Everyday, he wakes up and starts racing his mind as to how can he help the slum-dwellers today. He has been doing this daily since his first day in Mumbai when he was 18-year-old and had come from Bengaluru to find work as a carpenter. Since then he has closely observed the sub-human treatment meted out to slump dwellers and did everything from annoying the municipality, bringing Mumbai to a standstill, to becoming messiah of people from the bottom of the economic pyramid.
Jockin Arputham had no place to live when he first came to Mumbai so he started sleeping outside people’s house in a slum. He soon understood that anyone can climb up the ladder in this organized sector so after a few days of working, he launched his own company and began hiring labor from the slums to clear garbage. This got him some money with which he threw sweet treats for children. His rapport with the kids prompted their parents to ask Jockin to open a night school.
Living in the slums made Jockin realize that people here are subjected to severe injustice. In 1970, the land was to be evicted for building an extension of BARC which became a menace, and gave rise to the slogan ‘ No eviction without alternative’ and united 1200 slums in Mumbai. He took the protest to Delhi in 1975 and sat in front of Indira Gandhi’s office for 18 days.
The Prime Minister asked him for his demands and he told her to stop eviction of slum-dwellers. He received written promise but the Prime Minister didn’t stand by her words. Jockin was arrested on May 17, 1976. A force of 12,000 policemen threw 70,000 residents out of their homes. In various drives, Arputham was arrested 60 times, sometimes on paper and sometimes in person.
One day, Parveen, a slum-dweller, saw bulldozers outside her home when she was living with her one-month-old son. She had hardly removed the bamboo support from shade when Jockin came with a stay order and saved someone’s world.
“We wouldn’t bathe for days, we’d smell, our hair would be wild. No one would come near us, but Jockin sir would sit with us and eat.”
Jockin is the founder of National Slum Dwellers Federation (NDSF) and president of Shack/Slum Dwellers International. He encourages slum-dwellers to fight their way out of their poverty and beat urban living standard by creating one for themselves.
He has special concerns for women who mostly work at construction sites or house helps and live in make-shift homes. Lack of address proof does not allow them to have a bank account which is why they hide their savings in their homes. After dusk, their alcoholic husbands beat the woman and take money from them. However, under the saving schemes of alliance, the women were not only able to save money but also utilize it for future.
Such is the story of Kanta who has now moved to a 225 square feet-room with a toilet and bathroom. She received this at no cost through the alliance.
Jockin has helped many women who revere him but he is too humble to accept this and addresses himself as “a proud slum dweller”. At 67, he still sits in his office in the redeveloped eight-storey building in Dharavi slum. He has spent all his life working for slum dwellers in Mumbai, and now in world to organize slum dwellers and their quality of living. He received Magsaysay award in 2000 and has been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize.
He says there is a war between slum dwellers and urban rich people and that he is trying to make peace between them. According to him – “the upper class thinks of slum residents as lazy, criminal elements out to swindle the resources of the city.”
Most of the domestic help for upper middle class comes from slum areas and there is no accommodation available to them thus making them live in slums. The land available for slum dwellers is mere six percent however going on record it should be close to 60 percent. The condition of those living on pavements is even worse.
“You’re lying down with your wife on the footpath and car lights fall on you. What kind of society lives like this? We need to give dignity to human beings.”
“From 1974 to 1990, the government said there was no land to house the poor,” he says. “We developed and demonstrated how non-government land could be used.”
Today, Arputham has shifted many slum dwellers to seven-eight storey buildings which is a victorious milestone in itself. He asks, “Who is at fault, the rich or the poor? The answer is none. India needs population control and better job opportunities to bring more awareness among the governing bodies.”
Jockin’s small step towards the belief has led to house and shelter to many. He has proved that power doesn’t come with social or financial status but with intentions and determination.