Invisible Cities: Part Eight: Breaking The Homes Of Hungry People

June 5, 2011

Shabnam Zafar Sheikh with her eight month old baby Aisha. Shabnam hasn’t worked after the BMC demolished her home on the Deonar dumping grounds on the 25th of May.

If you destroy the homes of hungry people, the Planning Commission would say they aren’t poor even if they are hungry, and die of malnutrition.

Welcome to the republic of India, brought to you by the folks who worked with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank who want to set the new Poverty line to Rs.20 per day for the urban poor and Rs.15 per day for the rural poor.

On the 25th of May, 2011, the Brihanmumbai Corporation demolised over a hundred homes of Rafiq Nagar 2, on the periphery of the dumping grounds of Deonar, where there have been over 25 malnutrition and malnutrioned-related deaths in the last two years.

Seventeen-month old Gulnaaz died of measles on the 24th of March, 2011. And her neighbours homes were demolished the next day. Her father earns around Rs.70-Rs80 at the dumping ground. According to the Planning Commission, he would be above the poverty line. He is not poor. But even if he is below the poverty line, the government of Maharashtra is yet to provide him with a ration card, or recognize his home as a slum.

Shabnam Zafar Sheikh has an eight month old baby Aisha, and a three year old boy Farid who suffers from Grade 3 Malnutrition. Her home was broken down on the day of the demolition and she hasn’t worked since. She works as a ragpicker on the dumping grounds, and because she has to look after her children alone, she only manages around Rs.30 a day. Thus she is not poor, according to the Planning Commission.

The only people who are earning less than Rs.20 a day, or Rs.600 a month at Rafiq Nagar 2, are the people who’ve lost their homes and haven’t been able to work since the demolitions started.

Katija Asif’s husband has gone fifteen days without work. And when her husband gets work at the dumping ground he can earn around a daily sum of Rs.300 for collecting scrap. So he is not below the poverty line, provided the government doesn’t break his home.

Meanwhile, in Writ Petition (CIVIL) NO. 196 OF 2001, by the People’s Union For Civil Liberties, v/s the Union of India & ORS, regarding the Universal Public Distribution system, the Supreme Court ordered that, ‘We have no objection to Government of India providing universal food security. However, they must first ensure food security for more vulnerable sections of the society.’

‘Mr.Parasaran, learned Additional Solicitor General submits that as on 1st April, 2011 there are 44 million tonnes of stocks. Perhaps never before have food grains stocks been so high.’

‘Millions of tonnes of food grains are lying in open for years because of inadequate storage capacity. Admittedly, about fifty five thousand of tonnes of food grains rotted in Punjab and Haryana. A very large chunk of food grains were destroyed in recent Punjab fire because the food grains were lying in open.’

But not only do people lack ration cards at Rafiq Nagar, but the Maharashtra government has not given any commitment to the people, regarding a stay on demolitions or the Right To Housing.

Hum ne virodh kiya,’ (we protested), Said Hamida, regarding the day of the demolition. ‘But the BMC fellows said they’d only break 50 homes to build a canal around the dumping ground. So we let them.’

‘But once they got inside the basti, they broke some 100 homes.’

Earlier in February, the BMC had also broken down the homes bordering the dumping ground, some 400 metres away in Chikalwadi. ‘Why did the government let us stay here in the first place for so long?’ Asked an old man.

The plight of the people of Rafiq Nagar, like that of Chikalwadi is not a new one. There have been three demolitions in the last 10 years at Rafiq Nagar 2 and the government does not recognize the settlements as slums as per the Maharashtra Slum Act, 1971. Therefore, not only does the settlement have to deal with regular demolition drives, but the settlement is not eligible to basic amenities such as water or electricity. Water, that is universally regarded as a human right, is not one in Rafiq Nagar where, the people have to pay for it.

‘We have to buy water now for Rs.40 a drum,’ Said Katija, ‘What will we eat?’

Rafiq Nagar 2 in Mankhurd, comes under Ward M of Mumbai, where according to the Mumbai Human Development Report published in 2009 by the Ministry of Housing And Urban Poverty Alleviation, over 77% of the population as per the 2001 census lives in slums and it has the high child mortality rate of 66 per 1000 births.

Medha Patkar’s hunger strike at Golibar also concerned the fate of numerous slums at Mankhurd including Rafiq Nagar 2, Mandala and Annabhau Sathe Nagar who also lost their homes in the infamous demolition drive of 2005 where over 80,000 homes were broken down by the government. One of the demands of the hunger strike regarded that slums like Rafiq Nagar 2 would be declared as slums under Section 4 of the Maharashtra Slum Area Act and to be undertaken for improvement as per Section 5. At the same time, the government agreed for discussions on the implementation of Rajiv Awas Yojana in Mumbai.

Yet the fate of Rafiq Nagar is closely linked to that of United Phosphorus Limited who has a tender to privatize and close the Deonar dumping ground ensuring a loss of livelihood of every home at Rafiq Nagar, where either one or two family members work as ragpickers, sifting through the garbage of the city.

‘They said they will close the dumping ground,’ said Asif of Rafiq Nagar 2, regarding United Phosphorus, ‘And then give us work….’  ‘Will you live at his mercy?’ Interrupted his neighbour, Alamgir, ‘Do you trust them?’

One comment

  1. My heart aches with reading this story. Slums are slums no matter where they are situated. Slums that are destroyed with no care for where the poor will live afterward, is cruelty at it’s paramount. Leaving grain in the open to rot is not econonmically responsible as well as inhumane when so many are in need. Is this a case of the right hand not knowing what the left one is doing? Or, is there some more sinister option at play? The news agencies state that India is poised to become an economic power soon. Will it be all show and no substance? Hiding it’s sore spots from tourists and keeping the worst places under the bed? Or, will it shine as the tenets of the Holy Ones wish, with a just and understanding government that has all of it’s people in mind?

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