Archive for the ‘Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan’ Category

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Invisible Cities: Part Twelve: Breaking The Sparrow

November 6, 2012

Months after the last demolition drive, a court order to construct a boundary wall in Sion Koliwada leads to tension between the police and protesting residents especially after a contractor illegally demolishes a home.

This article appears in two parts in Daily News & Analysis on the 6th of November, 2012. Photos of the day can be viewed here.

Residents of Sion Koliwada showed all the documents to the police officers at Sion Police Station, prima facie evidence of forged signatures on consent forms and proof that a few people who signed, died long before they apparently gave consent to the builder. Instead, the police had to pay heed to a High Court order asking for them to provide protection for the building of a boundary wall across the village and they showed up on Monday, the fifth of November.

This is irrespective of the fact that the protesting residents of Sion Koliwada have a number of cases against the builder in the High Court.

Meanwhile, residents still stayed back from work, and decided to protest against the construction. But ever since their experience with mass arrests last May, the residents made a tactical choice to let the builder construct his wall, provided he does that and nothing else. The case in question was filed by the previous society of Sion Koliwada (who the remaining residents accused of fraud) complaining about slow work against the BMC and the state, without making the protesting residents as a party in the case.

The construction of the walls resumed with one of the first actions of the police to direct the removal of a small tent at Sion Koliwada where most of the residents conduct their meetings, or watch TV, wondering how the few TV Journalists who visited them, documented their lives.

After that, through hurls of abuse, the demolition/construction crew started to break down remnants of homes already demolished, and then moved to the door of the home of 85 year old Rozi Francis Patil whose house was disputed between the BMC and the 85 year old Rozi and her family. While residents loudly protested against the demolition of the door, repeatedly asserting that the police has a high court order that only asks for the building of a wall, the contractors relented and moved away from her home.

However, once the wall was built around Rozi’s home, cutting off her neighbours from view, an overenthusiastic contractor ensured it turned into rubble.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police promised to file a case against him, while builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Developers claims that the disputed building belonged to them as the BMC had sealed it, and handed it over to them.

Short silences in moments of chaos

The Sparrow: Lily Peso left her work today as a stenographer and came to look after her 85 year old mother Rosie’s home in Sion, afraid that it might be levelled for the wall. She sits alone by her door, quietly, watching the labourers build their walls in what used to be her yard.

‘Why are you sitting alone?’ I asked

‘I am like a sparrow. Do you know the story of the sparrow and the tree? Once a tree falls and all the sparrows leave the tree except one. And that sparrow stayed near her broken tree and cried and just refused to move. Then Goddess Indra comes and asks the sparrow what is the matter. The sparrow says that I grew up with this tree, she lived happily here, and ate her fruits, lived in her shade, how can I leave it? And then the Goddess made the tree again and all the sparrows came back.’

‘I am here now alone, just remembering the place where I grew up.’

The labour: More than three dozen labourers were picked up from the Nakas, promised 400 rupees for a days work. Nasirul, who lives in a slum in Mumbai Central says: ‘They lied to us.’

‘They told us we only had to do some fencing work, not that we had to barge into people’s homes to do it.’

‘This is all wrong, we shouldn’t be doing it.’

‘Have you done work for the government before, like this? Even during demolition drives?’

‘Yes, and they never tell you that’s the work they’re taking you for.’

The Sellout: Kalpesh Shivkar, screams at the crowd, at his angry ex-neighbours, at his friends, ‘I just took five lakhs, what have I done? What have you done for me?’

In May of this year 25 people went to jail trying to protect his home from being demolished. They were arrested for rioting when they lay down before the bulldozer that was menacingly crawling to break down his walls.

The journalists:  Journalist A: ‘A white girl got raped in Bandra today, I don’t think anyone will come to report what is happening in Sion now.’

Journalist B: ‘I work for ____ media, owned by the Pawars.’

‘And they will let you write about this?’

‘We already did before.’

There were only two journalists at Sion Koliwada today.

The Detained: Resident of Sion Koliwada, a young professor B. at a prominent college in Mumbai, abused Inspector More, calling him a servant of the builder and he was swiftly taken away and put in a police van.

Police Discourtesy: When things subsided, a group of young boys were gathering when Constable Tely started to scream at them: ‘Are you here to watch a film?’

