My name is Isaac Arul Selva I was born and brought up here in Bengaluru, Karnataka I was born in a locality next to MG Road called Markham Road and I have been living in a slum in the Koramangala area since 1975. This slum is located in what used to be the Koramangala lake The slum residents were not provided access to drinking water, proper drains or toilet facilities for nearly 25 years after they were relocated there. In 1999, we realised that unless we organised ourselves and demanded our rights organised ourselves and demanded our rights the government would not do anything for us. Our slum was behind what used to be the Jakkarayanakere lake which was converted into a stadium and eventually into a Bangalore Metro workshop In the process of converting the lake (and the slum) into a stadium the authorities relocated our slum to Koramangala lake, which was not yet filled in As a consequence, during the first rains, our dwellings were flooded with water from the lake. We were forced to gather all our belongings and move to higher ground and once the water receded, we moved back to the original slum We had to live a nomadic life like this, trapped in an islet of sorts, with a sewer on one side, a milk processing plant on one side and an open plain on the other side Back then, there were no settlements beyond the lake and the nearest one was Adugodi that we could access only through a kachcha (mud) road. We had initiated a protest in 1986 for proper facilities, but that was not successful I was 16 years old then. The corporation authorities washed their hands off by claiming that the slum was not under their jurisdiction and it was under Koramangala village panchayat limits. When we approached Koramangala village panchayat with our request we were told that they did not have the funds to provide drinking water to so many people We approached the slum development board next and again we were told that they could do something only for those slums that were under city limits The irony here is that they involuntarily relocated us who were in the centre of the city, to outside city boundaries and then claimed that they were helpless! My younger brother was born in 1976/77. We wished to conduct a naming ceremony for him and went to the nearby church. Another church also said the same thing. We had to organise and protest simply to have our slum included under their parish! My elder brother joined the Indian Army in 1988-89 He was allocated a cooking gas connection which we tried to transfer from Delhi to Bangalore (and subsequently to our area) Again, all the gas agencies around our area said they did not service our slum. In summary, they created this island in Bangalore city and left us stranded on it. These experiences shaped our thinking and we realised that we had to organise and ask questions of the authorities: why did relocate us, without our voluntary agreement, to this no-man's-land and deny us our basic rights? Beginning in 1986, we started socially orienting ourselves to these issues. When the General elections came around in 1999, we boycotted all political parties from campaigning in our area and asked them why they deserved our votes when none of them had done anything for us in all these years. We were constantly turned away from every service under the excuse of non-jurisdiction, but come elections we miraculously found ourselves included under the jurisdiction of an election constituency Our agitation captured quite a bit of media attention, especially newspapers and forced the government into action. Based on our previous advocacy work with the Corporation, we were allocated a sum of Rs. 2 crore and 30 lakhs for provision of water and sanitation services, benefitting around 5,000 families. for provision of water and sanitation services, benefitting around 5,000 families. What we have learned from our experiences traversing Karnataka is that there are no upper-caste or upper-class people who live in slums. Those inhabiting slums are those who exist outside the traditional Varnashrama hierarchy (four Varnas) of Brahmins-Kshtariyas-Vaishyas-Shudras (not many Shudras live in slums either) This taught us that the practice of untouchability that was followed in villages in India, where untouchable communities were kept at a distance outside village boundaries, is being replicated in Indian cities in the form of slums. In cities, these slums are located outside city limits and as the cities sprawl, the slums are further pushed out. The 'untouchables' are systemically denied entry into the village, access to drinking water and other types of social resources/services. All these aspects of untouchability are being propagated in cities today. These observations lead us to conclude that the housing rights question cannot be framed without taking into account the social identity of those denied housing rights. It is not just an issue of these people being denied a roof over their heads, but a result of thousands of years of discrimination. Those who were denied the basic dignity of life over the years in villages have been brought to and enslaved in today's cities. For example, just compare the Consumer Price Index and the wages of sweepers, construction workers, etc. If the salaries of those in the organised sector are fixed on the basis of the CPI, why does it not apply in the case of these labourers as well? Why I call this exploitation or enslavement is because these people are forced to work through the day eat at night and repeat the cycle again once hunger strikes the next morning, with no prospect of escape from this vicious circle because they have no access to education, housing, or healthcare. upward social mobility is a pipe dream since these people have no access to the resources that would enable them. We had to represent