Pavement Dwellers
An Area Resource Centre (ARC)
Mahila Milan
National Slum Dwellers Federation
Related Readings
Related Links

Sparc began it's work in the inner city of bombay,working with the pavement dwellers
- the most vulnerable and invisible of the urban poor.

The Pavement Dwellers of Bombay

Pavement dwellings are seemingly makeshift structures which exist mainly on sidewalks or pavements of the city.
"We aren`t living on the pavement because we want to. Good lord! We want to live in pucca homes of our own like all of you! But you`re not prepared to pay the cost in terms of higher wages and less servants."

Pavement dwelling is probably as old as cities themselves. Every city has its share of the homeless and Bombay has more than most. In fact an English women, who lived in Bombay in the 1920s, wrote of her shock and distress at the numbers of people for whom the pavement was their only home. The only real change since then has been in the magnitude of the problem and in the nature of official reactions to it.

Pavement 'slums' are a phenomenon peculiar to the largest Indian metropolises (especially Calcutta and Bombay). They are different from what are generally understood to be 'slums'. They are not the juggi-jhopadis or bastis which spring up on vacant lots or stretches of land, but huts or shacks actually built on the footpaths/pavements of city streets, utilising the walls or fences which separate building compounds from the pavement and street outside.

Most of the adults living in pavement dwellings are employed; .these people are mainly self-supporting with almost half being gainfully employed virtually none are beggars. Far from being a burden to the city's economy, they are supplying it with a vast pool of cheap labour for the unpleasant jobs which organised labour does not like to do. They clean the homes of wealthier groups, work on garbage dumps, move goods from one place to the other and bring a varied selection of daily consumption items to street corners and people's doorsteps at a low price. They can do this with such low incomes and survive only because they are living on pavements, and initially did not incur costs on either shelter or transport. Unlike any other segment of Bombay's working population, they do not use the city's already overloaded transport system.

Pavement dwellers generally begin living in these dwellings as ..It needs to be stressed that people invariably take to pavement a temporary measure, until they can locate and afford better housing. Unfortunately, most are never able to acquire better housing and they end up living all their lives on the pavement. In over half the pavement clusters in 'E' Ward (around 1500 households) where SPARC has been working, almost all the families have been living on the pavement ever since their arrival in Bombay - which for some is as long as 30 years ago.

To hear a pavement dweller talking about their past is to hear a history of hunger and impoverishment.Over three quarters of the pavement dweller households that took part in a census owned no assets in their place of origin. Most were agricultural labourers, before moving to Bombay.

[Source: "We the Invisible" a census of pavement dwellers, SPARC, 1985. ][C.ELDOC.6009457]

An Area Resource Centre (ARC

  An Area Resource Centre is a space defined by the community. It may or may not begin with a physical space   but it begins to be created out of the psychological space that the community creates for itself. In doing so it redefines its internal arrangements and they learn a new way of talking to the outside world. It begins by the community deciding that they need to commit themselves to working together on the issues that are important to them. These usually include issues concerning shelter and infrastructure.



Mahila Milan

And We Call Ourselves Mahila Milan
It's been a very Long March since then, one of little victories, many defeats, but always a clear sense of the ultimate prize. The result: an extraordinary self-confidence, tempered with realism about how the world really works. They know that they have support if they need it. But they also know they have rights to sit down with officials. Just because they're poor doesn't take away any of those rights.[C.ELDOC.6008893]

READ ALSO Mahila Milan Crisis Credit Scheme


National Slum Dwellers Federation

The National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) was founded in 1974, and by 2003 had a membership of 500,000 householdsspread around more than 50 towns and cities in India. It aimsto help slum dwellers obtain secure tenure so that they are notconstantly threatened with eviction, and to assist them to develop basic infrastructure like access to water and sanitation.


national slum policy

slumpopulation census 2001


 To make it easier to negotiate for land in Mumbai, households organise into smaller networks as part of the larger Federation. So for example, families living alongside the railway tracks in Mumbai have formed the Railway Slum Dwellers’ Federation, because they will mainly have to negotiate with the railway authorities. Likewise slum dwellers living on land owned by the national  Airports Authority
have formed the Airports Slum Dwellers Federation, whilst pavement dwellers have linked together
to form a Pavement Dwellers network. Slum Dwellers living in other cities or states have for example created the Karnataka and Orissa Slum Dwellers’ Federations,because they mainly have to negotiate with city/state government for land, shelter and access to infrastructure. - Homeless-International
slums in bombay

it is a commonplace phenomenon of our times that vast millions of Asia's people eke out the days and years of their    lives in city slums. In these makeshift neighborhoods, life goes on without the most basic services and  with the  constant threat of eviction. In Mumbai (Bombay), India, alone, some six million people live in  such  communities. Jockin Arputham knows this world intimately, for it is his world. As founder and leader of India' s National Slum Dwellers Federation, Arputham has made it his lifelong endeavor to change this world for the better.


Related Readings

Civil and political rights of slum dwellers: By Rajindar Sachar
A false impression has been created that pavement dwellers are unsocial elements; that a majority of them are criminals and unemployed. This is sheer slander

Why Housing Is An Acute Problem in Bombay:
The huts, bereft of basic civic amenities, are the homes of thousands of workers employed in the industrial units down these hills.[C.ELDOC.1072676]

Mumbai to Slumbai  the potential to  convert the commercial capital of India into a virtual slum...[C.ELDOC.6003276]

What we can do with a slum?
By Laurie Baker
Slum-dwellers should not be evicted and be forced to put up slums elsewhere. In their own way, they provide a valuable service by cleaning away waste and recycling some of the material. A slum must not just be patched up and it must not be pushed to another waste place to become another slumThe recycled slum should also have its own shops and market, a health centre, a creche and a school, a library or a reading room, and a hall for community use and for letting out for weddings and other functions. It must have water, light and sanitation

Interview : Arputham Jockin
You have been saying that the government, politicians and officials are not receptive to people and their representations, in the states other than Maharashtra – especially Mumbai. Why is it so?
See, we have been fighting on the streets for our rights and demands. But we felt we need to change that and get information on where and what kind of land is available. And then, we started talking to various officials since last ten years and slowly we succeeded in convincing them what we are saying.[C.ELDOC.6009243]

Related Links