March 03, 2005

Going to the dogs

The fetching film star Raveena Tandon, I learn from the Bombay Times (March 2), has started a campaign in support of Maharashtra's Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Via SMS, she has sent out an appeal to back Deshmukh's slum clearance efforts. It comes complete with fax numbers for Deshmukh's party boss, Sonia Gandhi, in Delhi, so you can write directly to her. Citizens, believes Tandon, must come together to help the CM "in his campaign to make Mumbai a better place to live." After all, she told the Bombay Times, "people continue to defecate in front of our building."

All of which sets off several thoughts in my mind. How is the CM making the city a better place to live? By destroying the homes of -- last I heard -- nearly half a million people. That is, by making it harder for half a million residents of this city to live their lives. For that half million, clearly, Deshmukh's efforts have not turned Bombay into a better place to live.

So are we to believe that even with this damage to so many lives, Bombay is somehow, taken in aggregate, a better place to live?

And related to that: a better place to live for whom? Over half of my city -- that's right -- lives in slums and on the streets. Why shouldn't Deshmukh be making this a better place to live for all its residents, including that 50-plus per cent? Or put it this way: suppose some cellphone toting slum resident starts up a SMS campaign suggesting that Deshmukh make this a better place to live by demolishing blocks of flats in the city. Would you support that? Would Tandon? Why or why not? Logically, how is it in any way different from Tandon's SMS campaign? Taking numbers alone, you might even find that it would get greater support than Tandon's. Then which campaign should prevail?

And that defecation. Seventy per cent of superpower-aspirant 21st Century India lacks access to sanitation. Meaning seven of every ten Indians must use the side of the road, railway tracks, rocks at low tide and so forth, to defecate. Half of those, meaning the women, wake before dawn every day just so they can hold on to some little bit of privacy. (I smacked up against this reality some years ago when I walked through a Madhya Pradesh village one dark pre-dawn. A series of embarrassed womanly giggles on either side of me -- too dark to see the women -- told me where I was and what I was doing).

What happens when you hold Tandon's distaste for defecation near her building up to the mirror formed by that seventy per cent?

Besides, consider this. Every morning, I walk my son to school through the leafy lanes of the suburb where we live. In the mornings, those lanes are veritable obstacle courses. Lumps of shit lie everywhere. But not human shit. They are courtesy the dogs who live in the buildings around us. Some of those buildings even house film stars, like Tandon herself.

We are OK with our own dogs going out to take a dump and leaving the results on our streets. But we are not OK with humans doing so; in fact, such humans must be driven out and their homes destroyed.

OK, got that.

***


I suggested this in a comment somewhere that I am too lazy to dig up. Here are two suggestions to tackle the proliferation of slums. I offer them as an alternative to such things as banning the entry of "outsiders" into Bombay, or to declaring all slum housing built after January 1 1995 illegal, or to demolishing homes by the thousand. Will anyone take them up?

  • Declare all babies born after January 1 1995 illegal, and prohibit any further production of babies in Bombay. Given that natural growth -- babies -- now constitutes better than 75 per cent of the growth of the city, this is a far more effective way of curbing the growth of Bombay than preventing "outsiders" from coming in. Once this ban takes effect, growth will quickly slow down and stop altogether, and we will eventually have no slums.


  • Declare all jobs created after January 1 1995 illegal, and ban any further creation of jobs in Bombay. Given that it is jobs and opportunity that attract people to this city, this will quickly put a halt to the "outsiders" coming here. Again, this will mean that we will eventually have no more slums.



Nobody to take these up? Well, is there someone who can explain to me why these steps are logically any different from demolishing slum houses?

22 comments:

Vasanth said...

I have seen celebrities campaigning for social causes (are they serious about it is anybody’s guess) and this is the height of it. All these celebrities who campaign for slum demolitions earns crores and crores of money and spent that notoriously in housing, night pubs and what not? Instead of wasting money on sending SMS, why can’t they chip in with money and help rehabilitating those who have lost their houses or just shut up and mind their own businesses.

annie said...

