The Blue Tent Phenomena

Often glanced over by the eyes of the typical city-dweller, slums fill up at the corners of the streets, the banks of the drainage ways and underneath flyovers.

When slums are browns and greys, they are hidden under the shadows between high-risers and are camouflaged against the piles of garbage. The inhabitants are unknown, their lives a mystery and the communities are reduced to a blur seen from the windows of commuters as they drive by.

But here in Bangalore, the slums shout out from the shadows with vibrancy. One would require significant effort to turn a blind eye to these bright blue tarpaulin rooftops. A blue that cannot hide under bridges and does not camouflage easily creates a string of open ended questions of why’s and how’s. Is the green cityscape of Bangalore being replaced by a cobalt blue?

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Let’s assess this situation- The Slum Development Board of Karnataka concluded their 2010 survey with some alarming statistics. 22.5% of Karnataka’s urban population live in slums. 1.4 million of those live within Bangalore’s urban district. Bangalore’s slum population has almost doubled in the past decade. 62% of these slums have been present in the city for more than 30 years.

Where have these people come from? With the rise in Bangalore’s economy, there has been a boom in the construction industry. The sudden spur of buildings created a need for labour. This brought an influx of migrant workers. With an average daily wage of Rs.200 for unskilled labour, what kind of housing can a family afford?

With a sole breadwinner, a family of 6-8 can live in conditions that are at best described as meagre. In a tent of not more than 150sq.ft, all household activities from sleeping to cooking are carried out. Under the bright blue, conditions are dim. Leaking roofs and damp floors encase the smoke-filled interiors. The lucky ones with access to electricity get light into the space, while the rest rely on their cooking fires. Without proper sanitary facilities and drinking water, disease is no stranger in these communities. Medical aid and school education seemed to be absent from their lives.

Just a walk into the community is enough to grasp the sights, smells and the sounds. But to understand the stories, their lives and their needs, an in-depth study would be necessary. Moving to the city presents an attractive prospect. Yet, for years these communities continue to call these pitiful slums their home. What is their future? What can be done to alleviate the situation?

 

 

The City’s Invisibles

On our many trips to Thimmaiyandoddi village, at an unlikely junction where the city ended and the villages were set to foray (or did the city encroach into the villages?) we noticed a small low lying land, not yet concretized by its owners. This land had many blue tents that housed families sharing a common bathing tent. They were frail and flailing structures, feeble under the mercy of body and breeze.

We began to wonder; who are the people who live in them? What are the problems they face? What happens to them during the rains, and when the nearby sewage overflows? How do they cook? Do the children go to school? Are the women and children safe? How much do they spend on their housing? Ironically situated just a few kilometres away from Electronics City, this invisible settlement got us thinking…

Perception: Humans see what we want to see. Suddenly, we started noticing these same blue tents dotting the city-scape. For how long have they been Bangalore? The blue tent paradox…

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Towards Dignity and Empowerment

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After two houses were built, everyone came forward to form their own teams to make their own blocks in quick efficient time. We were not needed to drive them; they drove themselves and us. We completed 14 houses in one year, on a need basis. It took us longer to work people! We learnt from a veteran NGO that a test of our success is to see how many leaders sprout in the village in the time we are working there. Jayamma was the first to express need for a smokeless chulha which Canara Bank would fund. When we had the inauguration and hand-over ceremony, Sakamma, Kempamma, Madappa came on the stage along with Kalappa and village elder Chikeliappa. This was true empowerment!

The Timmaiyanadoddi model was an experiment, with an outlook to make it a replicable model for intervention. Apart from providing for the basic need for decent shelter, the model inquired to ascertain the impact of holistic design of built environment on the human psyche

Once you are the proud owner of a house, and are involved in the rebuilding of the spaces around your houses, the level of sensation of well-being, self-worth and responsibility towards oneself and on the surrounding environment is likely to increase.

We found that it certainly has increased. This made our hard journey and efforts worthwhile. Thimmaiyandoddi is a success story. Thimmaiyanadoddi- NIVASA’s flagship project towards dignity and empowerment.

Nivasa is an Architectural NGO that is based out of Bangalore. We seek to provide professional design and construction support for rural housing and infrastructure in India’s villages as a Design and Build Venture. The organization is run by a small group of dedicated individuals. Our philosophy is “Improving the quality of lives of people in villages in a holistic manner”. NIVASA’s vision is for every villager in India to own his permanent home. We are an Architectural NGO that is based out of Bangalore. We seek to provide professional design and construction support for rural housing and infrastructure in India’s villages as a Design and Build Venture. The organization is run by a small group of dedicated individuals. Our philosophy is “Improving the quality of lives of people in villages in a holistic manner”. Five areas of intended Impact in villages, where Impact is the enhancement of human capability towards self-reliance, are Housing & Infrastructure, Health, Access to finance, Education & Skill development.

Our values are shaped on: Purity of Purpose, Integrity of Thought & Action, Patience & Perseverance in Execution, The Community as the locus of Interest, The Cause is greater than the Self.

Our direct focus is on housing & infrastructure. It is our belief that long term sustainable changes can be made to any society if a few organizations with specialist skills in these five areas work in a non-competitive, complementary manner to bring about the change. This is what we did in Thimmaiyandoddi.