‘Yes, they are,’ Said Pushpa Shivkar, defending the boys of her village, ‘You have shown them a wonderful film by doing what you did today.’

At this point, Constable Tely started calling Mrs. Shivkar, who is twice her age,

‘madharchod/behenchod.’

Pushpa Shivkar yelled back saying that he should just meet her in civvies and not in his uniform so she could teach him a lesson, and he continued to hurl abuses at her, until another woman took her away.

The Bad Policeman: ‘Are you happy that you don’t have to raise your lathi on anyone today?’ I asked a constable, sweating under his riot gear.

‘Yes.’

‘And how would’ve you felt if you had to?’

‘I would feel nothing.’

‘Ever felt bad for beating up someone?’

‘We usually give warnings, if they don’t listen, then that’s it. And it is my duty.’

The Good Policemen: In the middle of the afternoon, two policemen, one Tukaram Jadhav was more interested in sharing riddles, lively laughter and mathematical wisdom with two happy school-going girls, away from all of the arguments and the abuse that flowed between the residents and the police.

‘If you have to cut a long pipe into 2002 pieces, how many times do you cut it?’

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A Subaltern Guide To Filmmaking

June 17, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 17th of June, 2012

I had gone to watch Shanghai with the residents of Bheem Chhayya, Chedda Nagar, Annabhau Sathe Nagar, and Sion Koliwada, with the same people who’d stand before bulldozers, who’d organize protest after protest, who’d be beaten by the police – to whom state repression and structural violence is an almost everyday reality, to whom the word ‘Shanghai’ itself has been oppressive to the bone, shattering home after home, with the memory of the 80,000 homes that disappeared one day alone in Mumbai, not far away from their memory.

After the film, when I ask if the film deals with the issues of the working classes and the protestors who face the brunt of state violence, of ‘development’ and bulldozers: The answer is a unanimous no.

They felt that it wasn’t just that there was absolutely no tension in the beginning, tension characteristic to state-people conflict in development projects – protests, evictions, police firings, the day to day violence of state functionaries, especially the police. It wasn’t just that the character of Dr.Ahmedi was as uninspiring as a doorknob, or that there were no working class organizers or ‘andolan saathis’, who are predominately responsible for strengthening every people’s movement and struggle, and who’re the first to be brutally attacked or killed. Or that there was no mention of how the mainstream media is co-opted into the fantasy of Shanghai, or that the daily trials and vulnerabilities of working class (except one character) and informal labourers is absolutely invisible. The filmmakers of Shanghai, are guilty of having done exactly what the state would want to do to resistance and people’s movements in the slums – they bulldozed them out of the film.

Development projects, have a very political purpose, not only to hand over prime real estate land to private parties, but to remove every possible centre of dissent and political activity that is always incipient in the slums and working class neighbourhoods. The film, by portraying only the hypocrisies and the futilities of a middle and upper class characters, whose so-called good intentions and attempts for justice are constantly thwarted by ‘the system’, betray the one place where inspiration is found: the protest in the people’s movement, when the hungry go on hunger strike.

Thus, all of those who once stood before bulldozers, would not send anyone to go watch the film. A sentiment repeated by all of them – from Annabhau Sathe Nagar to Sion Koliwada.

‘They showed in the film, that the public is not agitating, that they’re only a few angry people who’re fighting for rights and dying,’ Says Santosh Thorat of Annabhau Sathe Nagar, who has been fighting for the right to a home, and against Slum Rehabilitation scams, since his home was demolished in 2005, ‘And this film is about how the state deals with the few of them, so you better keep your mouth shut.’

‘People who don’t have any knowledge of what’s happening in the street and in the morchas, in the andolans, especially the youth, whose homes have never been demolished, they’d be very badly influenced by this film.’ Said Jameela Begum of Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar. Four young boys from Sion Koliwada who experienced demolitions and violence, would add how a young woman leader from their slum is in jail for protesting against demolition, but their awareness was born by the realities of what they face. The lack of the realities of what they faced in the past week – one boy who was beaten up by the police after trying to protect his father from the police, simply replied, ‘the film was boring.’

Another issue would be semantics and two words in particular ‘dalaal’ or tout– by far one of the most hated figures in the slum and in development projects; those opportunists who eat money from the political establishment, often betray their own neighbours and families for profit. A word, that can lead to violence, and to counterviolence. A word, which is not mentioned in the film even once – even though the ‘dalaals’ had considerable screen time. The other word ‘morcha’ was appropriated by the developer, when the word has absolutely close connotations to people’s movements. Here, it’s happily appropriated by the developer while the ‘people’ remain absolutely absent again, incapable of claiming their own symbols.