ourselves with a united voice We organised ourselves along the lines of committees in every slum, building up a bottom-up federated structure at the taluk, district and state levels. This was almost a decade-long effort to put this structure together. We had a sizable team overseeing this. n addition to this, we felt the need for a communication tool or platform that represented our voice faithfully. Mainstream TV and newspaper outlets were never too concerned with our issues as slum-dwellers were not part of their viewership/readership demographic and there was no market incentive for them to lend us their voice. This spurred us on to start a newspaper of our own called 'Slum Jagatthu' in October 2000 when the first edition was published We had no funding mechanism, relying on voluntary contributions of our staff and the benevolence of a printing press with whom we arranged to pay for publishing services from the proceeds of sales of copies in the subsequent month. We have continued to operate for 20 years now under the same business model. There exists no real body of literature that is relevant to this sociological segment. If you pick up any sociological textpertaining to the urban landscape in Karnataka, you will realise that it is written in a manner that reflects the attitude of an upper-caste/class person with respect to a sanitation worker or manual scavenger, as if that is their fate and nothing can done to improve their lot. So it is important to represent the perspective of such underprivileged communities and I separate the activism & organising side and the research & publication side to achieve this. This positive outcome from the activism which I personally led gave me a lot of encouragement to carry my work forward. I also realised that there might other communities, such as casual labourers in restaurants, garment factories, etc out there who are similarly in need and could use our help and support We started reaching out to other slums and communities in our vicinity, going on to extend our activism to other areas in Bangalore and beyond eventually reaching almost the whole of Karnataka state by the end of 2000. To understand the wider issues in Karnataka, we organised a caravan roadshow covering a total distance of nearly 2,000 km across 19 districts and 60 taluks. We spoke to people from across Karnataka, came to realise that these issues are not endemic to only our slum, but it was prevalent everywhere. he governments had consistently failed to provide people their rights in every city. It is not that the government or the private sectors do not have resources either. But they consciously fail to provide adequate resources for us in city, state and union budgets. 100 out of 224 MLAs in Karnataka are dependent on votes they garner from slums to win their seats. Yet the share of the budget allocated towards slum development is miniscule typically around Rs. 20-25 crore. Maybe Rs. 100 crore if they are feeling generous. What are the MLAs representing us in the Assembly doing? Typically activism strategy is two pronged, one with a focus on engaging with those in power, the other focused on engaging the people in the community. We decided that engaging the representatives in power was not effective, so we focused on building pressure groups through community engagement and dialogue to empower them to take control of the issues relevant to them. Previously, activism in this sphere was based on building networks of slums or households. We tweaked this approach to build unions of underprivileged/downtrodden communities in cities. For example, there are the Gollas, Madigas, Oleyas and the lower-caste Muslims and Christians (who converted from other religions) We don't think that these Muslims and Christians are any different from other downtrodden communities living in slums it's just that they came out of the so-called Hindu caste hierarchy finding themselves unable to live with dignity under the discrimination they were subjected to and sought out a new identity for themselves. this way a union of people works better than a union of slums, because if you organise as a union of slums, once it sees some form of development it loses its identity, but when we build on the premise of people's identity it does not get eroded as easily. We do understand that this is a double-edged sword. If you organise around people's social identity, it is hard to get them to see things from beyond that prism. There have been several movements based on this across Karnataka and we have studied them before formulating our strategy with regard to what we can do within and outside of this framework. We have put together a system where we consciously groom leaders from among the Dalits or the "untouchable" groups to lead these unions of people from disadvantaged communities, and our activism has been centered on this approach throughout. Does this mean we have achieved all the goals we set out to achieve? Definitely not. Our objectives are actually very different. We are still an evolving experiment (speaking from my own perspective) and we have much more to do and it's a long road ahead. Governments today are dependent and concentrated in cities, the rural regions are not as crucial to a government's purpose. In that sense, if we can bring all these underprivileged groups of citizens together, they can hold the government accountable to a greater extent by wielding greater bargaining power. And we want to make it a sustainable movement that lasts into the future. When it comes to organising for activism, there is something called the Trade Union model. Under this, there exists one-to-many relationship between an individual leader and the members of the community that they identify with and connect to. We prefer to develop a many-to-many relationship