The Urban Slums

slum1.jpgUrban Slums are a very visible reality in India. A number of middle class localities in major cities have slums in surrounding areas. Most of the menial tasks in such localities are performed by slum dwellers. These include part time servants, vegetable vendors, labourers, rag pickers among others. According to a 2002 US-AID survey, the number of slum dwellers is expected to double within the next two decades.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a slum as an ’overcrowded and squalid district in a city.’

As India progresses on the path of development, and is slated to be the next superpower, the contribution of the inhabitants of slums to the economy is underestimated by most, and as a community, they are often labelled as a nuisance to the society. The living conditions of slum dwellers are usually pathetic and there is a lack of basic amenities. In a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organization in 2002, only 15 per cent of urban slum dwellers had access to drinking water, toilets and electricity for lighting. Drinking water is also more of a farce in many cases, and the water is fowl tasting and untreated. Crime and gang wars are common, as people from diverse backgrounds are compelled to live together, and share resources which are in short supply to begin with. Since a majority of slum dwellers are migrants, there is a certain prevalence of illiteracy and lack of knowledge about the complexities of city life. Leaving a life of desperate poverty and having no qualifications which would ensure a job that pays modestly, slum dwellers are victims of circumstances. The government machinery is not concerned about the welfare of the slum dwellers and their problems are usually dismissed. In a public hearing conducted by reputed NGOs in the Madanpur Khadar area in the national capital, Delhi, the local SHO labelled the problems faced by the community as minor, and something which can be easily dismissed. Eve teasing, molestation, rape and other kinds of women’s rights abuse is common, and in most cases, women are unaware or too scared to report these incidents. Even if they do, they are made fun of and rebuked, and hence they do not complain further. A basic understanding of their rights, whether it be concerning men or women, is lacking, with little progress on this front. Many inhabitants are resigned to their fate. Health is another area of concern. The slum dwellers prefer to go to local doctors who have no degree or a fake degree, rather than go to primary health centres. This leads to other related problems, with increased risk of infectious diseases. For the development of cities, for instance the building of malls, multiplexes and residential complexes targeted at the urban rich, slum dwellers are often shifted from one area to the next, and efforts to secure permanent housing are a failure in most cases. Majority of slum dwellers do not posses ration cards, or voter identity cards, hence they cannot even be categorized as citizens of the country. This places them with a huge disadvantage, and acts as a further hindrance.

In the years to come, the number of slum dwellers will only increase and hence their problems will have to be addressed, as otherwise all the development efforts undertaken by the government will only be a farce.


Devika Menon

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