Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Articles

How is the struggle for the right to housing different from other ongoing struggles in India?

14views

Jai Sen 1

A working document – for discussion, critique, and revisions !

‘Housing’, which is a familiar word to all those in struggle, is an age-old arena of struggle for all labouring and working people, both in urban and rural areas, all over India and in all countries of the world. Although what we call ‘housing’ is normally thought of in terms of buildings, in reality ‘housing’ is actually about something far deeper and far more fundamental : It is a place to live in with security and with dignity, for every woman, man, and child. As such, it is also recognised, and even in bourgeois society, as being a fundamental need. But it is also an area of great profit and power, for owners, landlords, and developers. And as a result of all this, and of how central what is called ‘housing’ is to our lives and to our struggles, the subject of ‘housing’ has been in intense struggle and debate for decades.

This article tries to explore the subject and why it is so important, and also how the struggle for the right to housing relates to but is different from other ongoing struggles in India. Please note though, that this is only a working draft, and so we invite you to jot down your own thoughts on the subject in the spaces provided, and we also welcome your sending us your comments and feedback as mentioned in footnote 2.

Locating myself (JS) :

In an article like this and on a subject like this, I think that it’s very important for the reader to know who the author is in social terms (caste, class, gender) and also the experience from which he or she is speaking. So for those interested in knowing more about this, I have added in a note on myself at the end.

Changes that have taken place over the past 20-30 years :

As already mentioned, ‘housing’ has been a subject of constant and intense struggle and debate in the country for decades.3 There was first a particularly intense period of struggle for housing rights in the newly-independent country, in the late 1940s and 1950s, both in urban and rural areas. On the one hand, political parties and trade unions opened struggles in the bigger industrial towns – Bombay, Calcutta, Kanpur – for gaining security of tenure as well as basic services for those living in bastis and chawls;4 and where political parties also renewed the struggle they had led from pre- Ed : This article has been prepared by the author at the invitation of the NAPM and been published in Hindi. The editor of this booklet, Himshi Singh, has however rewritten some of Jai Sen’s original article in order to shorten it and to put it into simpler language. (JS : I’d like to warmly thank Himshi for her inputs to make my essay more useful !) October 30, 2018, Draft. 2 Comments welcome; please send them to Jai Sen at jai.sen@cacim.net and to HimshiSingh at himshi@napm- india.org. 3 For those interested in reading more on this, please take a look at the article by the author titled ‘What is the Nature of the Housing Question in India Today ?’. Even if this article was written back in 1985, I don’t think that there has been any subsequent attempt to draw out this bigger picture. See the list of References and Resources at the end. (But I’m happy to be shown wrong; and in case you know of any subsequent equivalent attempt to review the state of housing in the country from the point of view of the struggle for social justice, please let me know.) 4 See, for instance : Unnayan, 1992 – Basti Movement in Calcutta : Housing struggle of basti dwellers in the 1950s in Calcutta.

2) independence days for the homestead rights of agricultural and other labour.5 And on the other, the millions of refugees who came into the country from what was then West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), in 2-3 waves, were also deeply in struggle for gaining a place to live in their new homeland, along with governmental resettlement programmes.6

There was then a second major round of movements in the country around a place to live right through the 1980s, both in urban areas to resist the intensifying evictions that started taking place at that time, across the country,7 and also in rural areas, to resist a widening process of forced displacement for big projects such as dams.8 The convergence of these two streams also took the shape of a National Campaign for Housing Rights in the second half of the 1980s, which instead of trying to defend individual evictions, proposed the right to a place to live in security and dignity must be made a Fundamental Right – so that every woman, man, and child was protected.9

The nature of the struggle has however significantly changed over the past three decades, after the government of India opened the doors of the country to economic globalisation in 1991, and then over time to neoliberal globalisation. This first happened with the acceptance in 1991 of so-called ‘Structural Adjustment Policies’ (SAP) on the advice of the IMF, and with the US and the UK behind it. This step has since then had countless consequences in both urban and rural areas. This has included an enormously increased penetration and takeover of the country’s economy by multinational companies, and more recently also by the big national companies. They have massively entered the land market in urban areas and the building materials industry, and they have made major inroads in the takeover of forest and water resources in rural areas. One result of this has been huge rises in the prices of land, which has not only led to great increases in rent but also intensifying competition for land – leading to a great intensification of eviction. All of this massively affects the ability of ordinary people to find and to retain a place to live in security and dignity.

A part of the SAP package was also the dismantling by the government of social welfare measures that had been built since independence in favour of the working classes and castes, largely through the struggles of those classes and castes; such as rent control and housing for industrial workers as well as laws in relation to evictions.

Just for the record, we in India were not alone in seeing this happen; the IMF tightened the same screws in countries across the South during the 1980s and 90s.

These changes came to be greatly intensified as a result of all political parties in the country – one after the other, and including the Left – caving in and accepting neoliberalism as a fact of life. In 1991, the Congress was in power and responsible for bringing in SAP. All the other political parties in the country then in opposition – such as the BJP, the CPM, and the CPI – declared their opposition to the new policies and actively took part in the resistance that took shape across the country to the introduction of SAP, led by an independent, non-party left that had begun to emerge in the country

See, for instance : Jai Sen, September 2001a [December 1996] – ‘Deeper Meanings, Complex Subordination : Explorations into the history and dynamics of movement around the dwelling rights of the kudikidappukaran (attached labour) of Kerala, India’. 6 For instance : Arun Deb, 2000 – ‘The UCRC : Its Role in Establishing the Rights of Refugee Squatters in Calcutta’. 7 Again, for instance : Olga Tellis, December 2015 – ‘The crucial 1981 Supreme Court ruling on Pavement Dwellers case ensured compulsory rehabilitation for the evicted’; Jai Sen, August 1984a – ‘A Background Note on the Delhi Anti-Encroachment Bills Passed by Parliament’; and : Unnayan, August 1984 – ‘Towards Basic Housing Rights in Our Cities’. A Paper towards a Citizens’ Bill on Housing Rights. 8 For instance : Narmada Bachao Andolan, Narmada Ghati Nav Nirman Samiti, Narmada Asargrast Sangharsh Samiti, and Narmada Dharangrast Samiti, nd c.August 1989 – ‘A Call for Joint Action : National Rally at Harsud, Madhya Pradesh, on September 28 1989’; and : National Working Group on Displacement, 1988-89 – ‘A Draft National Policy on Developmental Resettlement of Project-Affected People’. 9 NCHR (National Campaign for Housing Rights), July 1990 [July-August 1986] – ‘For Housing as a Basic Right !’; and : NCHR, July 1992a – Housing Rights Bill, including a Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment.