On a positive note, the viewers are glad that the well-entrenched corruption is shown, even aware of the irony that ‘special thanks’ for the film had gone to Ritesh Deshmukh, the son of the man who has tormented them the most: Ex-Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh ‘who sold the dream of Shanghai’ that gave birth to their nightmares. Jameela felt that this film says it clearly, ‘rajneeti kuch nahi hai.’

‘Ek accha baath thi kya zaada sentimental nahi tah, accha fact of matter film baniye thi.’ Continued Jameela Begum, who felt the lyrics, ‘Sone ki chiddya, dengu malaria, sab hai bharat mata ki jai,’ was absolutely brilliant.

And if the film wasn’t called ‘Shanghai’, then ‘picture ke saath hamara kuch lene dena nahi hai.’ Said Uday Mohite of Bheem Chhayya who had kept a hunger strike for 19 days to protest against the demolition of his slum, and of the death of his 3 year old son.

Response: Aniruddha Guha from DNA interviewed director Dibanker Banerjee about the issues raised by the residents I saw the film with. According to Dibanker, if you represent working class movements in cinema, you’re making a ‘mobilization propaganda film.’ The interview is here.

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Invisible Cities: Part Eleven: Demolition City

June 14, 2012

Qareem of Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 in Mankhurd holds a photograph of the last time his house was demolished. His young daughter was injured during the latest demolition drive on the 30th of May, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 14th of June, 2012.

The week before the monsoons, saw demolition drives in Ambujwadi in Malad, in Sion Koliwada and in a far reaching corner of the city, in Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 near Mankhurd station, a small group of shanties of twenty homes that live hidden from the city under a flyover and adjacent to the Mankhurd rail line heading to Vashi.

The demolition in Ambujwadi was thwarted when thousands of people gathered at the street and chased the bulldozer away, but the state has promised it would come the next day, and an activist who spent the whole day in the rallies, who’d move around getting water for all the others, dies of a heart attack the same night.

All three slums have different histories, identities and states of desperation – Sion Koliwada is filled with the original inhabitants of Mumbai, who refer to the state as encroachers of their land, while Ambujwadi is referred to an encroachment by the state. Mahatma Phule Nagar, a slum of muslims and dalits, migrants and the poorest, most vulnerable of the city, are referred to encroachers by the Railway Department. And yet none of the second generation of ‘encroachers’ will move – they rebuild, and they talk about the last time their homes were demolished – Qareem at Mahatma Phule Nagar had taken out a laminated photograph of his family and the remnants of his home, the last time his house was demolished a year and a half back.

Tuliya Saket, who lives at the end of Mahatma Phule Nagar with her son and her husband had just built her home over three years ago. She is originally from Satna District in Madhya Pradesh and lost her lands to a flood. Her son Suresh would point out that the ‘Maha Sankha’ built by the state was responsible for the flooding of their fertile lands. Where will we go? Has stopped being the response of every so-called encroacher, yet the state, in
its blind adherance to town planning, to its latent anti-migrancy biases, has failed to see that they can break down the homes of people repeatedly, but the people will not move. In it’s almost futile adherance to its mandate and law, the demolitions keep happening, the people keep rebuilding, and at the same time, a tabloid newspaper would report that the Chief Minister hasn’t had time to inaugrate the latest Golf Course at Khargar.

In a Human Development Report done by the United Nations Development Programme for the BMC, it was stated that …. ‘the relevant dimension is that the area, they (slums) together occupy – just 6 per cent of all land in Mumbai explaining the horrific levels of congestion. Delhi has 18.9 per cent, Kolkatta 11.72 percent and Chennai 25.6 per cent in slums.’ Adding to this, the BMC recently revealed the Below Poverty Line Survey they had conducted in 2005-2006 which stated that there are around 4,93,855 families Below The Poverty line, with the maximum number in Andheri East, with 79,107 families, while Fort would have 797 families, or Parel would have 259, or Bandra would have 8271. Mankhurd, ghettoized with over 70% of it as slums, has around 65,051 families Below The Poverty Line.

