Discussions revealed that what people wanted was to lead a life of dignity and respect and the parameters for measuring these were access to food, water, sanitation and education. Getting children into school was the first major challenge that the organization took on. The organization members along with the representatives of the slum clusters met with and persuaded the authorities to give 500 children admission to the local government schools. (Education for Children) This seemed like a miracle to the people of the slum clusters and they whole heartedly committed themselves to the process that the organization was trying to initiate, coming together as a group.
Another major problem faced by the people was their dependence on moneylenders who exploited their poverty and charged exorbitant rates of interest, sometimes going as far as to usurp a person’s tenement in return for an unpaid loan. In 1993, an initiative called Mahila Ekta Kosh (Women Unity Fund) was started with women putting in Rs.10 per week into their account to build some kind of savings. This initiative ran successfully for 10-12 years and it helped hundreds of women to liberate from the clutches of money lenders. Apart from the obvious financial benefits, it also helped in empowering the women and increasing their participation in other aspects of the organization’s work.
Efforts were also made simultaneously to get water, electricity and toilets and to deal with corrupt ration dealers etc. In every case, the aim was not just to solve the immediate problem, but to create awareness about urban governance — the existing norms, provisions, rights and entitlements, and to bring people together to address the issue on their own without being dependent on any outside agency. Measures for perspective building, and towards eliminating gender bias and prejudices against people from other castes, regions and religions were always integrated into the process.
The slums in Delhi, as in other urban centers, are clusters of dwellings of poor migrant workers and their families who come to the city to earn a living. In 1982, before the Asian Games, the contractors brought in 10 lakh (1 million) workers into the city for development and beautification projects. In the following years, migration has been on the rise owing to lack of sources of livelihood in rural areas. While the first master plan for Delhi (made in 1962) included space within the city for the poor, in recent decades, rising real estate prices and changing policies of the government made the slum dweller more vulnerable. While the services of informal sector workers (domestic workers, construction workers, rickshaw pullers etc) were still required, their right to living space and basic resources was questioned. From 2000-2006, aided by court orders, around 350 slums, many that had been in existence.
for decades, were demolished in the name of making the city clean and more beautiful. Meanwhile, the rehabilitation procedure was made so complicated that roughly two thirds of the families were left homeless, the others being given plots in locations very far from their sources of livelihood. A survey done by the Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation in 2011 says that one in five persons living in Delhi is a slum dweller. There are 3,133 slums in the city, 1,058 of them registered, with 31.63 lakh (3.16 million) people living in them.