3) from the 1980s. But since that time, all the political parties, left, right, and centre, have bought into neoliberalism and to so-called ‘globalisation’ as the only economic and political future, and it is now the dominating ideology in government policies all across the country, both at state and national levels. This acceptance has of course benefited some, but it has also victimised and brutalised far larger numbers. We need to recognise this, and make political parties see this.

In this time, we have also seen the collapse of the party Left as the carrier of a contending idea, and where although the non-party, independent left has made attempts over the years to spell out alternatives,10 and while there are many non-party attempts going even now to do this, there is as yet a lack of a coherent, larger alternative idea-system to divisive, opportunist communal politics that has now so widely grabbed the attention of ordinary people because of the precarity and uncertainty they are forced to live in. Moreover, along with the surrender of all political parties to the ideology of neoliberalism, there has also been a major disintegration of trade unions and of organised labour as a serious force in the country, including in terms of the leadership that they earlier offered in resistance to the onslaught of capitalism and authoritarianism. Equally, and although it officially remains the main opposition party, in this time we have also seen a huge collapse in the cohesion and power of the Congress Party – and so where there is now no one party in the country that we can think of influencing in order to get an acceptance of the right to housing as a political idea. But since the struggle for a place to live always remains a fundamental struggle for all labouring and working people, we therefore now have to do a major rethink how to struggle for housing.

We tend to think of ‘housing’ as being something that happens in urban areas only. Even if it’s true that the idea of ‘housing’ as a commodity applies more to urban areas, it is vitally important to realise that the struggle for ‘housing’ as a place to live is equally true for people living in rural areas. For instance, and as a result of the changes that have taken place as sketched out above, the process of displacement from rural areas has hugely widened and intensified in this time, from agriculture, from forest areas, and from rivers and seashores. Equally, people in rural areas all over the country are losing access to the natural resources that they depended on for their housing needs as those resources – bamboo and minor forest produce, hay from the fields, reeds from water bodies, and water itself, from rivers and common tanks – are being handed over to industries to exploit. All this has happened because of the intensification of the industrialisation and mechanisation of the country’s economy as a part of the integration of the country’s economy into the global economy. It has not only resulted in the intensification for the demand of natural resources but also in the uprooting of all those who stood, and today stand, in the way of extraction. So the struggle for a place to live is one that people living in rural areas and urban areas share, and needs to be waged together.

Although forced displacement has been and is being militantly resisted and challenged in many parts of the country by independent movements such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the country has seen the displacement of some eight crores of people since independence, by big projects alone.

It is vital to understand that these huge changes in the country and in the lives of people are not only a ‘consequence’ of the economic and political policies chosen by governments but are their direct objective. Another aspect has been the enormous priority given by successive governments to the middle classes in the country and to encouraging the growth and prosperity of this class. In just two generations, India now has one of the biggest middle classes in the world. These classes mostly live in big urban areas, but they are now also increasingly living in smaller urban centres – and where these smaller towns are today the fastest growing urban areas in the country, much more than the big cities. One effect of the growth of this new class is a hugely expanded demand for land for their housing and pleasure activities, leading to massive displacement especially in the peripheral areas

For a recent example, see : Ashish Kothari and K J Joy, eds, 2017 – Alternative Futures : India Unshackled.

4 ) around big cities; and also for consumer goods – that, to be made and used, require massive extraction from rural areas (such as electricity but also minerals, oil, coal, timber, forest produce, herbs, and agricultural produce in general, as well as water). So this rising demand in urban areas is also having a massive impact on living conditions for the labouring and working classes and castes both in urban and rural areas.

Another effect of the emergence of this new class has been the massive attempt by the government to move the country to a cashless economy (such as by the withdrawal of all high value notes in November 2016 in the name of stopping the ‘black market’, and the massive attempt by the government immediately after that to persuade people of all classes to move to using debit cards). If we step back, we realise that the traditional economy for the majority of people in the country is a cash economy, and that in particular, the entire world of the labouring and working classes and the so-called ‘informal sector’ that they make up is largely based on the cash economy. These steps therefore need to be understood for what they are – which was a direct attack on ordinary working and labouring people, as a part of the government’s attempt to not only build up an urban middle class but also to then draw political support from this captive class (and to benefit the corporations who run banks and the debit card businesses). But by doing this, the government has only attacked the labouring and working classes and castes but also deepened structural(class and caste) discrimination in the country, and where those who resist or who have no option but to continue to work in cash because they do not have the means or capacity to participate in the cashless economy, are being ruthlessly excluded and then labelled ‘criminals’ for continuing to work through a cash economy.

This change, and the huge change and inflation in the urban land market, is having a massive negative impact on the labouring and working classes and castes in all the big cities, and perhaps also in all smaller towns, too. The areas where large sections of the labouring and working classes and castes had so far lived in urban areas – on unused land, swampy land, and along rail lines and canals – were ‘outside’ the land market and were therefore somewhat insulated from redevelopment and takeover. But things have come to a point today where land and housing are the most valuable commodities in the country, and so the so-called ‘land market’ (which in reality means land developers) therefore wants to penetrate and take over every square inch of land in urban areas (and also beyond; look at DLF and other companies in Gurgaon, NOIDA, and all around Delhi) and to evict anyone coming in the way. This has led to a point where there is now in principle, and by definition, no space left in cities for labouring and working classes and castes.

