Mankhurd Transit Camp



The intentions of the workshop were to explore whether Amartya Sen's ideas on development could provide a common framework that could be shared by the donors, public institutions and the recipient communities, and whether Sen's ideas of development made sense to the slum dwellers.

Of particular interest we wanted to explore whether the slum dwellers accepted the idea of the individual as an agent of change and whether it was possible for an individual to express in any way his or her ideas about the things they value. Another key question was to identify the extent to which the NGO SPARC identified the role of culture in the individual and the importance cultural expressions could contribute when considering Sen's freedom approach to development.

Romi Khosla, Jane Samuels, Nick Hall, Alison Barrett, Smita Biswas, Michael Mutter, BK Agarwal, Sheela Patel, Celine D'Cruz, Sundar Burra, A. Jockin, and people from the alliance of SPARC, Mahila Milan and NSDF.

In order to explore these ideas it was agreed that a simple work process would be followed. Every morning we were to meet slum dwellers at different locations who were facing different obstructions.
In the afternoon intense discussions session were held between the workshop participants, SPARC and Jockin of the National Slum Dweller's Association. The discussions explored how the Federations and the NGO SPARC, monitored social decisions; how social decisions were made and what role independent opinions played in these social decisions.
Tuesday May 13th, 2003
The Mahila Milan, Woman Together of the Women's Saving Group at Byculla.

Wednesday May 14th, 2003
Resettlement residents under the Urban Transport Project Mankhurd, Transit Camp.

Thursday May 15th, 2003
Residents of Rajiv Indira Housing Block, Dharavi and the Mumbai toilet construction projects.

Friday May 16th, 2003
We joined the daily savings collections from the pavement dwellers walking from household to household in Byculla.


OUTPUT 1. To clarify the process of social decision making within the federations.

OUTPUT 2. Identify the difference between individual concerns and the collective concerns and how the collective addresses the issues of difference between members.

OUTPUT 3. To clarify with the NGO SPARC the way in which the development process of the National Slum Dwellers Federation and the Mahila Milan Women's Savings group could be evaluated by Sen's Freedom approach.

OUTPUT 4. Identify to what extent Sen's Freedom development framework could be shared between all the actors in the process including donors and public institutions.

During the workshop clarification of the process of decision-making within Mahila Milan and the Federation became more apparent when a diagram illustrating a communication tree was drawn out on the board.

At the top we identified the different donors and international government agencies into which all communications fed solely to the NGO SPARC at the second level down, who in turn filtered all these concerns and reporting requests by interpreting the successes of the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) at the third level .

At this third level NSDF addresses and inter-relates the social decision arrangements of the Mahila Milan Women Saving Group leaders who in turn, at this fourth level, address the thousands of individual pavement, shack and slum dwellers daily when collecting the savings.

Attention was drawn to the fact that the dialogue between the upper two levels took place in the written domain where evaluations and reporting are documented. In this written domain the face of the individual slum dweller, and the social decisions that takes place as spoken oral arrangements, are not apparent. SPARC has protected the collection method of Mahila Milan from external evaluations and interprets the federation's concerns as a collective.

It became clear during the discussions, that individual social concerns were identified daily at the lower two levels between the individual families and the collectors for Mahila Milan. These social concerns were communicated to the Federation leaders within the oral domain of agreements and reporting and decisions.

It was brought to our attention that the majority of those participating in the savings group are illiterate and their daily savings collections are accompanied by communication which place a higher value on verbal agreements and memory than on written agreements. The only written documentation made during the collections is the amount of rupees collected from each household. Therefore the interpretation of the social concerns of each individual and family, by the daily savings collector at the time of collection, are acknowledged by immediate communication and memory facilities. This information is passed on in the oral domain of communication to the collective Savings Group and Federation for consideration.

What became clear was that the process of social decision-making, at this individual level, was taking place but not made observable in terms of a successful method of addressing individual obstructions to the upper level on the communication tree diagram. The upper level identified external evaluators, other NGOs, donors and international government agencies.

During the workshop questions were raised to identify the difference between individual concerns and the collective concerns. Also questioned was how the collective addresses the issues of difference between different members and the role of culture and individual aspirations.

During the discussions it was explained that individual concerns and obstructions were brought to the attention of the collective and discussed as group decisions agreeing to the best method to remove the obstruction. It was explained to us, through the telling of individual stories, that individual concerns and obstructions are addressed daily.

For example if someone's husband died, it was decided by the federations to give funds to the widow so she could continue with her work as collector for the Mahila Milan and support her children. When another woman's husband was arrested, again funds were made available to assist her.

  • In the case of emergencies such as fire or floods, the individual cases involved would be brought to the attention of the federation and funds would become available to assist.

  • In the case where a mother and daughter relationship became aggrieved and irreconcilable in the same shared resettlement home, the Federation would address the issue and attempt mediation and propose alternative solutions.

  • In the case where an individual family needed immediate access to their saving funds because of a crisis, it was made available even in the middle of the night.

