«Working Paper No. 2010/56 Women and Landed Property in Urban India Negotiating Closed Doors and Windows of Opportunity Bipasha Baruah* May 2010 ...»
2.3 Other strategies and conditions leading to tenure security In addition to legal land rights and non-displacement guarantees, there are other factors that contribute to the perception of security—or insecurity—of land tenure among slum residents. These are described below.
Availability of documents related to land and housing Mechanisms of sale, purchase, rent, transfer of land and property are highly informal within squatter settlements. Legal documents attested by a public notary are rare and most transactions take place with promissory notes or statements written on 10-20 rupee stamp paper in the presence of four witnesses. Because legally notarized documents were considered expensive and unavailable to slum dwellers, the existence of any kind of quasi-legal documentation that asserts claim to legitimate residence instilled a sense of security.
While the general assumption is that slum dwellers have encroached on the land they occupy, findings indicate that almost all residents had paid significant sums of money— ranging between Rs 3,000-30,000 (US$75-750)—for plots either to the legal owners or to the original squatters. The original encroachers had, in many cases, become de facto slum lords, ‘selling’ municipality or government-owned land to current residents, many of whom were unaware that they had ‘bought’ land from someone other than the rightful legal owner. Durand-Lasserve and Royston (2002) emphasize that contrary to common belief, access to slums is rarely free. An entry fee is generally paid to an intermediary, or to the person or group who exerts control over the settlement.
It was not surprising that the vast majority of slum women are not mentioned on the promissory notes confirming land ownership. But the fact that almost 40 per cent of the men had no form of title to the land and house they occupied was unforeseen. It was common for property to remain in the name of the grandfather (who could be deceased or living) or father of the male household head. High transaction costs were cited as the primary reason for not transferring property to the current owners. This may explain why many of the slum-dwelling male household heads are not named in ownership documents, but it also draws attention to the observation (Cooper 1997; Jackson 2003) that precarious land access affects a greater number of men than would appear if all men are aggregated together as the inevitable beneficiaries of patrilineal inheritance. It can also mean that the marginalized position of women with regard to landed property ownership was not necessarily caused by the desire to subjugate women but may well have been the outcome of rivalry between different groups of men, or of the inability of certain male groups to acquire control over landed property.
Availability of other legal documents Ration cards4 and election cards were available to residents in all the squatter locations covered by the study. In addition, municipal land and water tax receipts were issued in the upgraded slums, as were electricity bills by the Ahmedabad Electric Company.
There was a general assumption among male and female slum residents alike that the possession of these legal and quasi-legal documents was tantamount to government sanction of their occupancy and protection from eviction: ‘We have ration cards and election cards. Why should we be scared?’, was a common response to queries about tenure security.
Awareness among slum residents was generally low of the fact that these documents represented only user charges and at best strengthened their right to residence but were in no way an indication of ownership status. Surprisingly, however, recognition was much higher among men and women in the five upgraded slums that had received noneviction guarantees than among the eight slums which were yet to be upgraded. This is discussed in detail in the next section.
In addition to land tax documents and water bills, women greatly valued their voter registration and ration cards. Women typically perceived themselves as having very few opportunities to acquire resources or to express opinions unmediated by men, and many recognized that possession of these personalized documents afforded them the opportunity to negotiate a degree of space and independence for themselves. Voting for a different candidate than their husbands or buying rice or flour at the governmentapproved subsidized rate with their own income even when their husbands contributed nothing to the household finances were two examples of women expressing agency without the explicit approval or support of their partners. While such findings do not directly assert female claim to property, they are not inconsequential in that they demonstrate the ability of women to protect their interests and to exercise their rights even when cultural stereotypes frequently depict them as being incapable of thought or action independent from their husbands, fathers or sons.
Listing or designation of slums A citywide listing or designation of slums was undertaken in 1976 under the aegis of a nationwide survey initiated by the Indira Gandhi government. The slums identified in the survey were provided with basic public services as well as a guarantee of relocation if circumstances necessitated eviction. Photo identification cards (called ‘photo-passes’) were issued to the heads of families residing in slums during that time. While the residents of all case-study slums were aware of the value of the passes, less than half of the families had obtained them. Many families had lost their photo-passes in fires or floods that regularly ravaged low-lying areas. Other families had been away during the survey and thus had missed out on the opportunity to secure a photo-pass.
4 Ration cards are issued by state governments to low-income individuals and families to entitle holders to purchase rice, flour, sugar and other essentials at subsidized prices.
Many of the slums had expanded significantly since the 1970s and most newcomers lacked sufficient identification to assert their right to residence or to relocation in the event of eviction. However, the level of insecurity over tenure among new migrants in the settled slums was surprisingly low, since most considered the designation of the whole area as a slum in the 1976 survey as adequate proxy for individual security of tenure.
The listing of slums was conducted long before issues of gender disadvantage and inequality acquired any real currency beyond tokenism. Women were classified as household heads only if there were no adult males. Widowed women were frequently listed under adult sons, even when these sons lived separately, or did not support their mothers in any way. Married women living with their husbands were subsumed under the husband’s name. Many women, who had since been divorced, separated or abandoned by their husbands but continued to live in the same slums, were also without photo-passes. The survey, conducted over 30 years ago, reinforced the dominant patriarchal attitude that women should rely on men to negotiate access to landed resources. It would be safe to conclude that while it may not have intended to disadvantage women, it did not empower them either.