Along with this, there is also an increasing encouragement of a huge rise of ‘urban’ and ‘industrial’ aspirations among younger generations with the idea that ‘the rural’ is backward, as a default setting within a larger political-cultural drive towards modernity – and so where this too is encouraging younger people to abandon villages and to move to towns and cities.

So these are some of the huge changes that have taken place in the country over the past 2-3 decades, and that are continuing to take place with new ideas such as so-called ‘Smart Cities’ and so on. It is important to keep all this in mind as the landscape within which we continue to struggle for a place to live.

On the other hand, we are also in our times seeing a new social and political phenomenon emerging in the country where labouring and working classes and castes in general, and Dalits in particular, are beginning to now take organised spontaneous actions in defence of their rights and to assert their dignity. This is a very important shift and development. And where along with this, there are also now some larger cross-movement, cross-caste organisations that have taken shape since the 1990s, such as the NAPM and the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan, which can offer resources, contacts, and the experience they have.

5 ) Last but not least, another big change has been the emergence and now widespread availability of social media, and its intensive and autonomous use by women and men in movement, at most levels of society and all over the country. People now have a degree of independence, and therefore the potential to coordinate and network, in both their home and working lives, that has never existed before in history. We need to consciously study and to understand the potentials of this much more, of what this can offer us in building our movements and our resistance and struggle. We should also though, realise and keep in mind that the government is very aware of this; because it nowadays regularly uses the shutdown of the internet as a way of suppressing and stifling movement and protest. One example was following the protests against the Tuticorin killings in Tamil Nadu in April- May 2018.

We live in a big country, with many different things going on all the time. This is only a quick and rough sketch of some aspects of the housing question in India today, to give us a background for our current struggles.

Question to readers : What are your own thoughts about all this ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

 

Some underlying and emerging issues

There are however, some fundamental issues that we must keep in mind while thinking about the struggle for the right to housing and how it is different from other struggles. Some that underlie our present reality, and some that are emerging in our times.

First, and only to repeat, the struggle for the right to housing is not just about having four walls and a roof as that, by itself, does not bring security and dignity. Rather, the struggle for housing is in fact more basic; it is nothing less than a struggle to gain, or to retain, a secure place to live with dignity, and for every woman, man, and child. This struggle – for a place to live, and to gain, retain, defend, and maintain a place to live – is one of the most fundamental struggles in life, and especially for the labouring and working classes and castes.

We need to step back and think about what our homes offer us. Our home is our place in the world; it offers us security, it gives us dignity. It is the place from which we establish many and even most of our social and economic relations, and from which we claim two of our most basic political rights and freedoms : We gain our right to vote from the place where we live, and in a sense even more fundamentally, our place to live gives us our freedom and the right to build community and so to exercise governance over our individual and collective lives. And so in a very real sense, all our social, economic, and other relations are constructed around and from this ‘place’. And – very importantly – it is in fact the case that in India, many of our Constitutional and other human rights are linked to where we dwell. In other words, when we are struggling for what is called ‘housing’, we

As already mentioned, for those interested in reading more on this, please take a look at the article by the author titled ‘What is the Nature of the Housing Question in India Today ?’.

6) need to keep in mind at all times that the foundations we are all searching for are not just the foundations of the buildings we will live in, but the foundations of our lives.

It is important also to be clear what we are struggling for. Although what we are struggling is usually called‘housing’ in English and awaas or niwas in Hindi – all of which refer to buildings -, what we are actually looking for is something more sublime. We are first looking for a ‘dwelling’; for a place that we can dwell in, can inhabit. The word ‘housing’ – and words like awaas or niwas – are actually terms that professionals like builders, engineers, and architects have developed and use, because they refers to the ‘things’, the objects, that they know how to produce. (But where as a result of their using these words, and because they say they are ‘experts’ in the field, the rest of us also end up having to use them.) But when we live in a place, we dwell in it. And so where in our own personal exchange, we use the term ghar, rather than awaas. In English therefore, the best term for what we are really struggling for is therefore not ‘housing’, but ‘dwelling’.

So we should always try and keep this in mind, and even if we continue to use the term ‘housing’.

It is important also to keep in mind that many households of the labouring and working classes and castes living in cities or towns live, or ‘dwell’, not only in cities or towns, but also in their / our villages. In many senses therefore, their / our ‘home’ is therefore really in both places. One simple aspect of this is that when saving to improve their / our homes, they / we have to plan for both locations, not just one. Equally, when deciding on who in the family will live in the city and who in the village. This is vitally important to keep in mind in terms of struggle.

We also need at all times to keep in mind that although some good changes have taken place in laws in the last decade or two in relation to the rights of women to a place to live, at a fundamental level most women are still essentially homeless because our society is still very patriarchal. This means that they have no real place of their own. Where they live belongs either to their parents or to their husbands. We need to continue to work to change this.

We need also to always keep in mind that our struggle for housing – for a place to live in security -, is not a single, one-time struggle, but an ongoing, continuous struggle; and that ‘housing’ is not an object that we end up with, but an action. It is something that we will continue to do, right through our lives. We need to think of ‘housing’ in these terms.

While doing this review, we need also to look ahead to the future, and in terms of the conditions within which we live and that are emerging. One of the key issues to look ahead to is climate change, and especially in terms of the people it will most affect, the labouring and working classes and castes.

Noone is 100% sure of what the future is going to look like. But a definite possibility – because of inter-governmental inability to make the necessary policy decisions and to implement them, and in the meanwhile the continued destruction of our planet, Mother Earth – is the onset of cataclysmic changes in the world’s climate within the next few decades. (Many people say that the changes have already started, and that the unstable climate and the intensifying series of storms, forest fires, and floods that we are all seeing, across the world, are proof.)