When identifying collective concerns it was emphasized during the workshop how the power of the collective identity is the focus of the federation. The collective identity addressed evictions, resettlement and housing issues as the primary goal. A collective identity has the power to be more effective and influential and the individual in this context is powerless.

Collective identity and decision making is encouraged for a variety of reasons of which one example highlighted was a shared sense of community which becomes apparent when individuals participated in the Women's Saving Group. The collective imbues a culture of awareness, patience, responsibility, trust and transparency in the lives of pavement dwellers facing demolitions and evictions which is not normally possible to experience under such duress. These are essential qualities necessary for acquiring social skills in the re-formulating of identities.

In the case of demolitions the forthcoming action would be brought to the attention of the federations and the individuals would be mobilised as a collective and take responsibility for the demolition of their own home. This would allow them, through the collective; to be in control with the assurance their own belongings would not be destroyed. The collective identity likewise made it possible to jointly be recognised as an organisation to be in a position to receive land and loans in order to build future homes.

During the afternoon sessions we pursed a more detailed questioning in order to identify differences, individual aspirations, cultural identities and expressions. It became clear these cultural differences existed but that SPARC felt these differences were currently not a priority to share directly within their organisation nor to the Federation collective.

Cultural identities, in their opinion, created differences that did not work towards the goals of the collective identity. Data had been acquired that identified that in the slum areas, where the women's saving circle and federations were strong, cultural clashes were less frequent.

We found it was more productive to discuss individual and cultural obstructions as in gender roles and economic hardship or individual differences in social issues.

When questioned about the character and potential of individual identities and migrations from different parts of the country, including the variety of Muslim, Hindu or Christian sects evident within the savings group (and their cultural expressions as to food choice, marriages, economic laws and the diversity of individual values and aspirations) again these differences were not apparently monitored or prioritised by SPARC or the NSDF. It was not clear to what degree these differences were recognised or communicated during the collection of the daily savings group. Even if these difference are not communicated to the Federations and SPARC, it is not clear how the impact of the individual aspirations and cultural expressions or their absence might in fact effect the long terms overarching goals of human development methods when the main concern of housing is achieved.

The third concern raised in the workshop was the way in which the development process, guided by International Slum Dwellers Federation, SPARC, and Mahila Milan could be evaluated.

During the discussion we identified the process of social decision-making, using the diagram of a communication tree. We could distinguish the upper written domain of communication dominated by objective deductive evaluation and reporting. This is the domain primarily used by external evaluators to other NGOs, donors and international government agencies. In this way we could then distinguish the oral domain of the Mahila Milan method of development based on inductive subjective evaluations and reporting by the community.

It became clear the first evaluation and monitoring of individual social concerns is done by MM within the Woman's Saving Group. This evaluation takes place within the oral domain with decisions and actions relating to individual social concerns not written down but processed daily during the collection of payments. The absence of written data is indicative of communities that are not literate so that oral agreements and arrangements are the means by which social decisions are identified and by which arrangements are achieved. SPARC as the supporting NGO is at present protecting the oral domain of the slum dwellers federations from intrusions of external evaluations. They feel community led evaluations are the only way social decision arrangements could address the inductive multi-layered analysis of the oral domain. Indeed there are many expressions in the oral tradition that SPARC goes to great lengths to highlight.

Many times during the workshop SPARC identified the generosity, energy and spirit of the women of Mahila Milan to share their hardships and success stories personally. The sharing of personal stories is key to how knowledge is transferred. Implicit to this is the extreme generosity of time and experience offered by these women that has no obvious economic measurement and gain but arises out of a keen sense to excite a compassionate response, an understanding of both the challenges and possibilities for many people. SPARC and NSDF identify the clarity and intensity of this motivation to illustrate how the individual women, when sharing together their life stories with individuals of other communities, can create a supportive collective which enables them to transform their lives through participation in the Savings Group.

Remarkably, it became clear during the discussions, that even if these women are still pavement dwellers, and have not yet acquired a home after many years, their patience and perseverance inspire a savings group methodology replicated and working in 50 cities across India and in 11 countries. The success is clearly expressed in individual and family achievements within the collective federations as their ability to choose a quality of life worth living. A multitude of skills and assets have been acquired that have proved necessary for the step-by-step process to transform their situation.

It is worth emphasising again how the foundation of this replication process depends on hearing these women tell their stories which in turn inspires and documents a methodology of hope, possibility and success. SPARC and NSDF will emphasise the women are not paid to do this but as woman have the inborn facility to talk and share experiences and concerns naturally. SPARC and NSDF may not go so far as to use the word intuition as an explanation as to how mothers and women respond as a collective within the savings group. Yet this might go some way to account for the diversity and speed of constructive social decisions that occurs through the ability to identify and communicate individual social concerns and obstructions observed when collecting savings.

The most apparent success of the Women's Saving Group methodology is the ability to generate and build on genuine trust and initiative. In their role as a supporting organisation SPARC is aware of the possible unfavorable or inaccurate conclusions and consequences of objective external evaluations. SPARC takes on the responsibility to access the inductive self-evaluations of the community, into data for the external evaluations of other NGO's, donors and government agencies.

