The recently announced Rajiv Awaas Yojana (RAY) has brought back an old ghost to debates on how to allow the urban poor a foothold into the city and the possibility of upward mobility. The central policy initiative of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation is the most significant contemporary attempt to address urban poverty through providing housing to the urban poor. The “slum-free city” is back. Now more than ever, then, it is time to ask: what is a “slum-free city”?
The Oscars have passed us by, leaving us with moments that op-ed writers could possibly only dream up: bollywood dancers on an Oscar stage; two of the three nominees for Best Song being sung in a language nearly the entire audience couldn’t even identify let alone speak; the English-speaking of the bevy of ‘India’s children’ translating the English questions into Marathi for the ‘kid from an actual slum’ in a we’re-all-one-across-the-ocean-moment; and, of course, the most harmonious moment of India-is-England-is-India convergence since the founding of the East India Company. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
So what does any of this have to do with slums? Let me be clear: this is not a tirade against the movie in any way. It actually isn’t about the movie at all. It is though about the one thing that the movie has brought back into our attention but that, somehow, no one actually seems to be talking about – that thing called the slum. Slumdog and the debates, protests, and celebrations around it, in equal measure, seem to beg a question: how do we, as Indians who are not Danny Boyle, think about the slum? How should we? Can Slumdog teach us a trick or two about our own backyards?