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​We met Harbai in the middle of South East Delhi. Harbai lives in a trash bag-made tent with three of her children and husband. She and a few others were allowed by their employer to set up their housing nearby the sewage pipes they work at. Unfortunately, due to a technical problems, this week Harbai and other workers haven’t been able to work and since they are paid by worked day, they haven’t received their salary for three days now. Harbai also expressed concern for not being able to send her kids to school since she didn’t have money to pay the basic fee.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda
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While talking to Harbai, we were quickly surrounded by ten adults and a handful of children. Our translator, Jayalakshmi, quickly shifted her focus and started talking to one of the men. He, a driver, wanted to be part of the conversation. We asked him if he felt safe at night in the camp. He said yes, but Harbai quickly jumped in and said she didn’t. She mentioned that children are being kidnapped and she doesn’t feel safe at night.

Observing the surroundings of the camp built in the middle of a road adjacent to a highly trafficked highway, I realised that there are no sanitary facilities. One of the residents said they could take baths in the housing project nearby where residents have access to public showers and toilets. Children, were barefeet running around in the middle of traffic. A thirteen year-old girl was washing dishes in a small tub with brown water. She doesn’t go to school and takes care of her siblings.

The communities who have access to government housing and public toilets have resources that these more vulnerable individuals don’t.

Is there a way to create a network between individuals living in tents and those living in the adjacent government housing so that the tent residents could eventually live in the government housing?

How might communities living in non-permanent housing have access to information about their rights and be empowered to get proper pay by their employer?

How might these communities have access to permanent housing?


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Photo of Meena Kadri

Lots to think about here, Luisa. In terms of thinking about how they might receive information – I'm wondering about how these people currently receive information?

Given their extreme impermanence, I'm guessing they don't have televisions (although many established slums in India actually have quite high TV penetration per household) Do they listen to radio? Are they semi-literate / literate – and if so... what languages can they read / understand? (wondering because many wage labourers are migrants) Are there differences between men and women in regards to receiving and sharing information?

Also: Do they ever have community meetings? Do the people in the government housing ever have community meetings? What kinds of things do they meet over? (could point to opportunities for inviting those in non-permannent housing joining them) I also wonder what the attitudes of those in the government housing are towards those like Harbai-ji and others living in the non-permanent areas.

I know it's likely too late to ask Harbai-ji these questions – but perhaps they might be worth exploring with others you are speaking with.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

A lot of great questions Meena. I can see that like me, you wish you could be there in the field. :-)
Luisa, it'd be great if you could explore some of these questions (and some related to the points I made above) in your next interviews, observations., that would be great. It feels like you're our eyes and ears (and mouth). : -) Thanks Luisa!

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