Dissertation Abstracts

Housing the Rural Poor in Kerala: A Revisit to Understand Success

Author: Kuriakose, Benny , bennykuriakose@gmail.com
Department: Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
University: Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India
Supervisor: Prof. Prema Rajagopalan
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Rural Housing , Housing Satisfaction , Housing Success , Public Housing
Areas of Research: Housing and Built Environment , Regional and Urban Development


This research attempts to understand the continued paradox of housing availability and housing shortage for the rural poor in India. Scholars and planners have often explained this phenomenon in terms of affordability of the poor. The limited capacity of the very poor to repay the initial loan provided to obtain ownership inhibits many to access the facilities. In addition, some schemes demand that the beneficiaries already possess a piece of land, which can be used to avail the financial assistance for ‘pucca’ construction. In this thesis, we focus on the socio-cultural aspects of the target beneficiaries that plays an important role in the acceptance or rejection of schemes in addition to their affordability. Consequently, we argue that the ‘success’ of providing a safe shelter to the poor depends on both the aspirations of the beneficiaries and an appropriate policy mapped by the provider. By reconstructing the life chances and life styles of two shelter settlements constructed for the economically weaker sections in rural Kerala, an attempt is made to examine the notions of ‘satisfaction’ and ‘success’ as perceived by the beneficiaries. We re-constructed the life stories of each family from the time of moving into the house and their subsequent efforts for upward economic and social mobility.

The data collected was classified and the indicators selected from literature were used for analysis. This involved examining the policy indicators such as extent of plot, technology used, beneficiary participation among others. Indicators representing physical structure of the house include design aspects and the ‘freedom to modify’ to cite an example. To give an example of a cultural indicator, we examined the perception of the house as a symbol of ‘social status’.

The main contribution of this thesis has been to provide a framework mapping the inter-play of indicators across the domains - policy, physical and socio-cultural. We argue that satisfaction and success has to be understood in a holistic perspective where due attention has to be paid to the socio-cultural dimensions of the target beneficiaries. Any programme to house the poor has to be both location specific (technological factors to be considered) and community specific. Such an approach, we envisage could ensure the aid to develop the house as an asset in this context. We also observe that though the provider approach has been widely substituted by the facilitator approach to housing the poor, several advantages still remain in a provider approach. The facilitator approach excludes those who do not own a piece of land – such as the poorest but who will be eligible under the provider approach. Or the facilitator approach encourages the beneficiary to make his own decision on design and technology which have led to poor quality construction or ill-planned designs. Our tentative framework hopes to draw the attention of policy makers and other providers to address the salient variables identified while implementing or planning shelter programmes for the rural poor in India.