Last year, slums built on the periphery of the dumping grounds of Deonar, Sant Nirankari Nagar and Rafiq Nagar 2, both in Mankhurd, were demolished and the state dug up ditches to make the land un-livable, but the people still rebuilt their homes in the little spaces afforded to them. In December of last year, Bheem Chhayya on Forest Land was demolished and once again, the people refused to let go. A young boy Jayesh drowned in one of the miasmic ditches dug by the municipal authorities and the residents had filed a case against the responsible authorities.

All of the slums – Ambujwadi, Rafiq Nagar 2, Mahatma Phule Nagar 2, Bheem Chhaya, have been denied the right to water, a right that India conferred as a Human Right in the General Assembly of the United Nations, yet to those slums that have come into existence after 1995, the residents have to pay exobirant prices from a private water mafia. At the same time, according to an RTI response by the BMC’s Hydraulic Department, between January 2009 and February 2010, 2,95,576 kilolitres of water were used by seventeen bottling plants in Mumbai – for instance, Dukes & Sons (Pepsi), used 78,721 kilolitres of water, while Jayantlal Mohanlal (Bisleri) used around 42,403 kilolitres of water.

The people of Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 were busy rebuilding their homes a few hours after the demolition, aware of the coming monsoons. And yet they are all aware, touts will demand money for protection, they will have to pay for water, work when they get work, earn little money they can by selling dates or falling into the absolutely fragile world of informal labour, and that the state will come again, break their homes down again, and that they will not move.

A common answer to encroachment has always been: ‘Why was the state sleeping when these people first started to settle here? When they built even one house, they should’ve been kicked out.’ Ironically, Uday Mohite of Bheem Chhayya, who had gone on a hunger strike for 19 days to get justice for his son, and for the right to a home, partially agrees to that idea – yet adds that its not so simple – it is their right to come to the city, and ‘where will we go?’ isn’t just a defence – it’s the truth. The questions arise about citizenship – and migrants and those deemed encroachers have repeatedly wondered if they’re citizens of the country, when they’re treated like outcasts and illegals in the city.

The republic of Mumbai and the republic of hunger meet when bulldozers crash through tarpaulin and inter-party canvas posters that make the walls of the poorest of the city. It meets when middle class aspirations bulldoze their way into those of the working class and the poor. It meets when the same people who have faced demolitions since 80,000 homes were demolished in 2005, had symbolically taken over the un-touched Adarsh building last year.

‘Demolish that’, they had said, ‘Leave our homes alone.’

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Invisible Cities: Part Ten: The Demolition Seige Of Sion Koliwada

June 4, 2012

This article appears in abridged form in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of June, 2012. Photographs of the demolition drive can be viewed here.

The residents of Sion Koliwada face police brutality for opposing a redevelopment project

Twenty-five residents and activists who were peacefully protesting against the re-demolition of a home in Sion Koliwada, remained in custody and had applied for bail at Kurla Magistrate Court on Friday. The accused were then sent by the court for medical examination after allegations of police brutality. They will remain in police custody till the 5th of June, 2012.

On May 29, the police had demolished the home of Kalpesh Shivkar, arrested activist Medha Patkar and seven others, including Frank Fernandes, 16, a science student of St. Andrews college, who had gone to defend his father Nelson, when the locals tried to prevent the police from demolishing their homes.

A day later, the people deeming the demolition illegal, would begin to reconstruct the home of Kalpesh Shivkar. But late night on May 30, the locals tried to rebuild the home, and over a 100 security personnel positioned themselves in one of the re-development buildings, while the police stood across the street, claiming they are there to maintain law and order. Jai Maharashtra, a TV channel owned by Sudhakar Shetty, has been sitting with what the developer’s own supporters call ‘bouncers’, all tagged with the name ‘Sairaj’ on their uniforms. The supporters also allege that the remaining residents have simply resorted to blackmail the builder, and there have been no irregularities in the scheme.

All night the residents stayed on a dharna, while neither the police nor the private security would move. The next evening, on the Bharat bandh, the police would again enter the slum and drag away individuals as they lay down before bulldozers, and again, demolished Shivkar’s home. They arrested one activist Jameel Akhtar Sheikh, whose on slum of Ambujwadi in Malad, faced a demolition drive two days earlier, who lay down before the bulldozer, and 24 other women, including Madhuri Shivkar, a leader of the resistance at Sion Koliwada.

