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Planning for Activists

By Anupriya S, Apoorva Dhingra, Mitali Moharir, Shrishti Chatterjee

On December 15, 2019, practitioners from the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), Bengaluru conducted a workshop with housing-rights activists and residents from settlements in the city of Indore, India. The workshop was the first in a series of intercity modules through the Inclusive Cities Course, developed as part of IIHS’ propositional work through KNOW on the role of planning education to address urban inequality.

The Inclusive Cities Course explores a pedagogy designed through an informed collaboration between the Institute and activists fighting against illegal and forceful eviction, slum demolition and caste dynamics in the urban space. Its pedagogical approach emerges from two questions: what does it mean to see activism as not only a form of political engagement but as a legitimate form of urban practice? Can there be a space where communities, activists and universities come together to inform and direct a pedagogical practice that recognises the agency of learners and practitioners beyond the scope of formal planning education? Building on these provocations, the modular workshops of the course aim to introduce and equip participants engaged in forms of urban activism with different aspects of urban planning, land-use and governance structures, issues of land politics, and other technical expertise that they can leverage towards urban equality.

Above image: A group of participants referring to the map they drew during the city game to devise anti-eviction strategies, Image: IIHS, 2020

Title image: Participants viewing different maps of Indore, including the Master Plan and a map of developmental projects and elite violations, Image: IIHS, 2020


This first workshop on planning for activists, focussed on the masterplan, its relationship to informal settlements (colloquially known as bastis), and strategies for intervention, using the masterplan as a statutory instrument. The workshop recognised learners as pedagogues and designed an open curriculum that was rooted in reciprocal recognition, and focussed on eviction which is a lived reality of the participants of this workshop. The workshop began with a city game wherein participants drew a city of their imagination. They envisioned city centers, peripheries, transport nodes, hospitals, public spaces, government buildings and other important elements of a city. Through this participatory exercise, the game allowed those most at risk from threats of eviction to reclaim the process and believe that they, too, have a voice in shaping their cities. It introduced the participants to the concept of land-use and zoning, and aimed to demystify the technical assumptions about the masterplan. This was followed by a session on the Master Plan, its relationship with the basti, and how the masterplan guides growth and infrastructural development by determining land-use in the urban space. The workshop aimed to enable activists and residents weaponise the Master Plan as a statutory document to push back against various state policies, schemes, and missions that threaten them with eviction. One of the important objectives of this session was to discuss the concept of violation and change of land-use, selective action against violations and how the newly developed schemes and missions have pushed the settlements towards the peripheries of the city. The next session discussed the process and institutional bodies involved in drafting the masterplan, and key opportunities for citizen action within the process. At the end of the workshop, IIHS’ team and housing-rights activists, including Anand Lakhan and Anjali Lakhan, developed pre-eviction and anti-eviction strategies. This conversation between housing-rights activists and IIHS’ team was critical because while it was facilitated by the Institute’s practitioners, it did not reinforce power but instead enabled collaboration by giving community knowledge credence. The strategies included creating a local map of bastis, attending and leading trainings to build capacity, challenging projects and missions on the basis of the Master Plan, campaigning to have a voice in the making of the new Master Plan, demanding change of land use and allocation of an affordable housing zone.

Above image: Map of Ambedkar City - a city designed by the participants during the City Game, Image: IIHS, 2020


The next module in this series, held on February 6-7, 2020, focussed on forms of tenure, government schemes, missions and policies, to lead a training to prepare a new generation of activists to push back against eviction. The material and pedagogy developed through the upcoming workshops will be developed as a set of modules on sectoral issues of housing and livelihoods, that can travel for similar workshops across cities, to strengthen technical capacities of urban activists.



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