According to the 2011 Census, around 65.49 million Indians (around 5.4% of India’s population) are living in slums. Additionally, around 17.4% of the total urban Indian population is slum dwellers.
It is ironical that while Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan was launched with much fanfare, 360 million of India’s poorest citizens continue living in some of the most dilapidated conditions in the world.
In Kolkata, a number of slums are located around Tiljala, Park Circus, Topsia, Tangra, and Narkelganga. The roots of these slum dwellers can be traced to rural areas like Gosaba, Lakkhikantapur and Canning in South 24 Parganas, West Bengal and even to the state of Bihar. Many of them have been living by the railway tracks in their polyester homes near Park Circus for generations, their forefathers having moved from their distant rural houses in search of better livelihoods in urban areas.
Safkat Alam, Joint Secretary of Tiljala Society for Human and Educational Development (SHED), an organisation working for the empowerment of slum dwellers in and around Park Circus, told BE, “There is still law and order problems in these slums. Various political parties use gangs comprising of certain slum dwellers for their own
interest, especially during the elections. These gangs are engaged in several illegal activities including drug peddling.” These slums had been sites of rampant domestic violence and abuse earlier. Alam stated, “Nowadays, the violence rate has reduced. We have formed a group that reports of any case of domestic violence and that have greatly improved the situation.”
While speaking about the population problem in these slums, Alam informed, “There are four to five children per family on an average. They think that more people in the family will mean more income generation. In most families, the men are irresponsible and all the responsibilities are shouldered by the women.”
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