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Jockin Arputham has worked for more than 40 years in slums and shanty towns, building representative organizations into powerful partners with governments and international agencies for the betterment of urban living. Arputham is the president of the National Slum Dwellers Federation which he founded in the 70s and of Slum Dwellers International which networks slum and shack dweller organizations and federations from over twenty countries across the world. The National Slum Dwellers Federation works closely with Mahila Milan, a collective of savings groups formed by homeless women and women living in slums across India, and with SPARC, a Mumbai-based NGO, and together they have been instrumental is supporting tens of thousands of the urban poor access housing and sanitation. He has also worked with the police to set up 'police panchayats' in many of the informal settlements in Mumbai. Here, for the first time, police are assigned to work in these settlements and are supported by a committee of ten residents from the community (three men seven women).
Jockin realized that slum dweller organizations had to change their strategy. They had to make governments see them as legitimate citizens with knowledge and capacities to implement solutions. So they sought to work in partnership with government to address their housing problems – and other problems. He has often said that how can you reduce urban poverty if you do not listen to and work with the urban poor.He has built more than 20,000 (toilet) seats in Mumbai alone.He insisted on new standards on redeveloped housing, an increased floor-space-index. Over the years, Arputham has built 30,000 houses in India, and 1,00,000 houses abroad.Funding for his work comes from many sources. Thanks to his work, he has met both Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
He has visited many other countries to encourage and support slum or shack dwellers to organize and to encourage them to take their own initiatives to show government what they are capable of. He is currently residing in Mumbai; his office is in Dharavi. He was the winner of the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding and an honorary Ph.D. from KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, in 2009. In 2011, the Government of India bestowed on him its fourth highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri award. He is well known for his charisma and excellent public speaking.
Arputham was born to Tamilian parents in Kolar Gold Fields, Kolar district of Karnataka, India, in 1947. In 1963 he moved to Mumbai where he worked as a carpenter and building contractor. He became involved in community action within the settlement where he lived and worked, organising efforts to get household waste collected, setting up informal schools for children, and establishing water connections.
When the 70,000 people who lived in Janata colony (including him) were threatened with eviction, he helped organize protests and court cases. He was arrested many times, despite Janata colony not being an illegal settlement. He also squatted in the Parliament in Delhi until the then Prime Minister would see him. But in 1976, 70,000 people were evicted, although the community organizations that had emerged meant that they got much better terms than most evictees - land and support for housing in Cheetah Camp.