Empowering resettled communities through women-led safety audits in Chennai

With more than two lakh people living in resettlement sites in Chennai and beyond, there are concerns about their safety and access to facilities.

Safety is a fundamental necessity for all, particularly for women, children, young people, elders, persons with disabilities, gender-diverse groups, and other vulnerable sections of society. This basic need fosters a sense of inclusion and enables active participation in family, community, and societal activities. Enhanced safety promotes mobility, physical and mental wellness, employability and financial independence. It supports autonomy in decision-making, including decisions related to reproductive health.

It also encourages increased social engagement and participation in governance. Improved safety in personal, professional, and community spaces works as a catalyst for empowerment and reduces systemic gender disparities.

In Part 1 of a two-part series on women-led safety audits in resettlement sites, we explore the emergence of resettlement sites in Chennai and the importance of safety audits in these areas.

Read more: How flawed eviction and resettlement are triggering child marriages in Chennai

While cities flourish and provide opportunities for many, women, girls, and other vulnerable groups in urban areas often do not share in the benefits that cities offer to others. Those living in informal and low-income settlements face many vulnerabilities. This could be due to inadequate living conditions, lack of access to durable housing and basic services such as water, sanitation, health, and education. The absence of secure housing and land ownership increases their risk of arbitrary evictions.

Resettlement sites in Chennai

resettlement safety audit
One of the resettlement locations in Perumbakkam, where the safety audit was done. Pic: Vanessa Peter

In Chennai, over nine resettlement sites have emerged in the last two decades (2000-2024) under the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB), known as Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) before 2021. These resettlement sites comprise 78,945 housing units, where over 3.15 lakh displaced residents of informal and low-income habitations could be accommodated. Currently, 63,000 of these housing units (2.52 lakh displaced residents) are allotted and occupied.

S. No. District Name of the relocation settlementTotal number of tenements
constructed by TNUHDB
1Chennai Kannagi Nagar-Okkiyum Thoraipakkam23,704
2ChennaiSemmenchery 6,760
6ThiruvallurHLL Nagar-Tondiarpet1260
7ThiruvallurAll India Radio Land5,856
Total 78,945
Table 1: Resettlement sites constructed for resettling families from Chennai (2024)

Challenges of relocation

Resettlement programmes are supposed to provide adequate, affordable, disaster-resilient, and safe housing. But, they have often failed to address the needs of these populations adequately. Women and other vulnerable groups are frequently excluded from the decision-making process during evictions and resettlements, exacerbating their vulnerabilities.

Relocation also results in job loss due to the distance from previous homes, pushing many into unemployment and deeper poverty. Moreover, the resettlement sites are often located in ecologically sensitive or hazardous areas, further endangering the residents. In Chennai, large-scale resettlement efforts have displaced many from informal settlements, with women and children bearing the brunt of these poorly planned relocations.

Read more: Domestic violence in resettlement areas: Community workers bear the burden

Therefore, to address their concerns related to safety and access to infrastructure, an audit process was facilitated by the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC) — an NGO based in Chennai.

What are safety and infrastructure audits?

  • The safety and infrastructure mapping process is a community-led initiative designed to identify, assess and mitigate potential safety hazards in a neighbourhood/settlement.
  • This is a systematic approach to ensure safety inside the settlement, to enhance access to basic infrastructure facilities including roads, streetlights, solid waste management, transportation, education, health and nutrition.
  • The exercise promotes the participation of women, children and vulnerable groups in the development of the neighbourhood/settlement by capturing their perceptions of safety and services, identifying unsafe spots, mapping existing infrastructure and proposing recommendations to the government.

How safety and infrastructure audits help vulnerable sections

In 2019, IRCDUC conducted a women-led safety mapping in Perumbakkam, Chengalpattu District, to understand the community’s safety perceptions. The results prompted the installation of streetlights and safety gates, as well as the start of NGO coordination meetings. The initiative paused during the COVID-19 pandemic but resumed in January 2023 in response to safety concerns raised by women leaders.

Subsequent reports resulted in more streetlights, a functional police booth, and improved school facilities. In May 2023, the Centre for Women and Children was established, prompting another safety mapping. The advocacy of the organisation with support from the media has also resulted in the opening of schools and the appointment of teachers in Perumbakkam.

The latest report led to road repairs and CCTV installation in identified unsafe spots. The success of this initiative spurred the expansion of safety and infrastructure audits to Semmenchery and Kannagi Nagar in May and June 2024, with plans to include other resettlement sites.

In Part 2 of the two-part series, the authors delve into the findings of the latest safety audit and make important recommendations.

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