We focus on:
a) Empowering communities and particularly women to overcome discrimination and fulfilment of rights and building self-dignity through individual change and collective identity;
b) Building youth capacities to understand and view discrimination and social injustices as part of systemic issues and to overcome these through individual change and an inter-slum youth network, and thus be agents of change in their own lives and communities and contribute to the larger struggles for a just society for all; and
c) Building and strengthening children’s collectives to enhance agency of children in society, and strive towards building an effort for challenging social norms that go against children’s rights.
Our work focuses on the most vulnerable pockets of urban poor in Bhopal. Some areas were selected because of extreme lack of education opportunities. We have found that the greater the challenge of gaining education is to students, the greater the challenge of survival is for the larger community be it through cultural factors or poverty. We work particularly with scheduled tribes, who have faced dislocation and marginalization for years in Bhopal and generations all over India.
Bastis, or slums, are places which are considered to have unhygienic living conditions, impermanent shelters, lack of adequate space for the number of inhabitants and lack basic services such as water and sanitation. But many slums are completely rudimentary, some even without basic structures in place.
With extreme water shortage in Madhya Pradesh, slums sometime reach a point where people have to choose whether they should have a bath or wash the utensils with the one mug of water. There is rarely a toilet to be found and no space to construct them, even though theoretically there are government programs to help with this. People go out in the open spaces available, railway tracks, small plots which are still not constructed, lanes which may be comparatively less used, and nullahs (drainage ditches).
The level of poverty of a community can by and large be gauged through the height of the walls. If people have any additional money beyond the requirements of basic survival, they try to invest it in improving the infrastructure. In many areas, there are houses with mud clumped just a few inches high. In other slums there are houses with pucca (brick) walls, but polythene covered roofs. Vulnerability on the other hand, cannot necessarily be judged by the height of the homes. Many aspects in the life of slum dwellers are out of their control, for example, debts arising from illness, bribes to the police, and social obligations. Further, working in the informal economy in domestic work, selling items on wooden carts, rag picking, or construction, is highly irregular and leads to financial insecurity. Land tenure in bastis is also an area of almost continuous threat.