On Thursday night, the police not only refused to reveal to journalists what sections those arrested where booked under, but also prevented the entry of journalists into the police station to interview senior officials.  It was finally revealed that all of them were arrested for, Section 143, 147, 149, 152, 332, 353, 504, 506, while Madhuri Shivkar was also charged with Section 447 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Most charges concern rioting, unlawful assembly and ‘causing hurt to a public servant’ when almost all the residents claim they had peacefully protested.

The issue dates back to 1999, when builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Builders approached the residents with plans to redevelop the land. Sudhakar Shetty who is a known aide of Baba Ramdev was raided by the Income Tax Department in September of 2011.The residents have been protesting that the builder Sahana Developers had illegally acquired their consent for the project. When he did not get the requisite 70% consent, he allegedly forged signatures on the consent forms.

After filing an RTI, it was discovered that a consent form, dated 20/7/1999, has the signature of Eknath Koli who had died in 1997. Another form has the signature of Lilabai Vishnu Patil, signed in English, even though Lilabai is actually illiterate and has only ever used thumb prints for all her official documents.

The residents had gone to the Sion police station on February 26, 2011 stating forgery in the project, yet the police had refused to file the FIR, claiming that this falls under the purview of the BMC. The matter concerning the forgery is still pending in the Kurla Magistrate Court. After Medha Patkar’s nine-day hunger strike in Golibar slums last year, the government had consented to investigate into 15 re-development schemes, including Sion Koliwada, where the residents alleged irregularities and fraud. But the government backtracked and the matter is now pending in the High Court.

Builder Sudhakar Shetty, however, maintained that he has played by the rules. Speaking to journalists, he said, ‘When the BMC demolished one hut on 30 May, locals got ladies from outside and started to rebuild. Therefore on 31 May, the BMC demolished again.’

He added, ‘Eight years ago, locals gave us 70% consent only then the proposal was passed. Until then, locals didn’t complain. When the case went to the HC, it was dismissed. We have all the necessary documents. Why didn’t the locals get relief in HC if documents were forged?’

National Alliance of People’s Movements and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao (GBGB) Andolan condemned “this brutal move of the administration to evict the people from their decades old settlements, for no cogent public purpose, rather for the vested interests of a private real estate lobby,” the body said in a statement.

‘They keep talking about encroachers,’ said Kiran Keny, of Sion Koliwada, ‘but the government had encroached on our lands since the British times. The land on the harbour line all belong to the Kolis.’

‘This government is looting us, at least the British gave us something and left, which is the land we have right now,’ lamented Devendra Vaity, another resident.

‘Dear Chief Minister, is this rioting?’ Ask the residents of Sion Koliwada.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 6th of June, 2012.

According to the police, the protestors had not only resorted to rioting and injuring a lady constable Kalawati Ravindra Sinha, 54, who would be admitted to Hinduja Hospital, but they also illegally rebuilt a home that the residents claim was illegally demolished.

The police also demanded police custody of the protestors till June 7 fearing they would return to protest, and return to ‘provoke’ the residents. Their only eyewitness is another police constable, while residents had video footage of the so-called riot, where every person who was arrested was picked up from the ground when they were lying down before the bulldozer.

At the police station, no one was allowed to meet the accused and even after all the protestors were sent to the Nagpada police station, no one was allowed to send them any food. Journalists were also not allowed to interview senior police officials.

The protestors remained in police custody all night and would complain before the Kurla magistrate court that their medical tests were not done properly. Allegations of abuse have been widely circulated in the Sion village, and just two days earlier a young Frank Fernandes sat in a police van with torn shirts, showing tell-tale signs of police violence.

A few of the police’s justifications for demanding police custody make an interesting indication of naked police aggression. In the first information report, they claim that if the protestors are released they would hurt the ‘peaceful environment’ in the area.

This is unfortunately only half the picture as dozens of private security ‘bouncers’ as described by the builder’s supporters, have been sitting in the building already completed by Sahana Developers, since the night of May 29. When asking the DCP whether they would be sent home, he replied, that they are the builder’s security, they are only sitting in their area, and only if they act, will the police intervene.

