Invisible Cities: Part Five: A Place Called Mandala

January 2, 2011


‘Andolan ka matlab kya hai? Andolan matlab maar khana, andar jaana, bahaar aana, ladaee karna, ladte rehna.’

‘Aaana free, jaana free, pakad gaya toh khana free.’

‘kitni lambhi jail tumari, dekh liya hai, dekhenge. Jab tak jail mein chana rahega, humara aana jaana baana rahega.’ – A song in Mandala, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 2nd of January, 2011.

The story of the slums of Mandala cannot be told without the struggle of her poorest inhabitants against the demolition drives that literally come like the monsoons. In December 2004, homes were broken down in Mandala as part of the now-infamous demolition drive where it has been estimated around 85,000 homes were broken down across Mumbai. Then in 2005 after the Court’s had allowed the people of Mandala to rebuild their homes, they were broken down again.

Back then, the bulldozers had first come to Mandala slum to demolish Janta Nagar and Indiranagar in 2005. Only the women were present during the day as the men had all gone to work. Their first instincts were to lie before the bulldozers. To stand before them. To resist.

Yet as soon as a lathi-charge commenced, a fire had also started in the back of the slum. Many slum dwellers started to run back to rescue their property and their loved ones as others were beaten by lathis. The bulldozers eventually broke through the human barricades and tore into the slum.

And just across the highway at Annabhau Sathe Nagar, only as recently as the 14th of May 2010, had the bulldozers come and demolished an estimated 500 homes.

This is Mankhurd, literally, the dumping grounds of Mumbai – both the thrash and the slum dwellers of Mumbai, thrown out of the centres of the city, are thrown into rehabilitaion colonies. It is a part of Ward M or Chembur East, where, according to a Mumbai Human Development Report published in 2009 by the Ministry of Housing And Urban Poverty Alleviation, there are the maximimum number of resettlement colonies and over 77% of the population as per the 2001 census lives in slums. It has the highest illiteracy rate in the city, as well as a child mortality rate of 66 per 1000 births, which is even higher than the child mortality rate of war-torn Dantewada which is 56 per 1000 births.

The literacy rate for women in Ward M is the lowest in Mumbai – a mere 58.4% of the population, yet Anwari Sheikh, a mother of 11 children is an inspiration to the people of her slum. She’s one of the faces of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that was born during the demolition drives of 2004-2005.

One day after the demolition, another slum-dweller had approached her as she was rummaging through the remnants of her home.

‘Ek mahila hai, humare jaise hi hai, woh humko maddat kar sakti hai.’ (There’s this lady, just like us, and she may be able to help us.’

Then they went and met Medha Patkar.

‘Medhaji said that if we could get her 100 women to fight, she’d fight with us. And that was easy, from day one itself we had 200 women.’ Says Anwari Sheikh.

She would then travel to Delhi by train with her youngest infant grappling in her arms. She remembers vividly the day she met Sonia Gandhi. This was in 2004, right after the Lok Sabha elections and the victory of the Congress.

‘Hum garib log ne aapko vote diya, aur aap humko bhul gaye?’ Anwari spoke boldly. And she would continue to speak boldly against every official and politician for the next six years fighting for the rights to a home, that they should be allowed rights to the land, and the freedom to build on it themselves. She would help to organize her own people, she would march, she would barge into offices, she would get beaten, her neighbours would get arrested, they would all stand before bulldozers, spend weeks in Azad Maidan in protest to the demolition drive. And it was here, on the 6th of April, 2005, that she was witness to the infamous lathi-charge that had numerous people injured and arrested, where filmmaker Anand Patwardhan would have his camera broken and Medha Patkar would be pulled by her hair by a policeman.

‘Humara rally koh todna hi tha us din,’ (They had to break our rally that day), Said Santosh Thorat of Annabhau Sathenagar of Mankhurd, who was beaten up that day as well, ‘Hum 6,000 log the, aur aane walle samay mein, kya malum, hum 22,000 log ho sakte the?’ (there were 6000 of us there, and who knows? Maybe in the coming days there would’ve been 22,000 of us?’

