A slum is not an island but part of a larger society. It is true that a slum is often a ghetto, an unwelcome appendix to the real society. This Navsarjan strives ardently to fight and in this fight the MMs play an important role. They deal mainly with government. The MMs offer free legal aid to assert their rights with the judiciary. But it is mainly the executive and legislative branches of government with which they have to deal – and this mainly at the local level, the Surat Municipal Corporation. A ghettoized slum does not form part of the municipal network: it does not have water supply, electricity, drainage system, health services, and municipal schools for their children. For all its weaknesses, a slum has an important asset: the power of numbers, the power of votes. This is an incentive that motivates a municipal councilor and even an MLA to take care of a slum. And, somehow, when a group of women appeal to the elected members or to municipal officers it carries special weight. This has been Navsarjan’s experience in the 24 slums where it is working. This experience has led us to next natural step: a federation or Mahila Parishad .
The Navsarjan Mahila Parishad (Federation of Women’s Associations) is made up of two representatives from each of the 24 MMs (i.e. the President and Secretary) and, therefore, it is made of 48 members who then elect the eleven-member Executive Committee. The Executive Committee meets every month.
The Parishad’s Role: This federation plays two different types of roles. One is within the organization itself and the other in dealing with the larger society especially government.
Within the Organization: The Parishad through its executive committee monitors the work of all the Mahila Mandals (as we have just mentioned), studies their reports, plans their activities, and helps to solve their problems. This often requires a visit to that particular slum.
The Parishad’s Larger Role. The MM’s task is to make sure that the necessities of life are provided by the Municipal Corporation: electricity, water, sanitation, health services, education etc. There are government schemes meant to help the poor. Sometimes one slum is unable to exert enough pressure to motivate the lower bureaucracy. The Federation then comes to its rescue in dealing with both the lower and higher bureaucracy and their political representatives. It is at this level where the Parishad plays a vital role. After all 25 groups from 25 slums form a powerful vote bank that no municipal councilor or local MLA can easily afford to ignore. In union there is also political power!
Multiple advantages of an organization: in terms of personal development of its members through education; material advantages obtained from the municipality through its new acquired political power; and dramatic economic gains through their ‘saving groups’. Moreover, running an organization provides women with new skills and new knowledge. This raises their social status and their self-esteem – they realize that they can do many things today that they thought impossible not so long ago.