My name is Lakhi Das. I was born and raised in Jamshedpur. My grandparents migrated from West Bengal to Jamshedpur as labourers. As Jamshedpur was an industrialised city many new companies were coming up there during that time. My father got a permanent job in Tata Steel as a plumber. Education and health facilities were free for children of permanent employees of Tata Steel. So we studied in a school run by Tata Steel. We lived in an informal settlement in Jamshedpur. I was born and brought up there. Therefore I could relate to the challenges faced by people living in informal settlements. I never planned to work as an activist. I am a Commerce graduate Being from a middle class family my family never guided me too much. They thought it was a good idea to opt for Commerce because it was relatively less expensive and I could work in a bank or in finance after completing the course. After graduating, to support myself and earn some pocket money I started working with an NGO that worked with brick kiln labourers. But I had started taking an interest in activism after class 10th. I was associated with the Literacy Mission and back then anyone who cleared class 10 could teach people as a volunteer under this Mission so I started teaching the men and women who lived in the informal settlements so that they could become literate. This first certificate I got from the Mission played a big role in my decision to become an activist in the future. After coming back from my college, I used the backyard of my house to teach the women in my community. I taught them with great passion. I took my responsibility as a teacher very seriously. I believed they were my students and it was my responsibility to share knowledge with them. This was the first time I started taking responsibility towards society. I was very proud when I got my first certificate as a volunteer. It gave some meaning and direction to life. After this, I kept moving ahead on the same path in life. I believe that a house is directly linked to self-respect, identity and dignity of people. A house does not mean just four walls. As an activist, I always feel one needs to protect people’s identity and self-respect. I believe activists have a direct relationship. with the beneficiaries. They are not just intermediaries. I believe when they advocate with the government on behalf of beneficiaries then they become intermediaries. The first and most important task of an activist is to build strong relationships with the communities they work in. It is important for an activist to gain people’s trust. Also till we dont make an effort to really understand the day to day struggles of people then we can never fight for the bigger struggle for housing rights. That's where we started. We never started with housing rights. We started by understanding what people identify as their biggest challenges. People don't view their challenges as lack of housing rights. That is an activist's work - we have to tell them it's important to have an aadhar card, voter id card, and register their community in the local municipal corporation. This is the work we do everyday as housing rights activists. If you go to a new informal settlement and ask people living there what they would do incase of forced evictions? they say they would go away. We make them aware of their right to not vacate. The Government says it will provide housing for all. As activists we say every person has a right to a home. And this is the difference between the two. We make people realise that housing is their right and that their identity as a human being is linked to it. This then motivates the residents to take small steps such as getting their voter id cards, getting the birth certificates of their children and linking their communities to government social security schemes and services. And this is the work we do daily and relentlessly. We fix targets for every month for each community. By working daily on improving facilities like ration card, tap water, electricity etc raise their standards of living and empowers them economically and socially We work to make these facilities accessible to them. And we start building and beginning to see that all these issues are linked to housing rights. when you can prove that I have been here for so many years, and all these are essential, and we can question the government. when you can prove that I have been here for so many years, and all these are essential, and we can question the government. When you can prove that I have been here for so many years, and all these are essential, and we can question the government. Jamshedpur does not have any municipality. There is a Jamshedpur Notified Area Committee which takes the responsibility of developing the informal settlements in the city. When we started working with this agency, we first made a list of informal settlements in the entire city. We filed multiple RTIs to seek information on how many informal settlements were included with urban bodies, how many were registered and what was the procedures they followed for registration. We found that many informal settlements were not included in the official list. We found that the list under BSUP is different than from the list that were available when GIS and MIS were done nder Rajiv Awas Yojana and these were further different from the list that is available after PMAY. We then spoke to people living in the informal settlements and urged them to get their community’s name included in the official list. We formed a basti committee in every informal settlement Members of this committee submitted an application to the municipality for registration and community’s name was added to the official list And this led to these communities become visible to the government bodies, before this they were invisible, their identity as citizens didn't matter. So this was our first struggle to get the government to accept that this community exists and x number of families live here. After this our second struggle was to try and fill the gaps in services that