Age of Zinc is proud to present the seventh installment in the memoirs of an Indian slum dweller.
NSDF and Mahila Milan were born out of struggles against evictions. But they did not remain stuck. They still fight evictions every day of the year but they move beyond that. In the beginning they just reacted.
Before Mahila Milan was formed in the early 1980’s the women pavement dwellers had no answer to demolitions. They were frightened of the demolition squads of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. They would beg and cry and plead individually and of course eventually their huts got torn down and their belongings carted away in the Municipal trucks.
Then about twenty of them got together as Mahila Milan and with the help of SPARC they began to develop a new collective strategy. The next time the demolition squads came some of the women surrounded them, buying time, while some of the children ran from street to street calling other women to the scene, which was Apna Street in Byculla, near the Katau textile mills. In a few minutes a large crowd had gathered around the demolition squad. This time they were the ones with fear in their eyes.
After a long discussion the women did an amazing thing. Knowing that demolition was inevitable they took a leaf out of Gandhi’s book and offered to break down their own huts. They stored their building materials and saved their belongings from confiscation. Nobody got hurt and nobody got arrested, and in a few days the hutments came back and with them came a confidence and a taste of the victories that collective action can bring.