Even if the experts have just recently declared that we – human society, worldwide – need to aim for an average temperature rise across the world of no more than 1.5o by the year 2030, it is well known that we are actually looking at an average temperature rise of 2o and nearer 3. If this happens, this

12 I acknowledge that even though I say this, we still used the term ‘housing’ in the name of the National Campaign for Housing Rights, which is where we first developed the idea that what we all really struggle for is not ‘housing’ but a place to live. This is because when we started, we were all using the term ‘housing’, and it was only through the experience of the campaign that we developed this new understanding of what we had all, till then, called ‘housing

7) 

will lead to huge changes, in many parts of the world. India / the Indian subcontinent will be one of the centres of this storm. As waters rise and other resources such as land are depleted, those being affected along the coasts will start moving inland or away from areas of water shortage; but where in turn, the new ‘host communities’ who are already living where they try to move to, will resist these migrations and intrusions because of intensifying shortages of land, water, forests, and other resources. This is going to lead to huge conflicts over a place to live, and it is entirely possible that we will move into a historically new stage of life in this part of the world.

The first outcome is likely to be widespread inter-community conflict and violence; the second, the attempt by governments to impose martial law in order to try and preserve what they call ‘law and order’. But in time, and because this cannot work in a situation of such widespread conflict, this is likely to lead to widespread and unpredictable non-linear collapse of all or most social and political structures. Some authors have even said that this might lead to sudden wars between, especially, India and Pakistan – and possibly even nuclear war.13

But whatever happens, if anything like this happens then it is going to affect those who live in towns and cities as much as those who live in rural areas. If this happens, then this onset is in turn likely to unleash forces in combinations that we as yet know nothing about and therefore today, as yet, have no ways of addressing. The so-far somewhat linear, predictable systems and processes of ‘national’ social organisation, planning, government, and decision-making that we so far know and depend on are likely to be completely inadequate in the face of the unpredictable ‘non-linear’ changes that are now opening up. New actors such as warlords are likely emerge, to take advantage of the turmoil. As a consequence of this, we on this subcontinent – but also quite possibly, more widely, and therefore human beings as a species – are perhaps going to be faced with what in some ways may be almost totally new forms, or manifestations, of war and violence. These new forms will severely challenge all known forms of social organisation and government; and will perhaps even make them irrelevant. If anything like this happens, this will have huge impacts on how, and where, we and our children live.

This is an extremely grim possibility, but climate change has already started happening and having effects, in India and in many countries; and sp what I have outlined here could well take shape within our lifetimes. We need to think about this, and about the possibilities of this happening, and about what we need to do to prevent this.

Question to readers : What are your own thoughts about all this ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

 

What makes the struggle for the right to housing different from other ongoing struggles of farmers, workers, women’s groups, Dalits, etc ?

An important question we need to ask ourselves in the course of our struggles for a place to live is : What is specific about the struggle for the right to housing ? And what makes it different from the other ongoing struggles of farmers, workers, women’s groups, Dalits, etc ?

13 Gwynne Dyer, 2010 – Climate Wars : The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats..

8) 

At one level, yes the struggle for a place to live is different from other struggles in many ways – but even as we start trying to see the differences, it’s important to always keep in mind at another level, it is also the same struggle – in several important ways :

      • It is a simple reality that all members of the labouring and working classes and castes – whether Dalits or forest dwellers, and whether in cities or villages, and whether men or women – have to constantly struggle to retain or to gain a place to live. So it’s a common struggle, for all !
      • But the struggle for a place to live is also different from many other struggles precisely because it’s a common struggle for all : Meaning, because it is common to all, it can therefore be a natural platform with the potential of bringing together communities and movements that otherwise have strong identities and that therefore otherwise normally tend to struggle alone, or separately. The struggle for a place to live is therefore a space within which to learn from each others, to build solidarities, and to strengthen each other.
      • Another aspect is that those in the struggle for a right to a place to live have an advantage that they can and should take advantage of. It is widely accepted in the country – in the Constitution, but also even in middle class and middle and upper caste society – that ‘housing’ is a fundamental human ‘need’. For instance, think of the common slogan that also became the title of a popular film, roti, kapda, aur makaan. (Though note the use of the word makaan in this title, again betraying the middle class origin both of this slogan and the film.) This is not true, say of the rights of farmers, or of forest dwellers and workers. Because of this, ruling classes and castes therefore find the right to housing (maybe even more than just for ‘a place to live’) more difficult to ignore or to dismiss. It is therefore important for us to think out ways of how to take maximum strategic advantage of this acceptance, at all stages in our struggle for gaining or defending a place to live. This includes in trying to translate this acceptance into getting ‘a secure place to live with dignity for all’ recognised as a Constitutional right. How best can we do this ?
      • Some progress has been made in this area in earlier decades; how can we build on that now ? Here are some examples : – To a large extent because of the wide acceptability of the idea at that time, and as a result of the work of the National Campaign for Housing Rights, in 1989 three of the- then four major political parties (the BJP, the CPIM, and the CPI) included the demand for housing as a Constitutional right in their election manifestos.14 But they now no longer talk about this. How can we get all the political parties to again agree on this basic demand ? o The Congress, that was then in power, did not adopt the idea of housing as a Fundamental Right but it accepted many of the ideas behind this demand, and included them in the country’s National Housing Policy in 1991, again as a result of the work of the National Campaign for Housing Rights.15 How can we get the Congress Party to again agree on this demand ? o To a large extent as a result of the work we did here in India, the idea of ‘housing’ as a fundamental right also came to be accepted at the international level, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. An organisation named the ‘Habitat International Coalition’ very actively took up this campaign, and succeeded in getting the idea recognised in the work of the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organisations and institutions, as the ‘right to adequate housing’.16 Even if we may otherwise often be in struggle against international finance institutions, how can we take advantage of their acceptance of this idea ?   NCHR 1989 – The Right to Housing in the 1989 Election Manifestos. 15 NCHR, March 1988 – ‘Framework for a Democratic Housing Policy’. 16 UN Office of the Commissioner on Human Rights, nd – ‘CESCR General Comment No 4 : The Right to Adequate Housing (Article 11(1) of the Covenant’
    • 9)
      • Unlike many other struggles, the struggle for a place to live in security is not a single issue, but is made up of a range of different issues. What this means in practice is that those in struggle can choose to focus on whichever is most important for them at a given point of time or (and this is important to keep in mind) which is most achievable at a given point in time. (As an example : Before elections, and after elections.) We need to therefore always think of our struggle for a place to live in security as being bricks, which we can add, one at a time. Here are some examples, in urban areas : o The right to secure tenure o The right to be given adequate notice before any displacement o The right to drinking water where one lives o The right to receive post at one’s home – and also, and in other words, to have one’s address officially recognised o The right to register as a voter from where one lives, even if it is a jhuggi o The right to co-ownership, or co-tenancy, by women o The rights of women heading households to be treated equally to men who head

