Friday, 5 January 2007


Housing: Shetre as BasicNeed
The Challenges of 21st Century
by Remigius de Souza

"Foxes have their holes, and birds of the air have nests,
but the son of man has no place to lay his head."
- New Testament: Luke 9.58, Mathew 8.20

MODERN URBAN CONCEPT of housing is that of a finished product and a marketable commodity. In that, the orientation of thought process on the issue of housing goes beyond the man's basic need of shelter, i.e. architecture as art form, as a result of material affluence enjoyed by the privileged class of the society. An object of art, being aesthetic experience, could be a lucrative investment avenue, if the risk is accepted on a condition of lobbying the markets through media.

Perhaps there was a time when art had gone beyond psychological need of self-expression and had reached a higher level of spirituality, like that of Tyagaraja in music, Kabir, Tukaram in poetry... and in the thousands of Indian temples helping to build up and hold the community, not only the guilds of artisans and Sthapatis, while 20th Century's contribution to culture is, by its fine specialised division of labour , all possible commercialism of art in every possible medium. Housing has resulted to a matter of mass production by taking away the autonomy of the householder. Housing by people has been a process: planning, management in materials - labour -construction, maintenance, expansion and rebuilding; through participation of family and community.

The three 'conventional' basic needs of man are food, clothing and shelter. The modern western and the westernised societies, however, have a long list of basic needs, as they advance in technologies of increasing wealth and increasingly creating waste... We have witnessed in the Indian tradition that even the three basic needs being elevated from the body level to the divinity by the higher spiritual beings to have achieved amazing forms: hunger to fasting which could baffle medical practitioners; clothing to complete naked body or perhaps a single loin-cloth for all seasons; and a tree as a shelter at Bodhi Gaya for the Buddha or a rock in the seas at Kanyakumari for Swami Vivekanand.

During the Kumbha at Varanasi and Haridwar one witnesses thousand of ascetics who are actually naked. And in the forests the tribal continues to live in the half-naked state. The culture has accepted them without taboo. Both the instances must have certainly boosted the Indian economy in the second half of 20th century by easing the burden on the exchequer in the distribution of resources for the welfare services and 'common good'. We wonder if any economist has ever worked the statistics of these phenomena!

'Begging Bowl' belongs to a Sanyasin on 'Sarva Sanga Parityag' - giving up total worldly life. We have heard of Buddha's 'Bowl' and the 'Grail' of Jesus Christ. In the ancient Indian cultures we have seen 'Yaksis' carrying bowls that are known to provide food abundantly to the needy, particularly in the times of famine and draught. 'Manimekhalai', a legend in the Tamil literary form , appeared in the hall of the hungry and destitute with inexhaustible bowl in her hand. Now a days we hear the begging bowl' expression used by some benevolent non-government organisations [NGOs], whatever it may mean. We consider this as an influence of millennia old cultural heritage, with, of course, 20th century variation, of encashment on financial charities by the way of income-tax concessions. Some may even claim this to be a modification of Lard Krishna's advice of 'Yajna, Dana and Tapa' - sacrifice, charity and penance - in Gita, to suit market economy, an offshoot of prophecy of Adam Smith. I is an added feather in the cap of modern development viz. commercialisation or monetisation of altruism.

Considering food as basic need, the national indicators say that there are 237.7 million persons [1987-88] or 29.9 per cent of total population living below the ‘Poverty Line’. (Poverty Line: expenditure required for daily calorie intake of 2,400 and 2,100 per person in the rural and urban areas respectively. The expenditure is officially estimated at Rs. 181.50 and 209.50 per capita per month in the rural and urban areas respectively at 1991-92-price level.) The annual private consumption of food is Rs. 2,271 per capita in 1990-91 [at 1992-93 price level]. In other words the entire nation is below the Poverty Line and thus is entitled to enjoy the status as a developing country or a Third World Country. This is a magic of Numbers and Words [definitions]. This is a most lucrative situation for the First World India within India, to profit from. Obviously the First World India of Industrial Society is drawing advantages out of the very existence of the people below the Poverty Line for profiteering in the international ‘community of man’; and to maintain a status quo to keep the development ‘wealth orientated’ and not ‘people oriented’.