Santosh Thorat of Annabhau Sathe Nagar was originally in the police force as a home guard. Little did he know was that in 2005 he’d be part of the police force that had to demolish his own slum of 3000 homes. Yet he managed to make a deal with the demolition crew and his superiors to spare his house. Yet when he was sent for some other work, he returned to find his house demolished as well.

He left the force soon after. Even remembering the woman who returned home to find it demolished with her children inside. Luckily, the children hid under the cots and survived.

Bahut gaaliya diya woh din,’ He says today, in his home now rebuilt. He is another face of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that is helping his slum fight for rights, especially the right to a home under the Rajiv Awaas Yojana scheme.

‘We all have different demands from the government, but we all fight together.’

Yet it has been six years now. And while the Andolan has managed to shake the administration, and even acquire a mythical proportion that leads activists across the country to come to Mandala to learn how the people organized themselves, their most basic demands are forever held in limbo to the government’s promises.

The struggle within

‘Hum thak gaye,’ Said Anwari Sheikh.

On the 30th of December 2010, there was a meeting that never was. After years of struggle, the slum dwellers of Mandala were meant to meet the Union Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Shelja Kumari. They had collected all the papers from all the residents – ration cards, voting cards, electricity bills – everything that works as a proof of residence and a cut-off date of 1995 and 2000. But the Minister didn’t come.

‘Humarae bade ladke chidd jate hai andolan ke saath, kyunki mein kaam nahi kar paati hu.’ (My older sons are irritated with the Andolan because I can’t work otherwise), she says, ‘Lekin ghar ka maamla aisi chotti baath toh nahi hai.’ (But the matter of a house is not such a small thing.)

In Anwari Sheikh’s house, her children have been working to provide for a family as well as for the Andolan. She doesn’t have eleven mouths to feed, but eleven sons and daughters who work. Her husband lost his job after their house was demolished in 2004. Yet there are often domestic disputes. One of her young 14 year old sons has been seen in close proximity to known-gangsters of the area. And while she tires, she knows she has to hold onto whatever shreds of hope that she sees.

Similarly, Santosh Thorat hasn’t been able to work since he started to work for the benefit of the people in his slum. His biggest challenge beyond the fact that his slum could be demolished, is the lack of a toilet for the 3000 homes in Annabhau Sathe Nagar. The issue of water is another problem. Water supply in Mankhurd is controlled by a few private individuals who’ve monopolized it enough to demand money for a commodity that is now a known human right – the right to water.

‘Zindagi sangathan mein hi nahi hota hai.’ He says.

And in completely contradiction – ‘Sangarsh hi jeevan hai.’ Would say Mohammed Umar of Mandala, who, as part of the Andolan, runs three small day-care centers for the smallest of children of Mandala. He has also helped to set up a stiching center to teach young girls and boys how to sew. Once they learn, they provide for themselves.

‘When I was young itself, we had to learn to fight.’ He says, ‘Back in Sant Kabirnagar in U.P., we lived in a town that had no electricity back in the late 70s. The price of kerosene had skyrocketed when I was studying for my tenth.’

‘It was so bad, that our parents used to get us to keep putting off the kerosene lamps at night so we didn’t waste it. And none of us could study. And then we had to face the teacher’s cane.’

‘So one day all of us kids, we got together and we decided we had enough.’

‘We went to the petrol pump, and let’s just say it all ended with a riot, an inspector with a stone hitting his head, and a school that the government decided to light up with it’s own money for it’s students to study.’

‘If you want something, you have to fight for it.’

One comment

  1. My in laws (father in law name Mr. moses fonseca) house was on on collectors land for good amount of years but is broken down in santacruz – vakola (placid chawl in 2003) and we are homeless till then on,since the collectors of mumbai has forwarded our house to the high court hands. we dont know how to claim our rights as we are homeless…plz contact asap…thx.

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