Political patronage Frequently, patronage from local leaders led to assurances of non-eviction and at times, also to the provision of basic public services. In addition to support from local politicians, there is a growing and influential lobby against eviction as well as media and judiciary support for the rights of squatters as citizens. In Ahmedabad, NGOs such as Ahmedabad Study Action Group (ASAG) and Disha have repeatedly confronted the municipal corporation and the state government on eviction and tenure matters. In several cases, this has prevented potential evictions or demolitions and coerced the government into considering less disruptive ways of addressing land conflicts. As a result, a new trend of dialogue and intervention has also emerged and there is greater willingness among the different stakeholders to work together to find solutions to landrelated conflicts than there was during the 1970s or 1980s.
On the grassroots level, slum dwellers have devised their own mechanisms to ensure security of tenure. Information networks with junior officials in the municipal bureaucracy provided slum populations with advance warning of impending evictions or demolition. This would give residents time to seek the support of local political leaders to act on their behalf in securing stay orders from the court, as well as organizing protests, demonstrations, and other visible newsworthy events to derail displacement plans. Slum residents are politically savvy enough to recognize the importance of inviting local politicians and the press to cultural and sports events to their slums. For example, Barotvas, one slum area in this study, has a tradition of celebrating Navratri (a Hindu festival) in a grand way. People from all over Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat attend the dancing and the festivities. ‘Even Mallika Sarabhai (a renowned classical dancer) and Narendra Modi (the chief minister of Gujarat) have come to celebrate Navratri with us’, gushed one proud resident. In addition to being major cultural events within the slums, such celebrations are excellent vehicles to publicize de facto regularization and entitlement to public services.
While support from local political leaders and their interventions on behalf of slum residents frequently strengthened tenure security, it was also observed that many interviewees constantly deferred to their leaders, agreeing with their opinions and ideas when these leaders were present in group meetings, but often expressing contradictory viewpoints in their absence. In one instance, a local leader spent a considerable amount of time informing the author how he had served the slum dwellers over the years amidst what was thought to be agreement from residents. During a subsequent meeting with mostly female residents, the author was told that the local leader was ‘more talk than anything’ and that his level of commitment to the slum was usually relative to how close it was to election time. According to the women, they continued to vote for him because in the absence of other leadership, even his half–hearted attempts at pressurizing the government for land documents or for infrastructure like water stands and street lights were more than they had been able to secure on their own. Similar findings have been reported by other authors: Sharma (2002) notes that Muslim women in Dharavi, a large slum in Mumbai, the site of direct clashes between Hindus and Muslims in 1992, said that they would vote for the rabidly right-wing Hindu legislator because he was the only elected official who had taken the trouble to build toilets in their neighbourhood. Such findings support the view that although political patronage can frequently serve as a means to strengthen tenure security and to secure basic services, it can also impose other less obvious restrictions and costs onto slum residents.
Relying on political patronage to ensure security of tenure has strong, gendered implications. In many situations, power relations in slums are seriously corrupt and men’s greater access to power gives them a significant advantage over women in delivering bribes and mobilizing unfair leverage—be it in acquiring an illegal electricity connection, receiving a ration card or seeking political protection in pursuing illegal economic activities like bootlegging and drug dealing. This dependence on informal processes further undermines women’s access to authority since it increases their dependence on men and male links to informal or illegal power structures.
Construction of religious structures Building a religious structure, a temple, church or mosque, in a prominent location is a fairly common practice even in slums where the quality of housing is extremely poor.
According to slum residents, in addition to these structures being places of worship, they also serve as community halls and provide shelter from inclement weather for those who could not afford to secure their homes against the elements. Many interviewees spoke of taking shelter in a temple or mosque after the 2001 earthquake and during annual floods. While these are plausible reasons even in impoverished communities for pooling together scarce resources to construct such buildings, they also serve the strategic purpose of enhancing security of tenure. The recent rise of Hindu fundamentalism across India, and in Gujarat in particular, has occurred amidst widespread but frequently denied allegations of pro-Hindu bias within the various tiers of government. With the threat of communal violence looming large in cities like Ahmedabad, a religious structure within the community equips slum populations with an informal but potent defence mechanism. Since municipal authorities would want to avoid the negative publicity of tearing down a temple or a mosque during politically turbulent times, areas surrounding such structures also secure a form of de facto immunity from displacement.
While women benefited as much as men from the security of having a religious building in their community, this study suggests that they were less likely to take advantage of its use as a gathering place because of social restrictions on female mobility and public interaction. The ideology of female seclusion in many parts of India restricts contact with men through territorial gendering of public and private space. Indeed, in many of the case-study slums, women were expected to avoid places where men congregate.
Consequently, women frequently preferred to meet as a group in each other’s homes or courtyards. Men, on the other hand, seemed to feel more entitled and comfortable in these temple surroundings, playing cards, drinking tea, and socializing. The slum headman informed the author that as an educated ‘westernized’ woman, it would be appropriate for her to hold a male focus group at the community site, but that women of the community might prefer to meet more ‘privately’ where they could talk openly without violating the norms of female seclusion. There were similar encounters in other communities. This motivates the author to emphasize that informal mechanisms that strengthen tenure security and the right to residence frequently marginalize women with additional hurdles, conveniently founded on culture and tradition, that need to be overcome en route to any real access to resources.
3 Developing a gendered vision of land tenure: key issues