Saturday, December 29, 2018

No Place for Us in Chennai - A Symposium: Report

No Place for Us in Chennai - A Symposium Report

As part of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence, in partnership with Penn Thozhilalar Sangam, we organised a half-day symposium on the gendered impact of forced evictions at Asha Nivas Chennai on November 30th 2018.

Forced evictions are defined by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as “the involuntary removal of persons from their homes or land, directly or indirectly attributable to the State. It entails the effective elimination of the possibility of an individual or group living in a particular house, residence or place, and the assisted (in the case of resettlement) or unassisted (without resettlement) movement of evicted persons or groups to other areas.”

Governments in a hurry to check off contemporary development indicators sanction public and private sector projects that too often require the vacation of land where people live and which they may also use for subsistence farming. This land is acquired for a variety of purposes with one major consequence: displacement. It is also acquired either without the consent of its residents or with such minimal consultation and compensation that they are left with little or nothing.

Forced evictions contribute significantly to the feminization of poverty and displacement, and alongside that, a host of negative consequences for women and girls. By extension, they also impact others genders in particular ways.

The objective of this half-day symposium was:

  • To raise awareness about forced evictions as a gender equality problem;
  • To provide a platform for those whose work engages with this issue directly or peripherally to share their perspectives; and,
  • To challenge this predatory model of development that depends on the disruption and destruction of lives and community, highlighting alternative paths.

The first session of the symposium was kickstarted by Ms Satyarupa Shekhar from Citizen Consumer and CivicAction Group whose presentation 'Invisible Impacts' covered the Smart City model, throwing light into the monitoring of smart cities mission. Satyarupa’s presentation highlighted the successes of the smart city mission as well as the drawbacks. She pointed out areas in which smart city mission has overlooked the consequences of evictions and vulnerabilities of slum communities. Her presentation also covered the assessment of flood risks in Chennai especially the high-risk slum communities.

Post this informative presentation, the PTS members from evicted communities took to the floor to talk about their problems.

Around 20 members from Penn Thozhilalar Sangam turned up for the symposium from the evicted communities of Gudapakkam, Morai, and Perumbakkam. Each community representative listed their problems which included the lack of basic facilities like drinking water, difficulty to access resources like the grocery store, school, hospital. Lack of proper lighting and drainage, a common problem across all communities. Women who earlier had street vendor jobs were forced to quit due to the deserted nature of their relocated area and have to return home early due to safety issues. More complaints were raised against the government and housing secretary who promised them land in exchange for eviction but nothing materialised out of it.

This community experience session was followed by Ms Vanessa Peter’s presentation where she talked about her research with evicted communities. The communities evicted from Cooum area who were relocated to township style accommodations in the outskirts of the city continue to live the facade. The reality shows lack of school, toilets, leaking roofs and no proper action from the government. In addition to these physical problems, lack of safety for women and young girls remain a major problem in these areas and the reason why a majority of the women stay home and make their daughters quit school as well.

This session was followed by an open forum discussion with Ms Katheeja Talha an architect who shared her experiences of working with slum and evicted communities. She shared best practices and ideas she had learnt from her work to guide these evicted community members to find a better solution for their woes.

At the end of the event, Chennai Housing Secretary Mr S. Krishnan IAS participated in the discussion and spent some quality time listening to the problems and issues of the community members. He noted down the complaints and assured immediate action.

Note: A special thanks to Mr S. Krishnan for taking time off his busy schedule to attend our event and participate in the discussion.

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