Trivia, but interesting here: A few years ago, Ms Tandon was going through a 'bad emotional phase' after being heartbroken. In an interview, she admitted going through severe depression. During this phase, she would drive up and down the streets of Bombay, at night, peering into the heart-breaking evenings of the homeless and the slum-dwellers. She said it used to give her courage - seeing how much worse things are, for the poor... her heartbreak paled in comparison... I'd think she, of all people, would be a little mroe sympathetic to the slums

Abhi said...

Well, we have ignored the slums problem of Mumbai for far too long. Mumbai is a totally unliveable city because of the slums. Yes, granted that the people living in them form the backbone of the social structure. But that does not justify their existence as it is now.
With this issue, is it difficult to sit on the fence and do nothing but just keep opposing slum demolition. I can sympathize with Ms. Tandon, in that regards. To ask the celebrities to part with their money requires us to proportionally part with ours (money or effort), which very few of us do. The problem has taken monstrous proportion because it has been ignored for so long. It is so massive, that I am not sure if so many people can be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation of these again in Mumbai or ourskirts? Think about the kind of pressure it is going to put on already stretched resources of Mumbai. So rehabilitate elsewhere? But why should Maharashtra govt. take ownership of that? Why isn't the Mumbai slums problem seen as pan-Indian issue? After all, these slum-dwellers (post 1995) are majorly Non-Maharashtrian.
I know, it is inhuman to take away even little that these families have. I don't know of solution to the existing problem. All I do know, more slums need to be stopped from coming up at all costs.

Vasanth said...

Abhi - I don’t want to argue with you on the specifics, because that’s been done in this blog many a times. If you think am against slum demolitions then you have got me wrong. I am always clear in my conscience that anything illegal is not correct whether it is illegal settlement or drug trafficking. But in this particular case, these settlements have been allowed by the authorities for so long and now suddenly, as though these politicians have attained divinity, want to get rid of them overnight. Even if it has to be done, there is a manner by which it has to be done. You can’t just like that go there one fine morning and demolish their homes. Just because rehabilitation is going to cost more, the government cannot wash their hands off. After all, these are the people who voted them to power. You and me, the so called middle class never vote in any case. That’s the price you need to pay for beatifying Mumbai and it’s a one time cost. Though am not from Mumbai, let them announce a scheme, am there to contribute whatever I could, and so do many like minded people.

The reason given for the demolition is to beatify Mumbai and to get rid of these “ugly slums”. Always keep in mind that there are more than 30% of the people in this country who live below poverty line (less than a $ per day), so why not beatify India by evicting all of them? Then the so called rich and the politicians (opps rich include politicians, none the less) can peacefully live without bothering about so called “ugly people”?

Quizman said...

Btw, it is a fallacy to think that slum dwellers have it better in slums. They don't. Rent-seeking, the term economists use, is very high. Also, there are other underlying dangers associated with slums - the possibilities of outbreaks of epidemics, higher consumer prices for legal tenants, lowered property prices in neighbourhoods with slums.

If your or I try to establish an office at Nariman Point, he has to pay atrocious prices to lease an office. All a pav-bhaji wallah has to do is to park his cart at Nariman point. All a builder has to do is rent out underground parking slots as offices.

Are laws applicable only for the middle-class?

In this case, Raveena is absolutely right. She has every right to expect a decent standard of living after having paid high prices to buy property. Vasanth's attack, viz; "earns crores and crores of money and spent that notoriously in housing, night pubs" is misplaced. She has every right to her money. Who are we to pass moral judgements on how she spends her money?

The govt should get rid of the rent control act. It is the absolute truth that no socialist would ever admit - price controls cause scarcity.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Quizman:

The govt should get rid of the rent control act.Precisely. As I've urged in this space before. Why do you think, then, that instead of doing so, the Government is demolishing slum homes?

Laws are indeed applicable to us all. Time they started being applied to us all.

My problem with Tandon is not her crores. It's her assumption about this becoming a "better place to live". For whom? And is this to be done by destroying hundreds of thousands of lives, and if so, in what sense is this a better place to live?