        households

      • Another way to look at this is that just as we build our homes bit by bit – not all at once –, so also we have to build the right to live in security bit by bit; brick by brick.
      • At the same time, and even if all this may be true, we need to always keep in mind that the struggle for the right to a place to live is not ‘superior’ to, or more important than, other rights. Someone who has lost her home because of eviction, or fire, or flood, will of course first struggle to find livelihood, and so to get some food and clothing, for herself and her family. And so such a person may even accept being homeless for a while till she can again find a foothold. But where gaining that foothold will itself is part of finding a place to live. And so where the two struggles are in fact one.What are your thoughts about all this ? Does the above make sense to you ? What other ways do you feel that the struggle for the right to a place to live is different from other struggles for social justice ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

What are the challenges faced by dwellers in struggle and by activists working with them, both in gaining a place to live and in resistance – in defending a place to live ?

The first challenge may be having to simultaneously address so many different aspects of the struggle for a place to live… here are some examples :

  • Addressing so many different aspects at the same time : Because housing / dwelling is such a fundamental activity, and also – as discussed above – has so many different aspects, it sometimes means addressing several different parts of one’s overall struggle at the same time. The following are some examples :

o For all those who live both in cities and in their villages, it sometimes means

struggling to keep up with struggling for our dwelling rights in both places at once o It may also mean struggling for different rights at once, such as :

10

o The right to be given adequate notice before any displacement o The right to drinking water where one lives o The right to receive post at one’s home – and also, and in other words, to have one’s

address officially recognised o The right to register as a voter from where one lives

  • For many if not all recent migrants to cities and towns, their whole world changes when they make the move. They have to get used to an entirely new world, of now being priced out from living in any decent place to live and to being forced to learn how to live on the absolute margins – the margins of society, the margins of cities -, along rail-lines, along canals, in marshy areas, in hazardous areas like beside garbage dumps – and of being constantly exposed to danger, accidents and being crippled, disease, and death.

For all those forced to live in unauthorised settlements, it means having to constantly struggle against the constant threat of evictions and displacement. This includes having to accept the

patronage of landlords, dadas, or other people with some power or influence, in order to continue living where we are settled; and for women and sometimes also children, having to do sexual favours in order to achieve this.

  • Again, for those living in unauthorised settlements, struggling against the social and legal stigma of being labelled as doing ‘illegal’ things, and of being labelled ‘criminals’ in the eyes of law because we are ‘trespassing’; and therefore, because of this, being denied a whole range of rights such as ration cards, access to hospitals, the right to have drinking water in our settlements, and even the right to vote – and ultimately, having to constantly face eviction and demolition, and without any notice. (It is important to realise that this has taken place so widely now that we today consider this labelling to be ‘normal’. But it not ‘normal’ to be labelled this if such people have no choice. We need to resist this. Noone is illegal !)17
  • In general, having to constantly struggle against the violence of dadagiri, in everything that we have to do, and the struggle to get free of this.
  • The struggle against the intense corruption within municipal bodies, within the police, and so on, and where municipal and police officers are often also in the pay of local dadas – and so where it also has to be a simultaneous struggle.
  • The struggle against discrimination on the basis of caste, racial or ethnic identity, and communal identity that often exists within communities and colonies and also in municipal bodies and so on; and the struggle to overcome these differences in our attempts to build common platforms and community organisations.
  • The constant struggle against the economic and sexual exploitation of the vulnerability of women, youth, and children.
  • The constant threat of so-called ‘natural’ disaster striking : The other result of being forced to live on marginal land and to live in so-called ‘unauthorised’ ways is the constant threat disease and of so-called ‘natural’ disasters such as flooding, collapse of unstable mountains of waste or slag, and so on – and where government authorities always refuse to help in any way, precisely because in their view of things, our settlements are illegal anyway.
  • The constant and unending struggle to accumulate some savings, some capital, so that we can move from the stage we are at to a better, more secure, and more consolidated stage of life for us and our children – and especially given the constant threat of eviction and demolition as well as of natural disasters.
  • Similarly, the constant and unending struggle to accumulate some of what is called ‘social capital’ – getting to know people with some influence, both within the community and outside, in the wider world, who can support us in our struggles – but without being exploited in return.

17 I just want to acknowledge that this is not an original thought. There is a whole movement in some countries named ‘Noone is Illegal’ around so-called ‘illegal’ migrants, built on this same argument. http://nooneisillegal.org/.

  • And where all of this is especially true for women, whether single or with husbands or live-in partners.
  • The related struggle to build commonality and solidarity across communities, overcoming differences such as caste, religion, ethnic identity, history, and so on.
  • Especially for those in leadership roles within communities, and for activists working in support of communities who are trying to get organised and gain some control over this lives, constant threats of violence from dadas and others with social and economic power over the communities – because what they are doing is a challenge to those with power.

What are your own thoughts about all this ? What do you think of this list ? Does this sound like your own experience ? What other points would you like to add ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

 

 

The second challenge is building intersectional understanding and solidarity, within communities and across communities :

While there are always cases of a few individuals, and of individual households, managing to build their lives on their own, all the odds are against labouring and working classes and castes being able to do this. It is therefore in general very difficult for such individuals and households to be able to move ahead without being a member of some or other collective, and without working collectively. And so where it is very important to try, at all stages, to overcome differences and to build common cause; and to get organised !