Are people below the “Poverty Line” any indicator to the shortage of housing?

The housing need of the nation is estimated somewhere about 32.85 million units [1985] in urban and rural areas. In Mumbai 4.12 mn. [1990] out of 9.19 mn. [1991] live in the slums. In the four metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai, about 13.82 mn. people live in the slums. During 1981-91, the population of Mumbai and the two adjoining cities of Thane and Kalyan have grown up by 20.2, 157.1, and 645.4 per cent respectively. Slums are on the increase not only in the cities but also in medium and small towns. Ironically a large number of skilled and unskilled worker in the construction industry of housing and civil engineering works live in the slums.
Without going in to statistical data, one can realise the enormity of lack of housing, even if one takes a walk in any town and looks around. It is enough to take a walk in any town and look around. It is enough to take a look out
of a window of an automobile or railway going across the country along any urban centre. The squatters, slums, pavement dwellers are not only to be found in the cities but appear even at small towns. They are mushrooming in the place of the trees even on the slopes of Western Ghats, close to the hill station of Khandala in Maharashtra State.

‘Shelter’ must be understood.

With the smell of monsoon the honeybees migrate to dry and safe areas. Come winter and the birds from Siberia migrate to Nal Sarovar [ Nal Lake] in Gujarat State. Come summer and the cowherds of Saurashtra migrate to Satpura Ranges with thousands of their cattle and sheep. On the full moon day of Coconut Festival, the fisher folks of West Coat of India worship the sea and their boats and then move them in the Arabian Sea. Seasons, pastures, sea, hill, boats, sheep, cattle… are shelters. Shelter is an experience. It is not an isolated object, not a compartment merely made of floor, walls and roof. Neither it could be isolated from survival. The modern westernised urban elite lives off the land and off the house. Such people often need discourses on patriotism. They read word-numbers. They can hardly read the soil and those – people, birds, animals, insects, plants - who live with soil.

The constitution, the proclamation by the Supreme Court, host of well-intentioned laws, appeals by the concerned – VIPs and the institutions alike – all indicate that shelter, as a basic need is everybody’s right. But the situation of want, lack scarcity of housing has reached a monumental dimension. So also our self-deception about progress and development. While the nation with steady rise in GNP from Rs. 260 in 1950-51 to Rs. 7,155 in 1991-92 per capita [at 1992-93 market price] is marching towards progress and development, towards 21st Century, the land is ceremoniously deforested, hills being bulldozed, air polluted and water… Water?

‘Growth’ is a key word, alike the password to the legendary Alibaba’s Cave, to the modern day progress and development. Hence there is growth in the housing shortage. Evidently there are other areas of growth; GNP, per capita income, industry, commerce, scams, terrorism, violence, inflation...

And in a very imperceptible way, now, the hunger, malnutrition, starvation, [and also death by starvation] are growing. The effects of war, epidemic, earthquake, floods and riots are visible because of their impact. It is not the same with hunger and starvation. These are neither seen, searched, nor attended to, unless someone does report, as this is not written in the code of conduct of progress and development.

Lack of housing and food are not fully perceived. The statistics fail to convey these maladies, mainly because the housing and hunger are very personal experiences. A homogeneous and cohesive community, could only perceive these not by a mass type society, the industrial society. These can neither be fully perceived with help of numbers, nor by any organisation, as these are faceless entities devoid of any sensitivity.

Researches, seminars, workshops, conferences, deliberations by the experts, volumes of reports... are taking place at city, state, national, international levels in India and elsewhere. Monumental funds and programmes are raised. Housing and housing ‘design idea’ competitions are floated for cheap, economical, affordable, replicable housing models by the professionals, policymakers, administrators, funding agencies, state ... by strictly excluding the people who need housing. Yet the end to scarcity and want in supply of housing seem to be nowhere in the sight.

