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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Slum dwellers take law into their hands
Bombay shanty town
About half of Bombay's population still live in slums
A radical scheme to police some of India's worst slums by using slum dwellers as the main law enforcers is to be greatly extended in the city of Bombay (Mumbai).

The scheme, which recruits seven women and three men in each slum to work alongside an official police officer in a group known as a panchayat, has been highly successful so far in reducing crime.

It is now set for more widespread use, the city's police commissioner AN Roy told the World Urban Forum in Barcelona.

"The police now have free helpers and a safe location to work," Mr Roy said.

"We started with 15 slums, and there are now panchayats in 100 and we hope for many more."


A total of 150 million people live in slums in India.

Bombay Police Chief AN Roy
The slum dwellers looked at the police as oppressors... now they've started thinking alike
Police commissioner AN Roy
Normal policing in the areas has historically been intensely difficult because of mutual distrust on both sides, Mr Roy said.

"Initially, police looked at slum dwellers as if they were all criminals," he explained.

"On the other hand, the slum dwellers looked at the police as oppressors now they've started thinking alike."

One of the biggest problems with crime is petty disputes - such as queue-jumping in the wait for water at public standpipes, or battles over small areas of land.

Drunkenness in particular - made worse by the high numbers of illegal alcohol brewers and traders in the slums - is often the cause of such arguments.

However, resolving these disputes is difficult as neither side usually has the time or money to settle a case in court. This has the potential to make the situation worse if one party decides to settle the argument with force.

Community justice

Under the panchayat system, the selected slum dwellers act as community officials.

Inhabitants are able to bring disputes before the panchayats, with the idea bring that they represent the "entire community together."

Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir
Policing in slums has been difficult historically
Although the men and women who form the panchayat do not have official police powers, they are given a badge by Mumbai's law enforcement agency.

In any cases of dispute, they record all areas of the argument and can then act accordingly. If necessary, more powerful authorities can be brought in.

Mr Roy said that the panchayats "lead to reduction in crime, greater harmony between people, and greater peace."

Empowering women

He also explained that the make-up of the panchayats - seven women to three men - was deliberately designed to target one of the most common crimes in slum areas, violence towards women.

"Women are largely on the receiving end much more so than in other parts of the city," he said.

Having more women on the panchayats brought much greater scrutiny on abusers, he argued.

"They bring in greater pressure," he stressed.

"They act much more forcefully┐ this is borne out by experience."

With reduced crime making slum areas less of a threat, moves can now be made to improve the lives of those living there through other means.

Mumbai is now looking at attempting to bring in health services and vocational training, which, it is hoped, will help improve the prospects of the city's poorest.

"The empowerment of women and the young unemployed will transform the lives of the slum dwellers," Mr Roy added.

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