the wrong doer. She said, “we understand that education for our children and we do send them to school but in government school there are lots of other problems to which the children become prey.”
When asked what is your prioritized demand as the vice president she said “Both women and children residing in slums are not safe. Safety for both of them is our priority.” Enlisting certain demands for their slums she demanded for:
a. education for our children,
b. home based employment for women,
c. orphan home,
d. old age pension,
e. land tenure rights.
In the enlisting land rights are put at the end her first and foremost demand was safety for women and children.
Not that Ms Purnima is only advocating for change she has formed an organization named Sharda Foundation to work on the above mentioned demands. She has opened a Sewing Machine Centre for women in her Basti. She is actively filing complaints against the anti-social elements in her slums along with the other members of her foundation.
I feel that Ms Purnima is an aware citizen, she has knowledge about the place she residing, she is aware about her rights and especially those rights which are denied to them, she is a leader and advocates about the cause of other people in her area, she within her capacity is trying to make change in the lives of urban poor women of her area.