Evicted from the land that is rightfully theirs, the lives of Ejipura residents mean little more than the rubble of their shanty.
The gleaming tin-fencing and rows of tall poles bore the unmistakably familiar look of a large plot of land under construction. While by no means complete, the fence had come up in rapid pace, in complete contrast to the lethargy associated with most government initiatives. However, evidence of the state-corporate nexus that drove this particular project was proudly on display, with a hastily put-up sign screaming, “BBMP-Maverick Holdings – PPP”.
What was a bustling community that housed more than 1500 families just 10 days back, now had only bull-dozers, a water-tank, and few pipes which had earlier doubled up as temporary housing for many families, police-vans, and dogs moving around inside the 15-acre plot. Around 80 families now dotted the perimeter of the plot, with bed-sheets and tarpaulin sheets providing cover, with the rest having moved elsewhere.
Despite the circumstances, some kids from these families have started going to school. Only yesterday, Savitha (name changed), a mom of 2 girls going to primary-school, with one leg badly fractured from police lathi-charging, braved the pain and accompanied her daughters to their school with a hostel, in the hope of getting them admitted into the hostel. Despite the prim and proper clothes of the girls and the ever-present smile on Savitha’s face, her leg told a different story. With no initial treatment being given to the fractured leg while she was jailed along with 20 other residents and 2 activists for peacefully protesting against the demolition on Jan 19th, the leg has now reached a stage where the doctor is unable to put a proper cast. She is in urgent need of a wheel-chair. But she does not even have crutches to walk with.
A lady sat next to their belongings while Savitha, her husband and the 2 girls set out to the school in the morning. When I asked this lady why she had not resumed work, she said that she ran a small kiosk right down the street, inside the EWS quarters. The shop is obviously no more. Leveled land stares back at you with pleading eyes.
Meena’s (name withheld) son has not yet been to school since the demolitions began. She pointed to a pile of clothes, utensils, house-hold items on the side of the street and remarked that she had no idea where his books and uniforms were. Her immediate concern was that the house she now wants to move into will cost her Rs. 3500/month. Most residents at the EWS quarters used to pay a few hundred rupees rent per month at the most. She is now waiting for the Rs. 10,000 towards advance payment that the Millath Relief Trust has promised her by giving her a token.
The families are doing their best to put their lives together, lives that the establishment is still keen on snuffing out. When there were still a few families living inside the quarters, the local MLA N.A Harris made regular nightly visits to these families, urging them to vacate. Whether carrot or not, the stick was not too far. Policemen and goons turned up multiple times to intimidate these families into leaving the area completely. Sometimes they also harassed the volunteers, threatening to arrest them for distributing food and clothes, even while making their displeasure clear to the families receiving these items. Every other day, we volunteers would get messages saying that some families were harassed by cops. There was a “drip-drip” consistency to these efforts, all of which have resulted in many families subsequently leaving the EWS quarters for someplace safer. The half-torn poster of MLA Harris fluttering on an electrical post outside the quarters seemed a fitting indication of the general mood towards the state that had brutally evicted them from their homes.
On Jan 30th, multiple policemen, some in plainclothes too, ordered a few families to vacate the footpath outside the quarters they were living on, citing that their illegal squatting came in the way of Maverick’s fence. It took a resident’s threat of self-immolation and the immediate arrival of a few volunteers to prevent the policemen from having their way.
The only face of the officialdom seen by the residents is one of callousness, or at best casual indifference. On January 19th, BBMP Chief Engineer, B.T. Ramesh brazenly asked activists to come over to his office or file RTIs when asked to produce the relevant documents permitting the demolition. In the same vein, the responsibility for providing temporary rehabilitation to all those affected by the demolitions has been passed around from the State Home Minister to BBMP to Maverick Holdings to the High Court.
On January 26th, the Karnataka CM Jagadish Shettar promised to provide temporary accommodation to all residents till the end of academic year. But these have remained mere words. The roads and footpaths continue to be their homes.
And I have not even come to the fate of the many families who moved to Sarjapur believing a place of permanent accommodation, or at least space for shed accommodation, to be available for them. Some were prevented from putting up tents by the local MLA and some were conned into handing over their rental advance money to cheats posing as house-owners. There are around 20 homeless families from EWS Eipura living on Jail Road, Sarjapura. The few, who have managed to find houses to rent in the slum board complexes in Sarjapura have bare means to cook and are prevented from sharing the water of the existing residents thereby ending up traveling kilometers every day just to buy water. Their commutes to schools and workplaces have also increased significantly, debiting precious time and money from their lives.
These families are suffering for having lived at a place originally allocated to people of similar economic status. This for refusing to give way to the construction of a mall; one that will have no place for them anyway! All this, for refusing to swap the heart of the city where their lives and livelihoods exist, for the obscurity of a village far beyond city limits! All this, for wanting to live with dignity! The Bombay model of converting slums into glitzy malls begs the question – who and what is the city meant for? Is it only for well-heeled citizens to engage in high-premium financial transactions?
Who is responsible for the lack of affordable low-cost housing inside the city and making these families resort to living in slums?
Two days back, I had taken my almost 3-year old daughter with me while volunteering during the dinner-shift at the Ejipura EWS quarters. Soon she started asking for an ice-cream, so I told her to wait till the residents finished their dinner, even while briefly explaining how she has her house to live in, while they have none.
She quickly followed up with a “why no house?” My reply – Their houses were broken down by the BBMP.
Pat came the response – “Why broken down?”
I knew I was slowly getting cornered and said “Because they are going to construct a mall”
And then, I was stumped, for I had no easy response to the “Why Mall” that followed it.
I’m still mulling over it – “Why Mall”? Do you?
Karthik Ranganathan has been documenting the events at the Ejipura EWS Quarters demolition site since Jan 19th 2013. His videos of the happenings at the site can be found on Youtube.
Pics: Karthik Ranganathan