exist in these communities. This was done by having regular meetings with the community members we would have these meetings separately with women, at night after the residents had finished their work for the day or on Sundays when they had some time. the meetings were done at the convenience of the residents of the informal settlements. After this step, we worked to build a relationship with urban local bodies,this takes time. Our role with the ULBs is not as an activist but rather it is to become a bridge between the community and the authorities. It takes a long time to build this trust and relationship but eventually they realize and recognize our work. We organize meetings with the Ward Councilor, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and the residents of informal settlements We invite government officials to talk to them about government schemes because it is a lot more convincing for residents to hear this from the mayor or the deputy mayor. In our society I have noticed the culture to ask questions has diminished, people continue to live in terrible conditions rather than ask questions. It is our role to train citizens to not be afraid to ask questions and to dream of a better life The willingness to question is slowly deiminishing in people So it is very important in activisim to prepare people to ask difficult questions and dream big. That you can also also ask questions and those questions are a result of dreaming big Your dreams and your aspirations are related to your questions. You don't ask the right questions because you don't dream big. You are afraid and you have accepted that life where you think you don't deserve more You assume this is your fate and this is your life. So your job is to take them our of that space So in that way we are also helping the municipal council to implement their schemes as well So in that way we are uplifting the people too We conduct the awareness building and community building with the community And after that we work with municipal corporations for liaisoning We are also at times including in the meetings of the municipal corporations So that the people can voice their opinions too So to build this relationship takes a lot of time and it's important to do it. I have been associated with Adarsh Seva Sanstha since my youth. It is a service organization focused on community welfare. Prabha Jaiswal is the organisation’s founder. My first assignment with this organization was to teach the children of daily wage workers, after that I never applied for a job. I realized this is where I can truly make a difference, so I chose that life. Though there were many activists when I started out, people gradually chose professional careers. We also were in need of a lot of degrees Because you look at activism along with your livelihood People do need to money to eat and survive. So we started going to smaller projects that came into the organisation We realized that while donors want activists, but they like to have professionals who can understand the technicalities to lead the projects I don’t think it’s a wrong approach. I believe that activism and professional expertise work in parallel. I believe that our society needs both. You cannot change the society only with professional expertise. Unless you intervene at the grassroot level, you can never plan. In Jharkhand every city is small. Housing rights were not a topic of discussion there until a few years back. When Tata Steel was established in Jamshedpur, my grandparents migrated there. People from across India also came there to work at Tata Steel. Workers with proper qualifications got permanent jobs in Tata and those who were unskilled or not quite literate ended up as temporary labour. The company takes care of its permanent staff as is the norm in every company. But no one really cares for the temporary labour force who actually build the company and the city. These are the people who end up dwelling in slums in the periphery of the city. Jamshedpur is no different. I still live in these slums. I got married there. Our area is much more developed now but it is still classified as a slum. When the lease expired in 1995, people started agitating for housing rights. Our organization was working in West Jamshedpur then and we formed Samyukt Basti Sanghatan. In East Jamshedpur another organization was formed and we fought for our housing rights together. When we talk of housing rights in small towns, we like to make it a political issue. We fight for our land rights. It’s a fight for our dignity. We will build our own house. When we speak about PMAY Scheme, we say the house that the government should have built for us after so many years of independence, we have already built it, it does not matter if it is a small or kuchha house. Now we want the right to live there. We can make our house beautiful. We don’t need to start a scheme for that; you can however implement a scheme that does not involve reconstruction. This is enough for us. We can make efforts for our development on our own. When we go to slums, we realize that these people don’t even know where to go to have their issues addressed. We started a campaign called “Jhopdi Se Mukhyalaya Tak” (from slum to headquarters) under which we mobilized people and tried to take their problems collectively. We formed a charter of demands at city level. We protested in front of headquarters and submitted this charter to the Deputy Commissioners. This helped people to develop their self-confidence. In these kinds of movements, women’s participation is very high. We create cadres of women in every slum and give them exposure on which department they should go for a particular problem. We teach them how to talk, how to ask questions. We try to help them overcome their fear of articulating their problems. This plays a big role in activism. Of course, we face many challenges. It takes a long time but it is critical that they fight for themselves. Being activists, we stand with them, but they need to gather courage and stand up for themselves.