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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
India's new pioneers: Slum architect
Pratima Joshi
Pratima Joshi set up Shelter
As part of BBC's India Week, the BBC News website spoke to four people who are pushing the boundaries with their chosen careers.

Architect Pratima Joshi set up Shelter, an organisation which works with slum dwellers in Pune to improve sanitation and basic accommodation.

I had no idea how huge the problem was.

In Pune, 45% of the population are living in slums that make up less than 10 percent of the city's area. It was so depressing to find out that such a large number of our people lived in such degraded environments.

We need to push for the equitable distribution of resources. You cannot have homes that lack the most basic things
I set up Shelter with a group of architects out of a desire to use our skills to help people get better housing.

If you cannot give basic dignity to your fellow human beings, what kind of progress can you talk about?

But there are enormous challenges.

Women have to squat outside because of the lack of adequate toilet facilities. They go before sunrise or after sunset and they are harassed and sometimes abused.

There are so many myths that need to be exploded.

People say: "These slum dwellers are dirty people, thieves. They like living in dirt."

This is the state we are in after 50 years of independence!

Slum census

Slums in Pune during flooding
In Pune, almost half the city's population lives in slums
We have used poverty mapping to better understand the slums of Pune.

We carried out door-to-door interviews to collect data. We have the definitive facts and figures and so people have to sit up and take notice. We present this to local government.

When we did the slum census, we trained hundreds of slum dwellers to go out there and gather data from different slums. Unless the poor were made central to any process, nothing would succeed.

After data is gathered, we hand it back to them and tell them to prioritise their needs.

Some slums wanted sanitation, others wanted water. If they were by the river bed or in difficult terrain, they opted for housing.

Women naturally take the lead. The woman runs the household. She has to be central to any process.

We have reached a stage where we have a group of very empowered women and men from the slums who go and talk to the poor in other slums about working with us to improve their conditions.

Rebuilding lives

Women meeting in slums
Women in the slums form groups to prioritise their needs
With the building of new accommodation, so their status in society improves. These people are no longer called slum dwellers, and the difference is dramatic.

Many families tell me: "My daughters can get a better bridegroom because we are no longer in the slums."

But what we have done is just a drop in the ocean.

So many things still need to change. We need to see greater empowerment of women. No society can progress if half its members are shackled or suppressed.

We need to push for the equitable distribution of resources. You cannot have homes that lack the most basic things.


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