Clearing out the Slum(dwellers)

Ok, so the Supreme Court has said that poverty is no excuse for invading public places and setting up shanties there. Fair enough. I’ve often thought how beautiful Azad Maidan would look without all the squatters and it would be such a pleasure walking down Mahapalika Marg if only the various ‘charsis’ weren’t there.

But where are the slum dwellers to go? They’re all migrants from rural areas. They left their native villages in search of better livelihood and came to the cities. Naturally the cities got over-crowded, basic infrastructure started breaking down and living conditions fell way below par. And its a good thing that the judiciary realizes the importance of public spaces, especially in a city like Mumbai where to get any amount of fresh air, you have to remain indoors.

These migrants left their villages because conditions there are primitive. In the fifty-odd years since independence, the administration hasn’t done much to raise living standards in rural India. Power is erratic, commercial agriculture has turned traditional living patterns upside down, potable water is becoming scarce. Now the ejected slum dwellers have no choice but to go back.

I’m in total agreement with the SC in the matter of public spaces. We need them…desperately. But in my opinion the court hasn’t given us a solution. It has merely complicated matters.


Moving on to more literary matters. I just finished reading the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Philip Pullman. I was fascinated not just by the highly original story, but also by the fantastic characterisations and the high-quality action. However, what makes the trilogy more interesting is that Pullman had an agenda when he wrote it and he made no bones about it. He’s an avowed athiest and he makes it very clear in the books. The books are propaganda material for all those who think religion is make-believe and does more harm than good. However, Pullman criticized the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis precisely because he thought they were ‘propaganda’ too. The difference is that Lewis’s books have a very strong Christian theme.

So what does this mean? That it is ok to propagate atheism, but not ok to talk about religion? That’s a bit unfair, I think. Everyone should have the right to say what they want. If you don’t want to listen, you’d better turn deaf.


That reminds of something else. The whole Prophet Muhammad cartoon controversy. I remember getting so confused and I kept asking myself…should there be any limits on the freedom of speech and expression? On the one hand, I believe that everyone has an opinion and they should be allowed to air it. On the other hand, I thought the cartoons were in really bad taste and it would’ve been better for all concerned if they had never been published. I was especially upset that many European newspapers printed those cartoons just to prove a point. It seemed a little spiteful.

All this reminded me of an essay I’d read in college. I don’t remember who wrote it or what its name is. All I remember is the essayist saying that while freedom is important, it should not impinge upon or put at risk other peoples’ freedom. For instance, I’m perfectly free to walk down the middle of the road. But if I did that, I’d violate the freedom of motorists to drive down that same road without any accidents. So basically, there have to be some laws and rules and regulations to make sure that one person’s freedom is not in opposition to another person’s freedom.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that freedom of speech and expression is fine, but it should be used with proper judgement.


15 thoughts on “Clearing out the Slum(dwellers)

  1. hmmm, true the govt has only complicated the problem further, but again, im not sure how many options the govt has! seems like they’re in as much a fix as some of us are about our jobs!!

    as for the books, i think its only stupid of that Pullman guy to do what he did, I dun think he shud b gettin up n losing his cool if some organization comes up n decides to burn his book!!

    finally, the last one is the trickiest one so far. its all about good taste. the sculpture of a naked woman may be good art for me but obscenity to sum1 els. so, theres no real answer to that one!

    BTW, puj, gr8 writing man!!!

  2. Pullman is an engaging writer, no doubt. But his problem is that he seems to think there are different rules for him and for Lewis. That is my problem with him. He’s an entertaining writer otherwise…

  3. I agree with both of u abt the Pullman guy altho i havent read the book!!! It’s more like I can do this but u cant!

    Poor Government yaar!!! For once, I feel bad for them… What do they do??? If they decide to stop the inflow of people to this city, then it is indeed curtailing their freedom!!! Then u mite as well have a diff constitution for every city!!!

