About 80% of the cancer patients at the Cancer Institute (WIA) are from households that fall below the poverty line. The Cancer Institute will not turn anyone away based on income. Most of the patients receive a modest amount of money for their treatment from the Government. The rest is paid through foundations and non-profit organizations that donate to the Institute. I was interested in visiting some of the poorest areas of Chennai to gain some insight into the living conditions of the patients and their families. So I made visits to one of the largest slums in Chennai.
Chennai has made significant efforts to clear the city of slums through their Slum Clearance Programs. The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board was established in 1970 and recently declared a vision for Tamil Nadu to have slum-free cities before 2023 (tnscb.org). While many of the slums have been removed and slum dwellers re-located to resettlement tenements, my first visit was to the largest remaining slum where 20,000 families live. It is located on a dried riverbed. Most of the residents moved to this slum from rural areas to see to seek jobs in the city. The land that they built their homes on is “no man’s land;” that is, no one owns the land and its free for them to take. Often these areas are along banks of rivers. I’m guessing that this may have been a slum built along a river bank but moved on the river bed when the river dried up. With the citywide slum clearance movement, this slum will likely be torn down and residents will be moved to resettlement areas. People living in unauthorized areas can be evicted and forced to move. But until that happens, residents seem content to live in their own houses and within a community that is accepting of them. Some of the residents who have lived there for many years are under the impression that they will be able to sell their houses when they are evacuated. They are actually making improvements to their houses so that they can sell their houses when it is time to move.
There is a nongovernmental organization (ngo) called Leeds Trust that is located in the slum. Three social work students at Stella Maris took me to the ngo for an orientation and then accompanied me on a tour of the community. Leeds provides a range of services from training women in weaving plastic baskets, TB clinic, youth classes, to name a few.
The houses are made from recycled materials—tin, wood, stones—whatever materials can be found, recycled or bought cheaply. Some of the residents have been able to afford houses made from concrete. One problem with building on a riverbed is flooding. For two months of the year, it rains constantly; the roads are flooded and water pours into the houses. To prevent extensive flooding of the houses, residents buy broken concrete and pile it against their houses to form a barrier. During my visit, I saw a dump truck full of broken concrete stopping at houses to sell the rubble. Also, while I was there a governmental water truck delivered water to the residents—it comes every other day and women hurry to the truck with water jugs to fill.