between members of the community, so that there is no dependency on an individual to carry forth the interests of the community. Another model for organising is what we call the Republican Model. we mean that all the communities that are part of our federation have equal representation within the system. This is a safeguard against certain communities dominating the narrative within the federation and allows everyone to assert their rights equitably and fairly. The trade union model follows a top-down approach, with the leadership dictating the terms. The republican model however, follows a bottom-up approach with features such as regular elections every 2-3 years at the grassroots, district and state levels. I have been the state coordinator for around 4-5 years and currently someone else has been elected in that capacity. This regular turnover of leaders ensures that there is no succession crisis that is inherent in a personality cult-based leadership model. This also allows greater creativity and diversity of ideas and thoughts that can emerge from within the federation and communities. Another feature of this model is that there is no designated media spokesperson Somebody from Tumkur or Hosapete can put forth their views to the media as the state coordinator, so there's no centralisation of authority. Another area we are focusing on is the politicisation process. We have organised several workshops and publications across the state to get more common folk comfortable with and conversant in the discussion of issues that one would only associate with the organisation's leaders, so they are more politically aware and empowered to participate in political dialogue. This enables them to go on a process of self-discovery and self-determination, seeking out those that they can associate and identify with and choosing for themselves other disadvantaged communities that they can ally with instead of having these decisions made for them by an individual leader. These organising models mutate constantly to transform into different unions or communities. You can start an organization but it won't remain the same forever. For example, the street vendors might come to you and request that you resolve an issue for them. That will spin off into a street vendors' union And similarly for auto drivers, sanitation workers, manual scavengers, sex workers etc. So once the issue at hand is resolved, they evolve into other things So what used to be the slum development union has become a federation of underprivileged communities in cities. We just provide the initial momentum for organising and let them evolve organically. Once I have completed a certain body of work and achieved some set objectives with an organisation I pass the baton on to someone else within and focus on other priorities. One dimension of these underprivileged communities is that, shorn of proper identity and dignity of their human existence, they can be manipulated by vested interests to serve their own purposes. For example, the police need to meet their case count targets or demonstrate results, they pick up some boys from the slum and register cases against them. Municipalities have always left underprivileged communities shorthanded in their budgets, choosing instead to focus on providing services to the planned localities and neighbourhoods. State governments too do not allocate resources in proportion to the population of communities. You can safely assume that at least 35% of Karnataka's urban population can be classified as poor. According to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), around 51% of Bangalore's population lives in single room dwellings. These statistics do not take into account the migrant workers, the homeless street dwellers, or those living in slums. This is not viewed as a housing crisis, because those living in single-room dwellings, typically belonging to the backward communities, do not wish to live in slums where they would have to coexist with the "untouchables" or the lower-caste Muslims and Christians who eat beef. With this being the nature of the housing crisis, what should the state government's priority be in their allocation of resources through budgets? These institutions always claim that they do not have enough resources to provide basic services such as drinking water to slums, but based on a single statement by Mr. Narayana Murthy of Infosys, they scramble resources to construct a flyover from Madiwala to the Infosys office [in Electronic City] Even as thousands of underprivileged folks are calling attention to their basic needs, these prestige projects are prioritised based on single statement from Narayana Murthy. This is the reality we have to face in cities today. We had to represent ourselves with a united voice We organised ourselves along the lines of committees in every slum, building up a bottom-up federated structure at the taluk, district and state levels. This was almost a decade-long effort to put this structure together. We had a sizable team overseeing this. n addition to this, we felt the need for a communication tool or platform that represented our voice faithfully. Mainstream TV and newspaper outlets were never too concerned with our issues as slum-dwellers were not part of their viewership/readership demographic and there was no market incentive for them to lend us their voice. This spurred us on to start a newspaper of our own called 'Slum Jagatthu' in October 2000 when the first edition was published We had no funding mechanism, relying on voluntary contributions of our staff and the benevolence of a printing press with whom we arranged to pay for publishing services from the proceeds of sales of copies in the subsequent month. We have continued to operate for 20 years now under the same business model.