Another reason given is that the police constable Kalawati is in a serious condition. To blame 25 people for someone who allegedly kicked the constable in her head, and to keep them in police custody for the same is akin to revenge. The residents themselves alleged that the constable was hanging onto the van as it sped away from the village, and she had fallen down. At Hinduja Hospital where she was admitted, it had come to light that she was discharged on Sunday Morning after being described as ‘stable’.

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Invisible Cities: Part Nine: What Really Killed Baby Mohite?

January 29, 2012

This article appears in Daily News Analysis on the 29th of January, 2012

The residents of Bhim Chhayya at Vikhroli have been on an indefinite dharna since the 19th of November, 2011. While they have been demanding land rights and a right to a home as per the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna, they have also been demanding justice for the death of 14 month old Jayesh Mohite who drowned in one of the miasmic ditches dug by civic authorities to prevent further ‘encroachment.’

The Vikhoroli police, at the behest of angry residents included the names of the Mumbai suburban collector Nirmalkumar Deshmukh and deputy collector Shivajirao Davbhat into the First Information Report, charging them under Section 299, 304 along with Section 304A, which states – whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide.

The officials filed for anticipatory bail in the courts and the Deputy Commissioner of Police had cleared the officials of the charges and had instead submitted a three-page report detailing how the boy’s family are encroachers and anti-social elements.

Yet before they were ‘encroachers’, in May 2011, the government had relented to a 9-day hunger strike by social activist Medha Patkar that had demanded, besides investigating fraud in the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, to also declare 19 settlements as slums under Section 5 of the Maharashtra Slum Area Act.

Bhim Chhaya was one of them.

The right of a settlement to be called a slum would’ve given them rights and protected them from further demolition drives – the settlement was demolished repeatedly, ‘from 2001, almost every year’ according to the Suburban Deputy Collector Davbhat himself. The government however, relegated on its promise and the settlement was exposed to demolitions once again, when on the 16th of November, 2011, the bulldozers had arrived and ran through the settlement, burning down parts of their homes, and dug up ditches to make the land unlivable.

A little less than a month later, on the 12th of December, Jayesh Mohite drowned in a ditch that wouldn’t have existed if the government kept its word.

Shivajirao Davbhat mentions that the government resolution regarding the declaration of Bhim Chhaya as a slum, whose matter is now in the High Court, concerns the homes of older slums, not newer ones. He would emphasize the point that the residents are all encroachers who don’t have any papers  to show that they have come to Bombay before 1995. A fact that the residents never denied.

Yet of the hundreds of homes demolished, almost all the residents were part of the agitation for a right to a home, and had even been on the two-day rally of thousands from Khar to the Mantralaya on the 28th-29th of June, when old men and women marched in the pouring rain, at times barefoot, hoping to meet the Chief Minister who was being pressurized by the builder lobby to oppose Medha Patkar.

Meanwhile, the land in question, belongs to the Forest Deparment, and the High Court had ordered the protection of all mangrove land in Maharastra in the Writ Petition 3246 of 2004, where it mentions, ‘Regardless of ownership of the land, all construction taking place within 50 metres on all sides of all mangroves shall be forthwith stopped.’

At Bhim Chhaya, a building built by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena right next to the mangrove, is still standing, overlooking the demolished slum.

Structural Violence Built For The Homeless

Jayesh was born on the 22nd of September 2010, his mother was pregnant with him, the last time their homes were demolished in the days between the 9th of March and the 12th of March, 2010.

He was the only son of Uday Mohite, an autorickshaw driver by profession and the un-official leader of the agitating residents, who’ve been fighting for a right to a home since 2005. He hasn’t worked a  day since the notice first arrived asking the residents to vacate the land. After the death of his son, he had gone on a hunger strike which lasted for 19 days, and he had even raised his voice and spoke about the long agitation for the right to a home, at the India Against Corruption rally on the 28th of December, 2011 but their protest goes on quietly in Vikhoroli, it being 66 days since their homes were demolished as of the 24th of January.

‘They’re cancelling our ration cards now,’ Says Uday Mohite, as a group of residents sit around him with their voter IDs, their cancelled cards, the birth certificates of their children.

‘Jhopadpati toot gaya na, toh ration cancel ho gaya,’ said Kantabai Bhimrao Khandkare, one of the women whose cards were cancelled, ‘They want the electricity bill. But do you see any electricity in the thousand homes here?’

‘They say we’re all living on the footpath.’

Around eighteen cards were cancelled after the demolitions in 2010. This time five of them have been cancelled.

