Urban Squatters and Slums
Looking behind the Fašade:
How People Manage in Squatter Settlements


Hari Srinivas
Field Study Series E-155. April 2022.


The five photos used in this essay were taken in Bangalore, India. They represent scenarios where not all is doom and gloom in slums and squatter settlements of cities in developing countries. Much can, and has, been done by the people's initiative alone - simply by, for example, the local government offering a tacit agreement not to 'interfere' in their lives!

Not all the pointers in this essay exist in squatter settlements in general, but does provide a different view to the facile one of squatter settlements as breeding grounds for disease, crime and degeneration.

The five photos and the accompanying essay are presented in no particular order:

Photo 1
Down the lane

  1. Political parties' presence is a constant in squatter settlements (represented here by a political party's flag), where community services are 'bought' by residents from politicians, in return for votes!

  2. Electricity and street lighting provide a sense of security for residents. Many have individual connections, or are 'sold' electricity by a person with formal link to the city's supply.

  3. Covered drains, even if imperfect, exist in squatter settlements. These at least reduce the risk of disease and flooding.

  4. Community tap water - individual connections to water supply may be difficult to come by, but access to at least community water supply exists in many places, easing the problem considerably.

Photo 2
Rich man, poor man

  1. When tenure security is possible, people do invest and improve their homes! Many times this can be a "perceived" sense of tenure - for example a tacit agreement not to evict squatters from a land parcel (particularly by local governments for public lands. The perceived sense of tenure comes from the local government "declaring" the area as a slum - essentially allowing them to continue t stay in the same location).

Photo 3
The future is ours

  1. Local and community based NGOs play a critical role in mobilizing people, in fostering leadership, in building partnerships with local governments, or (as in this case) in providing social infrastructure such as education.

  2. Committed individuals, such as this school teacher, do exist and need a conductive environment where they can work and contribute to the community's development.

  3. Access to education increases the children's desire to improve and become a success in their future - and to opportunities to obtain skills.

Photo 4
Home sweet home

  1. People do want to improve their homes, their quality of lives - if provided an opportunity.

    Many factors go into the creation of a facilitative environment for such upgradation and improvement: a sense of perceived tenure, acess to finance, entrepreneurship, job security etc.

  2. Community leaders form an important bridge between the settlement and outside stakeholders (local governments, NGOs etc.) - in inspiring the residents to form community groups and in networking and collaborating with politicians, the local city hall etc.

Photo 5
Life goes on ...

  1. Water is not available in all homes, but usually, at least a community stand-pipe is provided. This is not an ideal situation, but is a starting point for further improvement and enhancement.

  2. Working together as a community is such a critical aspect for lo-income groups. These are particularly important in the absence of formal systems that could support and service them.



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