Creativity of the advanced and the progressive seem to be too feeble in spite of all the expertise, scholarship, propaganda, campaigns, such as, “The International Year of the Shelter for the Homeless” etc.; and in spite of the existence of hundreds of colleges, polytechnics, and the ‘Indian Institute of Technology’s [IITs], engineering, planning and architecture in the country; and of course, the foreign collaborations.

To reduce or to remove the housing shortage some advocate alternative technology, non-conventional building materials, training programmes for the skilled workers, public participation [Public Participation meaning ‘we decide, you - the public – follow.] and self-help. Some invent machines and technologies. Some advocate replicable models for mass production etceteras. Indeed the housing has many dimensions beyond the floor – walls – roof.

Why then is there the shortage of housing?

Population, shortage of resources, scarcity [!] of land, development [or lack of it!] are said to be some of the reasons. The less known reasons, however, are monopolising the resources in the hands of the few through the centralised powers; the economic disparity between the First World India and the Third World [and the Fourth World India of the tribal], resulting out of imposition of values by the former on the later through legislation, planning, administration, formal education and administration; the inequity that affects the price of manual labour, farm-forest-aqua products; and the resulting degradation of human energy. In the subcontinent, the Neolithic Age and the Post-Industrial Age exist side by side. The experts do not see beyond their eyelids.

Shelter and hunger are very personal experiences. Man is a dynamic entity and not and passive object. And individual and his community both have autonomy in the shelter and hunger. And they are equipped to meet these needs. Why not if a bird, a bee, an ant, are equipped to do that? The privileged few, the intelligentsia, the rulers take too much upon themselves to provide housing for the “others” – human beings – which is not their domain. They look for answers elsewhere, outside themselves, while the root cause is within them which have pushed people to the brink. Any model of replication, distribution and consumption, which is processed with external aids, is a direct intervention in their autonomy. Providing housing [and also food] symbolises the intervention by the powerful as a by-product of the mass exploitation of the weaker sections.

The emerging issue is the orientation – the thought process – of the concerned and those who intervene in the housing action. It may be educative to understand and learn where the roots of their orientation lie, when looking for answers to the housing shortage and to meet the perpetual need ever since the man made his first shelter on earth. During the course of development of civilisations what made housing to be replaced by man? It is high time to learn that the means do not justify the goals. The seeds of goals are very much present in the means.

Isn’t the scarcity of housing a residue – a by-product of global cancer the society suffers from? And isn’t the city –as a physical expression of the modern civilisation – a Black Hole which devours the resources of the earth – a symbol of centralised power?

Restore the resources of the earth to the houseless, and the landless and human energy will work wonders without the intervention of the external aids – the external agencies.

[Note: This paper is one of the series on housing. It, however, is not linked in a serial form. Writing on technical subjects as an outcome of present situation of specialisation does not offer holistic. So the papers are based on relativity proposition; otherwise space-time, matter-energy are basic to house form. The central topic of these papers is an investigation of housing – the third skin of man – in our time. Spatial form of these papers interweaves or overlaps through multiple dimensions of the issue, which moves through subjective - objective modes. Man is not an object here. Space here is not three sides but presence of man in the cosmic space. Time is a memory of the Past; as Future it is speculation; the Present - NOW has no dimension. Matter is condensed energy: while energy here is not economic and its clan, or to put it other way, because these are dissipation of energy resulting in Entropy. These considerations may seem metaphysical dreaming. But it may be worth an attempt to discover a morphological form one may appropriately call a “re-search paper” in the present situation. Even if the effort proved to be ‘research parody’ in the true sense.]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Remigius de Souza
Postal Address: 69, 243. S. B. Marg, Mumabi 400028 India

[This paper was published in JANATA, Vol.53, No. 12, May 10, 1998.]

1 comment:

  1. What do the Christian countries do to Jesus after 2000 years? He is locked up on the alter in Rome.