When it comes to water, India voted to identify the right to clean water and sanitation as a human right in the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 28th of July, 2010, but in the state of Maharashtra, settlements that have come into existence after 1995, can’t get any water from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The residents are left at the mercy of the water mafia, and have to pay for water, while living an an inexistent home, with the constant risk of demolitions, while trying to make ends meet.

Most of the residents are Matang Dalits without any land holdings, from as far as Jaalna, Solapur, Osmanabad, Buldhana, Beed, Nasik and Latur, who’ve been working in Mumbai as domestic help or as daily wage labourers, who may or may not get work when they go to the nakas.

Sangita Awamisa is a widow and single mother who came to Mumbai forty years ago from Jaalna during the migrations of the 1970s. She earned her living selling lasan and now works as a domestic worker in one of the nearby buildings to support herself and her three children.

Chaeya Taide, spent Rs.7,000 thousand to rebuild her home when it was demolished the last time. She lives with her sister’s family in Bhim Chhaya. Both of them are from Buldhana district and both of them work as labour.

K.Soma Naik is the sole resident who is originally from Andhra Pradesh who has lived in Mumbai for over 30 years. A few years ago, Soma Naik was diagnosed with tuberclosis and eventually developed a tumour in his brain. His family had to sell their house at Kamrannagar to pay for his medical expenses and he moved into one of the empty plots of Bhim Chhaya with his wife, where they filled the marshy ground to build a foundation, and they live off their savings, paying around Rs.4000 every month on medicines alone.

‘A lot of people in the basti work as domestic help in those buildings where there are MHADA people live too,’ a resident points across the small field filled with tarpaulin tents and ditches, where low-cost buildings overlook their own.

Kantilal Shinde, 74 years old, had come from Osmanabad, ‘We put bamboos into the ground and made our homes. Many used to live on the pavement before this.’

A few days after the demolitions, people had gone back to the pavement.

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Invisible Cities: Part Seven: Golibar Diary

May 31, 2011

Going back to Golibar after another demolition drive is like meeting a friend whose face was blown off. Every building that had survived the previous demolition drives was a expression of resistance. Yet this time, the bulldozers drove into the centre of the society, smashing through homes and littering rubble where the people had their meetings.

It was the 19th of May when the MHADA and the police had come to demolish homes again. It was a time when people expected the builder be chargesheeted and prosecuted for fraud, as per the orders of the High Court, yet the police and the MHADA had come to demolish homes. It was a familiar story. On the 2nd of February, the High Court asked for the police to chargesheet the chief promoters of the project but the MHADA and the police would still show up to demolish homes for the next two days.

This time, on the 19th, the script was different: after a stone-pelting incident, the police arrested around 13 people, including an 80 year old woman, then broke down home after home as residents were helpless and activists tried to contact every official from the SRA chief to the Chief Minister who could stop the demolition. On the second day, the activists and residents would be detained at nearby Kherwadi police station. The demolitions would continue.

Then there would be a hunger strike. The government would relent, and the demands that were accepted by the government were: 1) Decision regarding declaration of settlements as slum under section 4 of Maharashtra Slum Area Act and to be undertaken for improvement as per section 5. 2) A joint meeting involving representatives of Government of Maharashtra, Government of India & Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao to discuss implementation of Rajiv Awas Yojana in Mumbai. 3) Activation of the existing High Powered Committee, chaired by Chief Secretary, appointed by Honourable HC in 2005 meant for reviewing the policies & recommend or suggest new policies related to slum housing to government of Maharashtra. 4) A four member committee chaired by Justice (Retd) H Suresh and Simpreet Singh, Sh. Satish Gawai & K P Bakshi as members to investigate and make recommendations related to Ganesh Krupa, Golibar Society by 15th June to Government of Maharashtra. 5) A five member committee chaired by Justice (Retd) H Suresh and Sh Sudhakar Suradharkar (EX IPS Officer) Simpreet Singh, Sh. S S Zende & Swadhin Kshatriya as members to investigate into 15 SRA & 3K cases of fraud and forgery, including Shivalik Ventures Project, and submit a report by 30th September to government of Maharashtra.

The reaction of the mainstream media has been expectedly deplorable. Most have gone on to mention that the Golibar slums are ‘illegal’, and have completely obviated from the fact that the builder has committed fraud.