My other problem with Tandon, as should be evident, is this stuff about defecation.

Anonymous said...

Dilip, you ask, "a better place to live" for whom? Here's the answer: for all law-abiding citizens. Every single person who was evicted broke the law. If you abide by the law the law takes care of you. If you don't, it does not take care of you. Simple.

And that is also the answer to your other two questions. Your kids did not break any law by being born after 1995. The slumdwellers did, by settling on what was not their's to settle on. That's the bottom-line.

I agree with Quizman, and with Raveena. Where I do have a problem with Raveena is with her acting. But that, too, is legal.

Manik

Dilip D'Souza said...

Manik, you say: Every single person who was evicted broke the law.Really? You know that for a fact? You've met each and every one? Well, then please explain to me why I met people -- and not just a few -- who have proof that they did NOT break the law which was quoted to them as reason for their homes being demolished.

You also say, If you abide by the law the law takes care of you. Which is sort of why I asked, what if some cellphone toting slum dweller started a campaign like Raveena's, to ask the government to demolish blocks of flats and make this a better place to live that way. Would you support it? After all, plenty of those blocks of flats were built by breaking laws. Right? So why not make this a better place to live that way?

Anonymous said...

All the slums which have been demolished are government property, and squatting there, in the literal sense or otherwise, was illegal at the time the slum-dwellers did. (And the 1995 date is not relevant to that illegality, which is indisputable.) If you are saying some of them did nothing illegal, then you are saying that some of that land is not government property. So where is it, Dilip, that place where the government demolished slums despite the land not belonging to them?

As for your second question, yes, of course I would support demolition of all illegally constructed property, regardless of who constructed it. But just because some people break the law and get away with it doesn't mean that everyone who breaks the law is doing the right thing.

Manik

Dilip D'Souza said...

All the slums which have been demolished are government property, and squatting there, in the literal sense or otherwise, was illegal at the time the slum-dwellers did. ... [etc]Sound familiar, don't you?

Anonymous said...

Just dropped in to say that I agree with what Dilip has to say. Just a show of support for Dilip

Anonymous said...

Well done evading the point, Dilip. (You obviously had no answer to the point I raised.) I have no idea what you're talking about, btw, accept that yes, the voice of reason does sound familiar. And you don't like it much, do you?

Manik

Dilip D'Souza said...

Well done evading the point... [etc] .

Whether I did or not would be easy to find, accept that I am not interested in doing so.

Gaurang said...

The price of fame.....

We cannot digest other people's successes
[Mr Vasanth - "All these celebrities who campaign for slum demolitions earns crores and crores of money and spent that notoriously in housing, night pubs and what not? Instead of wasting money on sending SMS, why can’t they chip in with money and help rehabilitating those who have lost their houses or just shut up and mind their own businesses." ]This very same celebrities came out in full strength during the Tsunami Crisis and did much more than a feeble state and central government that kept a brave face initially and eventually came out to ask for alms like beggars [Jayalalitha].

So if i do not like someone defecating in front of my house/building i do not have the right to voice my opinion without inviting the wrath of those who supposedly tread the high moral ground??? Is that it Mr.Dsouza...

Ms.Annie remembered about Tandon's Interview in a Tabloid about her heartbreak but does not recall the cinestar's efforts to stop the mangroves being removed in versova which was widely reported too. A case of selective amnesia?!!

Vasanth - "You and me, the so called middle class never vote in any case." [Speak for self Sir!!!]"Though am not from Mumbai,..." [Oh now you tell me...been hear for 30 long years buddy since birth]With due respect Mr.Dilip, i have a suggestion,through your social activities you may have met and understood the problems and misery faced by the slumdwellers, I think you should try to interact with the highly denounced middle-class and get their viewpoints too....

Gaurang

Dilip D'Souza said...

Gaurang:

I tread no moral ground, higher or otherwise.

you should try to interact with the highly denounced middle-class and get their viewpoints too.

