The Origin of Slums

Since the time I started living in a big city(which is many years now), I have been wondering how a slum actually develops. Was this a place actually provided by city planners to the less fortunate? Is this government land that is owned by no one in particular, but slowly gets occupied by migrants and eventually establishes itself as a slum? Or is there something more than that? It all looked too complex to me and difficult to understand, until I witnessed with my own eyes, evolution of a new slum.

On the daily commute back from work, I would go on the outer ring road in the section between Jayadeva hospital and the right turn towards JP Nagar near Mandovi Motors. There was a large and empty stretch of land a short distance after Shopper’s Stop which was primarily occupied by wild shrubs and infamous ‘Congress’ giDa. The stretch was just like any other empty areas in the city on which you would bother no more than giving a passing look. Our real estate barons would have different thoughts on it but let’s not get into all that now.

One fine evening, all those shrubs were gone, and in its place there were tents. The typical blue plastic sheeted tents that have now become ubiquitous in the city, since the days of construction boom. I presumed there is some big building coming up nearby and the workers are settling themselves to start the construction. Along with the plastic tents, I also saw a few thatched roofs which was unusual. A few days went and it did not look like there was any construction activity happening nearby. But I noticed that the newcomers were entrenching themselves. They were slowly working on making improvements to their settlements. Some of the roadside settlement owners had opened shops selling a few things, flowerpots for example.

A month passed and things remained as they did, and nothing remarkably new seemed to happen. On one evening, there was a sudden transformation again as it had happened on the first day. All the plastic tents and thatched roofs were gone. And in the place were coming up small housings, no bigger than the area of a cubicle or two. And this time they were permanent structures built with bricks! It all happened very quickly and the next day we again had ready houses with people living in it! A few more days and there were a couple of signs around the area announcing the local “Dalita Sangharsha Samiti”, “Dada Saheb Ambedkar Samiti”, etc.. When transformations happened, they were sudden and quick, whether it was formation of settlements in plastic tents or construction of brick houses.

Today if you go on that road, it looks as though the slum existed there for many years. It would be difficult say that they don’t own the rights for the land. Even if it was your own property, you would not feel too good about evacuating the area.

Well, all these observations now make it fairly clear for me on the question of origin of slums. I shall refrain from drawing a conclusion, which I shall leave to your discretion.

4 Comments so far

  1. Sriram Iyer (unregistered) on April 19th, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

    Brilliant observation, Arun. I have a possible answer to one of the questions posed by you in the first para. I know of a particular land-owner who lets out his land for rent to people and charges Rs.200 per tent. He is waiting for the price of land to rise further and in the meantime making a little ‘pocket money’.

  2. lovebangalore (unregistered) on April 20th, 2007 @ 12:18 am


    Very nice narration of what you have seen. The sudden transformations you mentioned seem to indicate this group is either very well organized or well managed by some third person/party.

    These are not conclusions but just the passing thoughts looking at the events mentioned by you.

    Who knows on some day you may suddenly notice that the slum is gone and a hugh building has come up with the help of a local politician. Perhaps it could just be that I watch too many movies :-).

  3. Raghu (unregistered) on April 20th, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

    Not very sure but I think B’lore does not have the slums of scale(& misery) seen in Mumbai or Kolkata. Btw, the # of street beggars have increased a lot over last 2 years. My guess again, most of the beggars seem migrants from North India.

  4. kpowerinfinity (unregistered) on April 21st, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

    The book ‘Shantaram’ by Greg Roberts gives a very good narrative of life in a slum, and also how they grew. Apparently, a number of Bombay slums grew around construction workers housing.

    It is ironic that slums are growing in Bangalore unrestrained while they are being replaced by housing for the poor in other cities in India now (I don’t know how good these schemes are).

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