But this, for all the reasons that we have already listed above, is also difficult to achieve. At the minimum, it requires patience, resilience, a willingness to be open to others, and to trust others. But we have to try.

Having help and advice for doing this from outsiders can be very helpful, as long as you are sure that allowing such persons to offer advice does not allow them to also come into a position where they come into controlling and/or manipulative roles. (See also the next point.)

What are your own thoughts about all this ? What do you think of this list ? Does this sound like your own experience ? What other points would you like to add ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

The third challenge is to overcome differences and to build genuinely local leadership, and to learn to deal with and work with outside (and usually middle class) support activists

  • Dealing with caste, class, religious, and ethnic differences within the community, and the tendency in most communities for dominant classes, castes, etc groups and individuals – and also older males – to think that they are the ‘natural’ leaders and to not allow space for others to rise and come into leadership
  • The tendency in all sections of society to discriminate against women, and in particular, in terms of their playing leadership roles

12)

  • The tendency to discriminate against younger people, and especially younger women, and to not allow them to play leadership roles
  • The importance of literacy, in terms of reading and writing but now also of being able to use computers and mobile phones, to deal with the real world out there
  • The importance of literacy in another sense, social and political literacy – of being familiar with the world out there – municipal bodies, the police, local dadas, local political leaders, etc – and being confident when dealing with them
  • Dealing with the very real need for all members of the labouring and working classes and castes, women and men, to have to work every day, to earn enough to get by – and therefore the very real time conflict with the time that is required for some of them to give time for leadership responsibilities and activities
  • The importance of allowing, and even of encouraging, moral authority to emerge – of enabling some women and men to gain the respect and trust of others, within communities and across communities, and also across different social sections and groups; and also of the outside world
  • The need to create time and opportunities for skill-building to emerge, and especially among emerging leaders, of literacy, and of an understanding of realities within the community and in the world out there
  • Dealing with the very normal tendency of people within communities to trust and respect outside (and usually middle class) activists, in part because of the skills and resources they bring – but where this can sometimes mean a challenge to the trust and respect they have for their own internal leadership
  • Equally, the tendency of local community leadership to trust, respect, and defer to outside (and usually middle class) activists, in part because of the skills and resources they bring, but where this can sometimes undermine the respect and trust that they themselves enjoy within the community
  • Resisting the tendency of outside (and usually middle class) support activists, and especially those belonging to political formations, to play dominating roles in terms of critical aspects of organisation building and planning, such as idea formulation, planning, and strategisation, and sometimes even also in decision-making, even if in a background kind of way. And beyond this, very carefully understanding and assessing the ideological / idea constructs that they (the outside support activists) propose, and instead encouraging them to first learn from the community’s experiences, thoughts, and cosmologies, and to develop and propose ideas and strategies based on this.

What are your thoughts about all this ? What do you think of this list ? Does this sound like your own experience ? What other points would you like to add ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

Fourth, there are also several major challenges for support activists :

 

Outside (and usually middle class) support activists of often have a tendency to play dominating roles in terms of critical aspects of organisation building and planning, because of the skills and resources they bring to the situation and relationship (such as in idea formulation, planning, and strategisation, and sometimes even also in decision-making), and even if in a background kind of way. Given this, outside support activists need to reflect on their own tendencies, and if true, to resist them.

13

  • Beyond the above, working at all times to listen to and to learn from community households and leaders and to help them build strategy and plans based on what they themselves are doing, and on the other hand, resisting the tendency to introduce and then insist (even if subconsciously) on ideological / idea constructs that they as outside activists prefer, and instead working at all times to learn from the community’s experiences, thoughts, and cosmologies.
  • Especially if and when support activists are successful in helping communities get organised, dealing with the sometimes subtle and sometimes very open threats that they will tend to get from local dadas and other people of power and influence; and sometimes, with actual incidents of violence.
  • Given their own somewhat more stable, secure lives, understanding and dealing sensitively with the relentless daily experience of communities of the labouring and working classes and castes in struggle, with setbacks, and so on; and even more, on the other hand, with the experience of seeing communities they have helped get organised move on and become independent – and then ‘returning’ to once again work with the unorganised or less organised, to once again face the experience of discrimination, powerlessness, and exploitation, again and again.
  • Dealing with the repeated setbacks that communities sometimes face, and with the temptation for activists to move on to ‘safer’, less demanding kinds of work.
  • Dealing with the demands of the very normal unfolding of their own family lives – of parents or other close relatives getting old and/or perhaps falling unwell; of getting married; of having children and then needing to spend more time at home; of family demands or even preferences that they move to safer kinds of work, or even to work that brings in greater income; or simply where activists feel they need to, say, return to college and to study more; etc.

What are your thoughts about all this ? What do you think of this list ? Does this sound like your own experience ? What other points would you like to add ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

Moving on now to another major issue :

What are the differences in approach to housing issues by local community organisations and mass organisations and those by various other social actors, such as NGOs, trade unions, and political parties ?

Another important factor to be aware of and to think about is : What are the differences in approach to housing issues by local community organisations and mass organisations and those by various other social actors, such as NGOs, trade unions, and political parties, who may offer to act in support ? This will not always be the case, but it is important for local activists to be aware that this often happens.

In short, it is important for everyone to recognise that there may be a difference in approach to ‘housing’ issues by local community organisations and mass organisations and those by various other social actors, such as NGOs, trade unions, and political parties, who may offer to act in support. This

14

may not be the case, but it is important for all concerned to keep this in mind, and to act with respect. If there is a difference, it is likely to be a result of the simple and obvious difference that the members of local community and mass organisations are dwellers, who have very specific interests vested in where they live and who therefore will tend to have very specific perceptions and to be subjective – whereas all the others are acting in support (and therefore have no direct interest) and may tend to want to always be ‘objective’ and ‘strategic’ – and even to insist on everyone being this. (Except trade unions when they are representing their members in housing struggle, which though, and sadly, is now taking place less and less.)

