Monday, December 12, 2011

Where are the homes promised by AMC?

Her visage has the distinctive Siddi features and colour. She sobs as she speaks to us. “I was away on work. Cleaning houses. They came without an order. And they crushed everything in my home. It may have been a hut to them but it was my home. Now where do I go? To their office? They spit at me there.”

I am standing where I had stood a few months ago amidst the modest and mosquito infected shanty where we had fed several thousand people during the Sadbhavana show. Then the complaints were that there were no facilities. No sewerage, no water. That people at night peed onto their shanties when they were drunk. That the AMC had shut down all the municipal schools near them and the children roamed without an education. That they were threatened with demolition and were afraid but banked on the High Court orders.

But now they stood amidst the debris and their worst fears were a reality. The bulldozer had come and levelled their homes. “They did not let us remove any of our possessions. Should I have saved my children or my goods?”

“We are sent from pillar to post. One officer takes our papers and says , We will be in touch. He then chucks our documents in the garbage. Another sends us to another office. We go from one place to another in desperation, spending fifty, seventy five rupees a day to get a response. If we spend that kind of money what do we eat?”

A young Muslim victim of Khanpur was delivering her baby when the demolition took place. Having left her home locked as she and her husband were both out, she could only hear about the demolition and the destruction of her life’s savings from her distraught mother in law.

Rashida stands next to her two tiny siblings who lie on the sand on a black plastic sheet. “They said that I had been given a notice. Had I had it, would I be rotting here on the road,” she asks.

Deepakbhai Gaekwad has lived in the river bed for thirty five years before he was displaced a few weeks ago to Piplaj a “village” with nothing except mosquitoes. There really is nothing there. The much touted Gujarat infrastructure can not even be imagined standing here. The stink is nauseating. The women are terrified to be about after dark. The children are becoming vagabonds for want of any activity or school. The money spent on transport equates the money earned, leaving nothing for anything else.

Piplaj is a nightmare. There are snakes and bugs, the occasional fox, and wild dogs. Many of those shifted there earn as peddle rickshaw drivers who peddle all the way to the city to find work. If they don’t manage to earn at least hundred rupees, they starve. Many of the women are widows. Unable to leave their children safely, they have given up on life. They stare at us, their eyes empty with despair.

Has the government abdicated all responsibility for these that they have converted from the dispossessed to the displaced? Where are the promised homes, the promised money, the school?

Yes, as is seen frequently across India, some NGOs are trying hard to salvage the situation, feeding as many as they can, creating activities for the children, trying to motivate the women. But surely that can only be a temporary measure. As the government legalizes the robberies of thousands of builders who have built without permission, with substandard material and without guilt, it continues to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the wretchedness of those dumped for the beautification of this wannabe Heritage City.

Mallika Sarabhai


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