However, as Mahila Milan Women's Saving Group operates solely in the oral inductive domain, the many successes of their innovative method of development, although protected by SPARC, are at present not made observable, or evaluated to a wider shared audience in the written domain and the upper levels of the communication diagram.

Amartya Sen's Freedom Framework, which identifies obstructions to individual freedom, is a rare tool for the Mahila Milan and the National Slum Dwellers Federation. Using Sen's Freedom Framework they could make visible their development success and share these community led evaluations with other federations, NGO's, donors and public institutions.

Clearly the slum dwellers federation do not think in terms of dividing all their obstructions into the five categories of Amartya Sen's Freedoms. But it is certainly true that the obstructions that Sen mentions in his five categories, Political Freedoms, Economic Facilities, Social Opportunities, Transparency Guarantees, and Protective Security are experienced by the slum dwellers as their major obstructions. For example finance, housing, health care and education, emergency floods and fires, access to information to name a few.

Indeed the five instruments of freedom that he identifies in his book 'Development as Freedom' define a comprehensive universal, moral and ethical principle of ever expanding freedom as the relevant goal of any development. These five instruments are the basic building blocks for a democratic society. It is the simplicity and totality of the idea of ever expanding development as freedom that merits our special attention.

The obstructions to freedom can be clearly identified and expanded through its five components or instruments that influence the potential of the citizen. These are the instruments that citizens need to enable them to overcome their obstructions. More importantly, these are the instruments that inform us of both the degrees of obstructions and success that are prevalent in a society and hence the degree of underdevelopment and development. Sen's describes all five instruments as interconnected and equally important. They are like the five equally important sides of a box in which urban investments can be contained. Success is measured by the degree to which obstructions are removed.

Obstructions to Political Freedom. It is imperative that citizens should determine who should rule them and they must have the right to criticize the authorities.

Obstructions to the Freedom to access Economic Facilities to provide housing opportunities and trade and access for sellers and buyers of labour, goods, property and finance in their locality.

Obstructions to Social Opportunities. These are the arrangements and choice of opportunities that citizens have for education, health care and other community, social and religious facilities to live a better life.

Obstructions to Transparency Guarantees that give free access of information to citizens on matters that effect their lives.

Obstructions to Protective Security. Citizens expect institutional arrangements to protect and support them in times of dire need from the consequences of man made and natural disasters.
During the workshop three qualities of Amartya Sen's freedom approach underlined the four outputs of the workshop.

1. Whether the individual human being is society's most important component. In his view each human being is unique and wants to live a unique life. It is his or her fundamental right to be free and live the life that he or she values. The process of development is one that removes obstructions and enables the citizen to move closer to the life that he or she values.

2. That freedom has cultural and spiritual qualities as it springs from within the citizen. It relates more to the rewarding satisfaction of exploring ones own potential and character. Removing obstructions to this quality of freedom links cultural aspirations to development and can be translated into specific policies.

3. The third quality emphasised by Sen relates to evaluations and new frameworks: One needs a system of evaluation, co-ordination and a shared policy frameworks. Even so how does one measure the status of development success when considering removing obstructions to the instruments of freedom ?

If citizens could begin to evaluate their own success, the successes being the degree to which the obstructions and constraints to their freedoms have been removed, then we can ensure that the process of development expands their ability to choose a quality of life. In this case a quality of life within the oral domain of the Mahila Milan and the National Slum Dwellers Federation.

What became apparent from the morning site visits and the afternoon discussions during the Mumbai workshop is how the Mahila Milan development methodology, working solely in the oral domain, could be made observable through Sen's Freedom framework.

More work could be done that would establish and enable the slum dwellers to lead their own evaluations, and list their own obstructions and for an NGO like SPARC to re-arrange these into five or more categories outlined by Sen in order to communicate these to the public institutions.

Thus is seems that a new break through could be achieved in formulating a common framework that would make observable the successes of the National Slum Dwellers Federation. A Freedom Framework not only shared vertically between slum dwellers, but also horizontally across the federations of slum dwellers in different parts of the world, between NGO's, Public and Government Institutions.



"So it is a great achievement, partly because the world has changed, partly we have all changed, partly because we have discovered a variety of things about the human condition.

We have re-focused ourselves not on the state, although the state is rather important, we have focused back on the individual. It is not an individual listing doctrine that Amartya has put forward, rather it is the individual connected with collectivity. At the same time the collectivity, on the one hand is enabling, but for many, many people it is also an adversity.

We are older and perhaps if not wiser and we have seen that collectivities which were not democratic and fully participating are not good collectivities. The fact they are either sanctioned by tradition or doctrine or religion or whatever, it's not a sufficient reason to live with them.

It is liberating that we go back to the individual, focus on the individual, and ask yourself what are the un-freedoms that we can cure."

Lord Meghnad Desai, LSE Colloquium 2003

Mahila Milan Women's Savings Group Collection

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