To put it concretely, dwellers have a fundamental interest invested in defending, retaining, and/or gaining their homes, and they – and in principle anyway, also the community and mass organisations they belong to – are therefore vested in the struggle for housing in ways that others acting in support are not, and cannot be. Outsiders can only be acting in solidarity. In housing struggle, dwellers at all times have something fundamental to gain or to lose; this is not true of others who want to join them in struggle.

It is therefore very important for local community and mass organisations to recognise this difference, and to always be aware that organisations acting in solidarity (and however close they may be, in principle) may put forward proposals for moving ahead in struggle that may be different in nature from how they as dwellers see things; and that this is simply because their relation to the struggle at hand is different. Outsiders and supporters will therefore almost inevitably tend to see things from where they stand, and this may result in proposals that are different, in many ways.

(An example of this might be whereas dwellers and their community organisation may want, when faced with a demand for acquisition of their land, to stay on the land, and to get pattas to the plots they are on, outside organisers may try and advise them to agree to resettlement in high-rise blocks of flats, simply because it is commonly assumed by middle class people that an flat in a pucca block of flats is somehow always and necessarily ‘better’ than a small semi-pucca house on the ground. There are many examples of this in history.)

This is not meant to suggest that proposals made by those acting in support are necessarily wrong. It is only to say that local community and mass organisations need always to be aware that the leadership in formulation of strategy always needs to be led by them, and that they should always take the time to very carefully and critically examine and reflect on proposals made by people acting in support, before accepting them; and to assess the advantages and disadvantages of their own thoughts and of the proposals put forward by outsiders.

On the other hand, and though always keeping this difference in mind, it is also of course of great importance for community and mass organisations to carefully develop strong relationships, built on critical analysis, with NGOs, trade unions, and political parties, who are in far closer contact with the wider world and can bring many important resources as well as experience to bear on a given situation.

What are your thoughts about all this ? What do you think of this list of points ? Does this sound like your own experience ? What other points would you like to add ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

Knowledge and vocabulary in housing struggle :

15)

We need to keep in mind at all times that because local community and mass organisations have a different relationship to housing and to housing struggle than other social actors such as NGOs, trade unions, and political parties, the knowledge that the actual dwellers and their local community and mass organisations have about housing and about local housing struggle is likely to be much deeper and more organic than that of other actors, including of those acting sincerely in support.

Similarly, we need also to keep in mind at all times that the vocabulary that actual dwellers and their local community and mass organisations use for the kind of housing that they build, live in, and defend, and that they use in housing struggle, is also likely to be different (and sometimes much more developed and accurate) than that used by outsiders such as support activists, and including that used by architects, planners, officials, and other so-called ‘experts’. Basically, the difference comes out of the reality of the kind of housing that the labouring and working classes and castes have to live in, and where their vocabulary therefore accurately and organically comes out of, describes, and reflects this reality; whereas those from outside this world tend to use the language, and vocabulary, that describes the housing and housing relations of the dominant sector, the formal sector. Which does not always describe the reality in such settlements.

It is therefore of the greatest importance for dwellers and their local community and mass organisations (also for outside support organisers) to always keep this in mind when struggling for housing or negotiating for it in the midst of struggle. They usually know what’s going on. Their knowledge, and as reflected in their vocabulary, is their great strength, and their invaluable contribution to thinking out strategy.

At the same time, it is of course very important for dwellers and their local community and mass organisations to also take maximum advantage of the access that support organisations have to the outside world, and to regularly ask them to search out and put forward to them not just one strategy for addressing their struggle for a place to live, but more than one alternative, and to work with them in making strategic decisions.

What are your thoughts about all this ? What do you think of this list of points ? Does this sound like your own experience ? What other points would you like to add ? [Please use the space below to jot down your own thoughts, reactions, comments :]

In ending : Once again, please know that this is a working document, for discussion, critique, and revision ! Please note down your own thoughts – and send them to us ! References and Resources :

16)

Arun Deb, 2000 – ‘The UCRC : Its Role in Establishing the Rights of Refugee Squatters in Calcutta’, in Pradip Kumar Bose, ed, 2000 – Refugees in West Bengal : Institutional Arrangements and Contested Identities. Published by Calcutta Research Group, 5-B Mahanirban Road, Calcutta 700 029, India, pp 65-79

Gwynne Dyer, 2010 – Climate Wars : The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats. Oxford, UK : Oneworld Publications

Ashish Kothari and K J Joy, eds, 2017 – Alternative Futures : India Unshackled. New Delhi : AuthorsUpFront

Narmada Bachao Andolan, Narmada Ghati Nav Nirman Samiti, Narmada Asargrast Sangharsh Samiti, and Narmada Dharangrast Samiti, nd c.August 1989 – ‘A Call for Joint Action : National Rally at Harsud, Madhya Pradesh, on September 28 1989’. 1 p. Published by NBA, B-13 Shivam Flats, Ellora Park Road, Baroda 39007, India; now : NBA, ‘Narmada Ashish’, Narmada Bachao Andolan Karyalaya, Kasravat Road, Badwani, Madhya Pradesh 390 023, India

National Working Group on Displacement, 1988-89 – ‘A Draft National Policy on Developmental Resettlement of Project-Affected People’, in Lokayan Bulletin, 1988, and reprinted in Fernandes and Ganguly Thukral, eds, 1989 – Development, Displacement and Rehabilitation, pp 104-134

NCHR, March 1988 – ‘Framework for a Democratic Housing Policy’. Calcutta : National Campaign for Housing Rights Secretariat

NCHR, 1989 – The Right to Housing in the 1989 Election Manifestos. NCHR, Calcutta