    And abt the Cartoon issue, again I cannot help but agree with both of u!!! Freedom should be used but with some discretion!!! Ppl, whether they like it or not, should learn to respect other ppl’s sentiments!!!

    And Pilli, that example of the road crossing was too good!!! Am impressed… and as for the writing, i have said enuf… M a big fan of ur simple style of writing!!! Way to go girley!!!

  4. The slums have to go sumwhere. True. But the slums are only a small section of humans right. Watt i mean is that man also operates in the same way, unlike all other mammals it doesnt maintain an equilibrium. Man is more like a cancer, it just spreads. So this is kinda like a problem that humanity is facing, and the cancer is spreadin fast.
    The Pullman guy must be one of those ppl who want the world to be his way, that ppl agree to his thoughts. But sumhow i barely know the situation so i’m not gonna blabber abt it.
    Well about the cartoon thing, according to me the protests and the killings during the controversy just proved the cartoon to be true. Remember there was this guy who announced a reward of 1 million on TV for the person who beheads the cartoonist. That just proves how much closer we are to the stone age rather than the modern age.
    N keep writin dude, this is fun readin.

  5. @ Blessen
    The example of the road is from that essay that I referred to. Will find out its name and let you know. You must read it!

    I agree with you..we do seem to be closer to the Stone Age than to the Modern Age. But we must never forget that it is because we are in this century that we can express all our viewpoints, orthodox or otherwise, so freely. So, our times do have some redeeming features! 😀

  6. Yea… I kinda knew that.. But i was just impressed with that stuff!!! Btw, have updated my blog again!!! It is somehow closer to my heart!!!

  7. That’s some complete freedom of speech u’ve exercised Pooja! Awesome post!

    It’s true, our govt. can educate these people and point out that the pastures they left, in search for the so called greener ones, are actually greener than they actually thought; But as always, the Neta are intent on swiping off the ‘Indignant Ratepayer’ and invest in their own luxuries than making these actual pastures greener. Sigh! no.. on second thought make that a treble sigh!

    It’s true, freedom of speech needs to be exercised with control and judgement. But with so many elements around, most modernists opine(myself being a proponent 😉 ) that there needs to be a certain amount of apathy among people towards issues that don’t concern themselves. I mean, I cud call u a silly ass(I’m not and I won’t without reason :D), but u and all others who know you, would argue to the contrary. Still, that’s the way the it works doesn’t it, controversy, criticism and healthy(in some cases ugly) arguments keep the world moving. It’s all about eschewing the unimportant and walking freely in the sidepath of the road, alongside the heavy traffic, yeah?

  8. @ Aswin

    I agree…debates, controversies etc. make the world go round.
    But why do you say there needs to be apathy? That would mean that people wouldn’t be interested enough in matters to actually debate about them.

    sorry if the last sentence is a little incoherent…just got back from work 🙂

  9. Nope, not incoherent.. perfectly understandable. 🙂 If the gist was captured right, “Why apathy?”, u ask..

    Hmm… let’s see.. Maybe I was pointing at the raw Indian mentality aspect. People comment about things on which they have no background information, nor are they remotely interested in it, but still comment on it for gossip’s sake. Here’s where I bring in, not complete, but a certain amount of apathy.
    I mean, Schumacher having a great winning streak doesn’t mean one(who doesn’t know the head and tail of F1, nor is even interested to find out which Grand Prix is going on) has to diss Fernando Alonso for winning, does he/she?
    I guess ‘Debate, but not for debate’s sake’ is what I’m trying to say.. anyway, my defence is, look @ the time when I’m posting this comment 😀

  10. LOL! Point taken! But don’t you think you’re doing The Great Indian Mentality disservice by assuming that we comment on issues, whether we know enough about them or not, just for the sake of commenting on them?

    Another incoherent sentence…this time from work. So have to hurry it up, before my boss spots me goofing off!

  11. Oh, Ah! the disadvantage of generalization. No, no, by The Great Indian Mentality, I meant the curse that has affected the multitude of the masses… not erudite ones like you 🙂

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