IIED remembers Jockin Arputham

News, 15 October 2018
IIED pays tribute to an inspirational leader and fighter for slum-dwellers' rights, who died on Saturday, aged 71.

Jockin ArputhamIt is with great sadness that we learnt of the death of Jockin Arputham. He more than anyone has fought for the rights of ‘slum’/shack dwellers – going back to the early 1970s as he tried to stop the bulldozing of the settlement in which he lived.

He founded the National Slum Dwellers Federation in India to further this – and had to endure constant harassment (including being arrested over 40 times).

But Jockin saw how protest and making legitimate demands on the state were not working. He saw the need, above all, to get local government to see the ‘slum’ population as a tremendous resource that they can work with.

He formed an alliance with Mahila Milan, the federation of savings groups set up by women pavement and slum dwellers and the Mumbai-based NGO SPARC. They developed a range of tools – community-based savings schemes and community-led data gathering and mapping of informal settlements – and devised innovative projects that set precedents for doing things better and showed how local government could work with them. 

These were the tools and experiences he brought to the formation of Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) that he helped found in 1995. Today it has affiliates including federations in 33 countries. It's a global network that learns from each other and supports each other. It shows governments and international agencies other ways.

Jockin was always open to new ideas. He recently got solar panels put on top of some apartment blocks into which low-income households had been relocated. The system was set up to feed surplus electricity into the grid. So it was good for reducing carbon emissions. But it also cut the inhabitants’ electricity bills and contributed to more reliable water supplies (through powering pumps that fill rooftop tanks). It was so like Jockin to see such wider possibilities.

So in IIED, we mourn someone who has long taught us and challenged us. Who perhaps more than anyone else has shaped and informed our work in urban areas. Who also gave us so generously his time.

Working with IIED

Jockin regularly wrote about his work with the National Slum Dwellers Federation and SDI, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. The same year saw him named as one of the winners of a US$1.25 million Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship.

More recently, he highlighted what the Sustainable Development Goals could mean for slum dwellers ahead of World Habitat Day in 2015, and explained the benefits of developing a slum-dweller led strategy for securing land tenure and services.

His most recent blog for IIED was in November 2016, when he explained how data from slums, gathered by slum dwellers themselves, is helping to provide vital services where they are needed most.

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