They are not denounced, certainly not by me, and I get their viewpoints every day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dilip,

Since this is my first comment on your site, I'd like to say that I enjoy reading your blog. While I disagree with almost all your opinions, I find your perspectives to be engaging and interesting.

"They are courtesy the dogs who live in the buildings around us. Some of those buildings even house film stars, like Tandon herself."

I find that to be distasteful. Is Ms. Tandon guilty by association here? (Replace "film stars" with "poor criminals" and "Tandon" with a name of a poor person -- how despicable would that sentence sound?)

- iu
(iu00007@yahoo.com)

Dilip D'Souza said...

iu:

Is Ms. Tandon guilty by association here?.

Guilty of what? The dogs live in buildings that (some of them) house film stars -- at least three such stars that I know of, I can look out of my kitchen window at their buildings. They are stars like Raveena Tandon is a star.

What guilt am I ascribing to anyone?

Thanks for your compliments. I appreciate them, and you reading what I write.

Sanketh said...

Playing the blame game isn't going to get us anywhere. What we have is two sections of society unsympathetic to each other's plights. Whereas most people in the middle class can't quite picture the insecurity of living under uncertainity, not knowing where your next meal is going to come from and now, where your family is going to sleep next; the slum-dwellers are "forced" to be oblivious of sanitation and other such issues which strike a chord with the other classes.
In the end what we need to identify is the fact that we have an obvious humanitarian crisis on our hands and that the solution lies in finding some middle ground. One can extend support to the government if they can assure people that they will ensure rehabilitation of the the people displaced by these demolitions. Sadly, like me most people don't see a precedence to this and are understandably skeptical.

I read through the comments and I find polarized opinions. Polarization seldom leads to an amicable solution. The problem is not unique to Mumbai. It is a problem faced all over the India and the infrastructure in most cities is being stretched beyond repair. A good start will be at least to ensure such problems don't find their way the more recent metros.

Lastly, Shit is Shit. No one wants it on their sidewalk. Next time vote for the chap who promises more bathrooms.

Anonymous said...

Dilip,

In your sentence, you note that Ms. Tandon belongs to the same group as your neighbors (who, in your opinion, are "OK" with dog-poo on the pavements or who own the defecating dogs). This kind of statement is insidious.

If, for instance, Mr. Gulzar had made the same statement that Ms. Tandon did. Would you have been okay with the following statement: "Some of these buildings even house Muslims, like Gulzar himself"? I hope not. I'll have a hard time believing that such a statement was uttered naively.

- iu
(iu00007@yahoo.com)

Dilip D'Souza said...

iu:

I didn't say my neighbours are OK with dog-shit. I said "We", meaning myself too. There's a distinction, and I deliberately made that distinction. I still don't follow, what guilt am I ascribing to Tandon on this score?

Gulzar, incidentally, is not Muslim.

Sanketh, thanks once again for bringing some sense of sanity into this discussion.

Yogesh Chabria said...

Hi Dilip,(and all the others who have expressed their veiws!).
Well the best thing to do would be:

To rebuild slum land, and provide the people living in slums with decent living conditions.
I strongly feel that Bombay does not need slums, instead they should be rebuilt, however the needs of the people living their should be kept in mind.

Anonymous said...

"I didn't say my neighbours are OK with dog-shit. I said "We", meaning myself too....I still don't follow, what guilt am I ascribing to Tandon on this score?"

You are dangerously assuming that Tandon and your film-star neighbors share the same opinion because they happen to belong to the same group.

At the cost of perhaps belaboring this point:

You claim that Ms. Tandon is not OK with humans defecating on the streets.

You also claim that some of your neighbors are indifferent to dogs defecating on the streets

You then conclude that a set of people (who include some of your neighbors) share both opinions: indifference to dogs defecating on the streets and opposition to humans defecating on the streets. You err in implying that just because some of your neighbors are film-stars, they must share the same opinion as Ms. Tandon. It is this implication in the sentence: "Some of those buildings even house film stars, like Tandon herself." that I find objectionable.

- iu
(iu00007@yahoo.com)