Economic Crisis Impact on Slums Dwellers in Mumbai City

Mumbai_Slum_Economy

Fuente: Wikipedia Commons

Extracto de un texto escrito por Nirmal Ahuja, de Mumbai Smiles en Bombay, sobre el impacto de la crisis en los habitantes de los slums para ser expuesto en las Jornades Drets Humans 2013, Drets Humans en la pikota.

Economic Crisis Impact on Slums Dwellers in Mumbai City 

At Mumbai airport they do their level best to show you the new India – the one whose economy is growing at one of the fastest rates in the world, the one where men can afford to build 27-storey homes with three helipads, several swimming pools, a ballroom and space for 600 domestic staff. And yet you can’t help but notice another India – the one in which people live on top of each other, in slums that practically spill on to the airport’s runway. It is this Mumbai full of Life, Death and Hope especially in a Mumbai Slum. The slum population of Mumbai City is larger than the population of countries like New Zealand, Norway and overall population is half the population of Australia.

Slums have constituted an integral part of Mumbai’s cityscape for several decades. With its potential to provide employment to a vast multitude, the city attracts a large number of people. Many of them stay in slum colonies for the lack of a better alternative.

Slum-dwellers consisting of pavements, chawls and zhopadpattis etc stay in shanty structures in unhygienic environment, not by choice but by compelling circumstances as they were thrown out of the formal housing sector, the latter being expensive and much beyond their income levels. It is imperative to enhance their standard of living and for which an authorized dwelling unit is a first step in the right direction. This, in turn, will bring about a marked improvement in their hygiene and health as well as raise the level of public hygiene which has fallen to very low ebb. All of these populations are poor all of them struggle – everyday – to maintain their dignity.

The emerging globalization processes, including liberalization, deregulation and  privatization along with the social-economic deprivations in villages, have affected the  livelihood and housing rights of marginalized in the urban settings. More than half the population of the city of Mumbai lives in these slums; the people who live in these slums  are domestic workers, industrial workers, class III and IV employees of the Municipal  Corporation of Greater Mumbai (formerly Bombay Municipal Corporation), of Judiciary  department, lower-level police personnel, taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers and so on.  Considering the services slum dwellers provide to the city, without them Mumbai’s existence would fall apart.

In India the concept of ‘slum’ is well-established in both technical and legal terms. Technically slums are residential sites with poor infrastructure. Legally  ‘notified slums’, sites classified by state and local government as slums, have greater legal protection and provide greater access to state resources for people living in notified slums than for those in un-notified slums. Slums are sites of poverty, yet they are also marked by inequality and differentiated economic and social status. And, while higher concentrations of Dalit and ‘Most Backward Classes’ (MBC) people may be found in slums than in other areas, slums are not exclusively made up of these lower castes, nor are urban Dalits and MBCs to be found exclusively in slums. Economically productive work takes place in slums, some of which is integrated into local, national and even international markets. Slum-dwellers also work away from slum sites. So, while slum household economy is a meaningful concept, there is no such thing as a slum economy. Now that India’s formal economy has become linked to the global economy through liberalization and deregulation it has also harnessed the informal, unregistered economy to global markets, ensuring in the process that risks are transferred downwards and profits upwards (Harriss-White, 2009). Slum-dwellers are left among the most vulnerable and least rewarded producers in the bloated underbelly of the global economy. Far from being marginal, the key feature of slum populations is their marginalization from the fruits of their labour.

Every individual that resides inside a slum is employed in some constructive activity or the other. These activities bring income to the individual’s household and provide sustenance to the members of his or her family. Some residents work within the slum area whilst others go outside it to earn a living. Individuals that cater to the needs of the slum residents generally utilize the facilities available within the slum precinct. Some slum dwellers provide service to the outside world depending on the specific type of skills they possess.

The classification of livelihoods as internal livelihood and external livelihood has been done based on the above observations. Internal livelihood is the outcome of services rendered by slum dwellers to residents of the slum itself. Individuals such as a barber, launderer, vegetable vendor, repair man are included in this category since they earn their living without needing to venture outside their immediate surroundings. External livelihood is the outcome of services rendered by slum residents in workplaces situated outside the slum environs, thus requiring them to commute often. But sometimes these workplaces are situated close to the slum areas. Individuals such as mill and factory workers, auto mechanics, delivery boys, taxi drivers, housekeepers, vendors for shoe polish and snacks etc are included in this mode of livelihood.

Due to Global Crisis, there was lack of export credit which hit the smallest export firms disproportionately while the volatility of currency markets hit imported components. India’s exports are relatively labour-intensive, textiles, handloom garments, leather, gems and jewellery, metal-ware, carpets, agricultural products (spices, basmati rice and sea-food) together with IT and back-office processing services. In fact the main impact of the fall in demand for India’s exports has been shown to be on employment; with even small declines in exports leading to hundreds of thousands of lost jobs (UNCTAD, 2009).

While the global economic crisis impact was felt on Indian economy, however the major impact was on the real economy where oil and food price instabilities in the formal, registered sectors had already generated inflation, and slowed corporate investment, with a destructive impact on growth. Price rises resulting from the continuing volatility in currency markets affect urban consumers and moreover to the underprivileged slum dwellers through the rising costs of day to day goods and food products. The marginalized poor from the slum are the most affected with the soaring price rises of their daily needs and food products. Demand would then shift towards local substitutes. It was apparent that not all price hikes that battered the slum-dwellers related directly to the global crisis. Food inflation accelerated to a three-year high of 18.18 percent in August, government data released on Monday showed, driving the benchmark Wholesale Price Index up by a stronger-than-expected 6.1 percent. This data is a grim reminder of the economic pressures to deal with India’s worst economic crisis in more than 20 years. Here the average retail price of daily need rice shot up by more than 69 per cent in the three years; that for wheat/atta increased by 13 per cent; that for sugar by 109 per cent (Ghosh 250 & Chandrasekhar, 2010). Impact on domestic economy, food prices basic to all budgets are spiking continuously till date and that is what having a double edged sword impact alongside poverty and unemployment issues.

Most livelihoods in the affected sectors are in the informal economy and they belong to these daily wage workers which reside in the slums with an unbearable dwelling condition just facing the agony and brunt of global economic slowdown. From an economic perspective, the harmful impacts of the crisis on human lives and dignity tend to be seen as tragic but inevitable consequences of unpredictable and uncontrollable market forces. A human rights perspective challenges this complacency especially in slums; these devastating consequences are not inevitable, nor should they be acceptable. The causes of the crisis can be clearly located in human decisions and concrete actions (or inactions) of governments and other powerful economic actors, and should not be seen as the result of forces outside of human control. A human rights approach demands accountability for these human decisions. It requires that negative effects be avoided or mitigated and it empowers people affected to demand respect for their human rights.

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Jornades Drets Humans 2013, Drets Humans a la Pikota? (aquí)

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