NCHR (National Campaign for Housing Rights), July 1990 [July-August 1986] – ‘For Housing as a Basic Right !’. Basic Declaration of the National Campaign for Housing Rights. Calcutta : National Campaign for Housing Rights Secretariat

NCHR, July 1992a – Housing Rights Bill, including a Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment. First draft for public debate. NCHR, Bombay

Jai Sen, September 2001a [December 1996] – ‘Deeper Meanings, Complex Subordination : Explorations into the history and dynamics of movement around the dwelling rights of the kudikidappukaran (attached labour) of Kerala, India’. Paper presented at the International Conference on ‘Kerala’s Development Experience : National and Global Dimensions’, held in New Delhi, India, on December 8-11 1996. Second draft, 36 pp

Jai Sen, August 1984a – ‘A Background Note on the Delhi Anti-Encroachment Bills Passed by Parliament’. Background Paper for Symposium on the Delhi Anti-Encroachment Bills organised by the Jhuggi-Jhonpri Nivasi Adhikar Samiti in New Delhi, August 9-10 1984

Jai Sen, November 2017a [June 1985] – ‘What is the Nature of the Housing Question in India Today ?, Part I’, in Lokayan Bulletin vol 3 no 3 June 1985. Revised and completed version of Part I of Background Paper for a ‘National Workshop on the Housing Question’ organised by Unnayan in Calcutta, India, April 24-28 1985. Uploaded by PT George of Intercultural Resources, New Delhi, India, on November 29 2017 at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o6TEF9Z2nnvjNMD04WDBhMpva0k- ikEU/view (accessed js on 30.11.2017)

Jai Sen, November 2017b [October 1985] – ‘What is the Nature of the Housing Question in India Today ?, Part II’, in Lokayan Bulletin vol 3 nos 4-5, October 1985. Revised and completed version of Part II of Background Paper for a ‘National Workshop on the Housing Question’ organised by

17)

Unnayan in Calcutta, India, April 24-28 1985. Uploaded by PT George of Intercultural Resources, New Delhi, India, on November 29 2017 at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1e3l6qEpUnB5usBt17y_9HVmXx2DDAKec/view (accessed js on 30.11.2017)

Olga Tellis, December 2015 – ‘The crucial 1981 Supreme Court ruling on Pavement Dwellers case ensured compulsory rehabilitation for the evicted’, on Counterview.org, posted on December 15 2015 at https://counterview.org/2015/12/30/the-crucial-1981-supreme-court-ruling-on-pavement-dwellers- case-ensured-compulsory-rehabilitation-for-the-evicted/ (accessed js on 11.03.2018)

UN Office of the Commissioner on Human Rights, nd – ‘CESCR General Comment No 4 : The Right to Adequate Housing (Article 11(1) of the Covenant’, available at http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/47a7079a1.pdf (accessed js on 11.05.2018)

Unnayan, August 1984 – ‘Towards Basic Housing Rights in Our Cities’. A Paper towards a Citizens’ Bill on Housing Rights, presented to Symposium on the Delhi Anti-Encroachment Bills organised by the Jhuggi-Jhonpri Nivasi Adhikar Samiti in New Delhi, August 9-10 1984

Unnayan, 1992 – Basti Movement in Calcutta : Housing struggle of basti dwellers in the 1950s in Calcutta. Published by Unnayan, 36/1A Garcha Road, Calcutta 700 019

A note on the author :

I come from a very particular experience, of having worked for many years as a social architect and planner and housing activist. In particular, I worked from 1974-1991 in direct community and mass organisation with communities of the labouring poor in Calcutta (now Kolkata) around social housing and planning issues, primarily through a social organisation named Unnayan (meaning ‘development’ in Bengali, in the sense of unfolding, self-realisation). The issues we at Unnayan addressed included supporting communities to incrementally gain their dwelling rights; to resist eviction and displacement; to get organised as a community, to act together; and to manage the consolidation of occupation and in some cases the re-occupation of land, through the building of schools, community centres, and so on; and also in terms of supporting women and men in consolidating their livelihoods, such as through building cooperatives. We also worked on the documentation of the living and working conditions of such communities in Calcutta and on developing and publicly advocating planning and policy alternatives, and through a mass organisation named Chhinnamul Sramajibi Adhikar Samiti where some of us were members, we also supported public demands by the labouring poor of the city for recognition, for respect, and for rights. We also worked for some years in post- disaster housing reconstruction in urban and rural areas in West Bengal, supporting ordinary people to reconstruct their homes by providing information on better construction.

I then came to be also involved, along with many others in the country, in building an all-India campaign called the National Campaign for Housing Rights,18 and through that a progressive national housing policy19 and a draft People’s Bill for Housing Rights;20 and then in building an international campaign for housing rights through an international organisation, the Habitat International Coalition. Now that I look back, I can see that I was therefore very involved – and without being conscious of this at that time – in the developing and practising what were in many ways two new fields : One

18 NCHR (National Campaign for Housing Rights), July 1990 [July-August 1986] – ‘For Housing as a Basic Right !’. Basic Declaration of the National Campaign for Housing Rights. 19 NCHR, March 1988 – ‘Framework for a Democratic Housing Policy’. 20 NCHR, July 1992a – Housing Rights Bill, including a Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment.

18)

that came to be called, for good or for bad (I will come back to this), ‘housing rights’; and also, and in a general sense along with some other architects in the country, of a practice in social housing,architecture, and planning.

With respect to all this, I think it is important for me to mention that I am an upper middle class and caste, and now aging male, and that I was largely educated outside India. I chose to drop out of a successful practice in mainstream urban design in Canada to re-educate myself about architecture as ordinary people understand it, and where I moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to do this. My class, caste, and ‘foreign-returned’ character both opened some doors for me and closed others.

I mention all this at the outset in order to locate myself with respect to the subject, as a partisan. Even if I have since moved on and am now working in another – if related – field, of movement studies, what I have written here comes from this experience and from this position, this location, within the production and reproduction of what is commonly called ‘housing’, and within society and existing social relations.

 

Leave a Response