This Was All Slums But 65,000 Workers Together Gave It A Fab Makeover. How:

Whenever our eyes spot the words ‘trade union’ in a newspaper, the first thought that springs is of strike or protest. This immediate and arbitrary link between trade union and protests is neither pleasant nor normal, despite the constant attention from mainstream media.

Diagonally opposite to these unions is a select category of people and organizations that is truly devoted to improving lives of the ones who need it. Media coverage or the absence of it is absolutely immaterial to them. It is vital to appreciate years of hardwork by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) to set up Asia’s largest cooperative housing, counting north of 10,000 houses, in Maharashtra’s Solapur.

The project has ushered in smiles by providing sustainable housing to slum dwellers of Solapur. After living in shanties and huts, without proper electricity or sanitation, the housing residents now finally have a basic quality of life. Such moves are laudable because only when someone is freed from worries of survival can they think of adding value to their life and the society.

Interestingly enough, beedi workers in the vicinity are both the largest beneficiaries as well as the most active contributors in the project. There was a long-standing demand for better houses for these workers and it was only after a long and arduous struggle that they were allotted quarters.

Condition of workers in Solapur

According to 2001 census, population of slum dwellers in Solapur was 25 percent of the total population of the city, while in 2011, they numbers fell to 18 percent. This welcome dip owes it to CITU for replacing a makeshift roof over their heads with a sturdy ceiling.

Women beedi workers constitute a majority of Solapur slum dwellers. There are around 65,000 beedi workers here, most of whom belong to lower castes and religious minorities. With their abysmally low wages, they can’t even afford a house in slums and pay rent for the ghettos.

The endeavour continues

A similar but smaller scheme of 1,600 more houses for women beedi workers was inaugurated in August, 2015. The following year saw the sanctioning of another housing scheme for workers. This scheme, aiming to build 30,000 houses, is the grandest of its kind.

The beneficiaries will be workers from the unorganised sector, ranging from beedi workers to textile workers. Five cooperative societies have been set up – that of minority women workers, workers belonging to the traditional cobbler community, power loom workers, women beedi workers, and readymade & tailored clothes workers. Together, these five cooperatives constitute the RAY Nagar Cooperative Housing Federation. The work is expected to be completed by 2021.

From rural to urban

Most of these houses have been built in an erstwhile village called Kumbhari. But now no more a village, this town has all the civic facilities that are found in semi-urban and urban areas. Buses of municipal transport system ply here, government schools and cooperative hospitals are in place (and they are actually functional). Even the beedi industry has been shifted to this area for the convenience of the workers. The women roll beedis in their households which are then collected in work sheds.

This gargantuan task which the CITU has accomplished should have received resounding ovation and acknowledgement from the media but regrettably that was not the case. Even the government generally tends to be suspicious and apprehensive about the initiatives taken by trade unions.

The housing schemes that have been implemented in Solapur are truly unprecedented and command immense historical value. Perhaps it is now incumbent upon us common people to take notice of and acknowledge such work done by trade unions for the empowerment and overall benefit of the underprivileged working class.

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