Friday, May 23, 2014

Indian slum

We visited Thubrahalli, a slum in eastern Bangalore, where the inhabitants live in tent-like structures made from blue tarp roofs and mud bricks. The experience was very different than we expected.
No pictures this time, folks. Sorry.

Most of us were told not to take cameras into Thubrahalli, a slum in eastern Bangalore and home to around 250 people. The one person who did bring a camera was asked to delete pictures right before we left.

As outside observers, our rapport with the community was only going to be tenuous at best; hiding behind cameras worth well above their average monthly wage would have only served to further alienate us from the slum's residents.

We were given a tour of a solar battery lending station in the slum, run by the Selco Foundation, a non-profit that helps train entrepreneurs to provide solar-powered lighting in low income areas. We had the chance to communicate with the slum dwellers through our two Selco guides and translators.

We were told that the inhabitants had migrated from the northern area of the state and worked primarily as laborers on one of Bangalore's countless construction projects. Every year, they returned to the north for several months during the agricultural season before returning to the better wages - but considerably lower standard of living - that Bangalore offered.

This slum, we learned, was somewhat different from most as the inhabitants paid rent to the land owner. While eviction was still a very real possibility, they had at least gained tacit consent to live on the land.

The slum was not as I imagined it would be. I had pictured one-room boxes with corrugated tin ceilings, cinder block walls, and narrow, crowded passageways. Instead, we found tent-like structures with blue tarp roofs and mud bricks to form the sides.

Upon conferring with a classmate afterwards, we both felt as if the difference between our expectations and the reality of the slum had made it a somewhat surreal experience, as if neither of us had even thought it was possible for people to live like this: in a tent city on a barren, dirt lot surrounded by multilevel apartment buildings on three sides.

But really, isn't that why we're in India?