“Slums of Patna”- a quantitative ‘story’ of ignored sufferings

India’s concerns as a country might have changed in the course of time that followed its quest and inquiry for building an “inclusive” society, but If one could theorise the concerns that were ignored while running the same marathon of development, “Slums of Patna” as a book would be a great piece to look at the intersectionality of Poverty, Caste, Religion, and Gender, along with extended information on other obvious social hierarchies. The book is a detailed and heartfelt exposition on the forces of modernity and modernisation that has beset India in cities like Patna, over the past few decades.

Of course, to look at, the book is not the best in following the tits and bits of a research paper or an academic writing, and the research was initiated in the year 2016 and completed in the end of 2018. Hence, one may call it outdated. The delay in preparation of the research as a report or a book is a unique example of revolutionary zeal and heart of an author/researcher affecting one’s pursuit of such commitments. But, things like Poverty and slums, never get outdated, and the only thing that changes are the people living in those spaces, but not their hopelessness from the system, people, or the entire system that operates people differently. This research is also relevant because it is by far, possibly, the most extended research on the slums of Patna. “Not only that, we find whole new perspective of cultural life of urban poor which is a bizarre mix of rudimentary rural traditions and ever changing modern urban day to day affairs.”

Factually, the book is a quantitative work and has tried to touch a globally discussed topic i.e. The discourse of Urban Poverty, for an undiscussed place, in the context covering 38 different slums and household narratives of unique undiscussed problems and intricacies of slum life. It covers very simply, yet relevant, questions comprising demography, socio-economic status, education, availability of government schemes while exploring the layers of caste, class, religion, and gender. It is an outcome of day in and day out engagement of SAMAR with the slum dwellers, only attempted as a survey in its initial stages to understand the urban glitches better for the work they do. Thus, the book is not accommodated like an organised piece of writing, and therefore the work is more reflective, sampled, and limited in its approach when expecting things as a reader. But the simplicity of the book is a class apart and its acknowledgment of the issues it couldn’t cover and let its readers known about the “scope of further research”.

Along with a quantitative book, it is also a piercing story of heartbreaks, ending expectation, clutches of poverty, and helplessness in dependence. It is a story of ‘anti-poor schemes’ of the government for the slum dwellers affecting their expectations from an urban place, after migrating and sacrificing a social life and moments of a shared bidi or a cup of chai of their own land, identity and familiar history.

Issues of migration, poverty gap across different sociological groups, etc. remain untouched leaving a scope for further research on topics ranging from gender to basic amenities, migration to caste discrimination, deprivation of their basic human rights to their serious exploitation, in the context of slums of Patna. Yet, it is an inspiring, authentic, and interesting read to discuss uncommon findings, i.e. unknown reasons for a lot of woman dominated households under the tins.

The work of the three authors only and only remind its readers of Oscar Hammerstein’s lines,

 “I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices. But the reality is as beautiful as it is ugly. I think it is just as important to sing about beautiful mornings as it is to talk about slums. I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it.”

One can see hope and hopeful suggestions in this intricate and honest work covering layers of aspects for the ignored slums of Patna.

Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan is a student at the Centre for Chinese and South-east Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He also works with Hasratein- a Delhi based queer collective. The current area of his academic interest lies in the study of the Chinese language and society.