by Shivani Singh, PRIA
In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. A phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.(wikipedia, 2014).Urban poor represent phoenix birdas their houses, livelihood, belongings,relationships and networks, rather their whole existence gets burnt either by residing in an unsafe place or due to powerful forces that surrounds them. Power can be of all kinds’ money, muscle, governmental orders or vested private interest. But still they continue to live and struggle.
Patna grapples with many social and economic issues. Urbanization is happening but at snail’s pace. The urban poor and urban slums of Patna are no different than other urban poor and slums of Kolkata, Jaipur, and Bhubaneswar which I got to visit this year. The problem of land, water, sanitation, education, health, and security remains common phenomenon everywhere.
I met the newly formed Slum Improvement Committee (SIC) Federation’s core committee members who will work for the development of their respective slums and engage in demanding various rights from the government. The core committee is democratically elected body by the SIC members in the PRIA intervened slums. The SIC members narrated the problems encompassing their slums and how SIC formation led to bringing in improvement in their community.
Ram Dheeraj Prasad, 62
“My basti was set on fire four times. Where should I go? I do not have any house. When I go to meet the government officials they call me ‘ganda aadmi’ and say, ‘kaun bulaya tumko, chal bhag yaha se’.
Despite of being rejected ad humiliated many times by the authority he still has the willingness to fight for basic rights for the slum he lives in with his grandchildren.
Bacchi Devi, 27
“There is a sewage treatment plant near our ‘basti’ when there is power cut the sewage plant overflows and our basti gets filled with filth. We can’t enter our slums. Our house gets flooded with filth and the livestock, our belongings flows away with it. It’s a regular phenomenon. Again we build our houses and live there. No other place to go.”
Munna Kumar, Sandalpur, age 27
I don’t have much earnings. My basti has been set on fire many times. It costs Rs. 10,000 to construct a kuccha house in slum. It’s difficult for us to every time build a new house. Government should resettle us in same place we live.
Sagar Ram, Dhobi Ghat, age 65
Our slum doesn’t have basic amenities. Eviction is our greatest fear. I legally own the land, yet it was encroach by few powerful people. Being powerless I tried to mobilize the community and together with their help and contribution we built a primary school. But as the school land is near a pond which get over flooded during winter seasons this hampers the studies.
Sharda Devi, Adalat Gunj, age 55
“There is no water facility in basti. A hand pump was installed with the help of an NGO (Water Aid). There is no school or crèche for children in slum.”
Rita Devi, Vetinari Campus, age 30
“My basti doesn’t have proper waste disposal system. There is no water, no electricity. The only insecurity is getting evicted from the place we have been living since long.”
Sanjay Kumar, Hima Nagar Ward 34, age 40
“I have been living in ward 34 for past 30-40 years. There is no water, no toilet, no drainage in our basti. There are many governmental schemes but they are least accessed by the poor.
We are associated with Dalit Vikas Samiti and PRIA and have formed a SIC that works for the betterment of community. We collected Rs. 25000/- from the community by taking a donation of Rs. 100 from each household and installed a 400 feet pipeline and a motor. This collective effort helped us in bringing in water in our basti. It’s because we collectivized we were able to think about how to solve the problem. The SIC also played an important role in putting pressure on the municipal commissioner to install a handpump in their basti.”
Ajay Kumar Malik, 34, Kankarbagh
“I also belong to basti that doesn’t have any basic amenities. I do manual scavenging and earn Rs 4000/-. The government claims that scavenging is abolished hence doesn’t exist but the same is false as in my basti itself there are 200 youths that are involved in manual scavenging. We get Rs 100 as wage for cleaning the gutter whole day! I worked in municipality for 3-4 years. Now that the work of sewage cleaning is contracted out I work on private basis.”
The above narrations of problems faced by the urban poor who are now part of SIC federation showcases a known picture of any slum. Eviction is the biggest insecurity with which the urban poor grapple. When asked from the SIC members what is the first thing you demand? They all answered unanimously that “we want land rights rest all can only come after we assume land rights. ‘Jaha hum rahe rahe hai hume vahi basaya jaaye’(rehabilitate us where we are living now).