Many have limited this to a ‘local’ issue, that this is a ‘right to  housing’ struggle. But a closer look brings us to realize, that it is a battle against the rot in the system, against the corruption in the system that is meant to protect the rights of the people. The changing of the battlefield is something that is entirely credited to the residents themselves and the help they got from Saint RTI, who helped to expose how the builder and the government conspired to cheat the people and even itself, by stealing public lands from other departments – Western Railways and the Defence Ministry. Without their contribution, it would’ve just been the people versus bulldozers, rather than the people, who have stripped the government bare, versus the bulldozers that have no right to be there.

The Law Of The Land Is The Law Of The Realtor

A short recap – the Slum Rehabilitation Act requires that a builder get consent from 70% of the residents before he can begin to develop the area. In this case, the builder Shivalik Ventures has papers to show that he has consent from 95% of the residents, which is nothing but a blatant forgery. In the case of Ganesh Krupa Society, the general body meeting where the residents ‘gave their consent’ has been a holy ghostly affair, as even the dead had come back to life, to give consent to the builder. An old lady Sulochna Pawar, who died on the 30th of January 2005, learned to write in the four years she spent in the afterlife, to only come back to sign in English, in a meeting held by the builder on the 7th of February 2009.

The people went to the police to lodge and FIR. The police refused. They complained to the Slum Rehabilation Authority who took no cognizance of their complaints. The people had gone to the Courts, and the Courts ordered the police to lodge an FIR, and police did so without mentioning the builder.

In an order passed by the High Court on the 2nd of February, 2011, (during a demolition drive), the Court stated: ‘The first grievance made in this Petition is that the Investigating Officer has, for reasons best known to him, not mentioned the names of the Partners of M/s. Madhu Construction Company as accused inspite of being named by the Petitioner as involved in commission of alleged offence.’

(Partners of M/s Madhu Construction Company = Shivalik Ventures.)

‘The other grievance made before us is that although, more than three months have elapsed since passing of the order dated 15th September, 2010 in Criminal Writ Petition No.2383 of 2010 which was filed by the Petitioner, the Investigating Officer has merely registered the FIR and done nothing more.’

‘We are also at a loss to know as to why Investigating Officer has not proceeded against the accused for last 90 days.’

The criminal court continued to pass orders that no one paid any attention to, but the response by the civil courts is one of the most shameless aspects of this case. The constitution literally be damned as we’re structurally adjusted to mass imbecility when the word ‘development’ is mentioned in closed whispers, or in the courts. Apparently, if you cheat people, commit fraud, steal public lands, forcefully break people’s homes down, threaten them with consequences if they spoke up, it’s all okay, to the High Court that had ruled the Civil case in favour of Shivalik Ventures, by stating, ‘We find that out of 320 tenements in the concerned slum, as many as 167 tenements have been demolished and occupants have already been shifted to temporary alternate accomodation. Therefore no useful purpose will be served by allowing the petitioners to raise any dispute about the meeting which was held on 7th February 2009.’ [Italics mine]

This High Court says no useful purpose will be served by taking cognizance of mass forgery. In other words, the High Court of 420 says, no useful purpose will be served by following laws.

It is this case that the people lost, that the MHADA officers and the police are very happy to cite, trying to justify demolition drives.

But what about the order on the 12th of April, 2011, in the criminal case, Writ Petition 172 of 2011?

‘That this Hon’ble High Court be pleased to direct to issue a Writ of Mandamus or appropriate Writ Order in the nature of Mandamus directing the Respondents to include the names of the Partners of M/s. Madhu Construction Company, viz. Bhagwandas Gilda, Vasudev M. Gilda, Gangadevi M. Gilda as accused in the F.I.R.No.234/2010.’ [Italics mine]

So the High Court, also says, chargesheet the builder. But the police comes to demolish people’s homes instead, repeatedly stating ‘the matter is under investigation.’

And all of this was pointed out to Chief Secretary Ratnakar Gaekwad, the SRA chief S.S. Zende under whose purview, the Letter of Intent to the builder can be cancelled, as per SRA rules and regulations, if a criminal case were to be proved against the builder.

Yet none of them moved. It was only after a 9 day long hunger strike by a 57 year old activist that the government considers in setting up a committee. They won’t act on anything yet, just the committee. If the hunger strike would’ve asked for the builders to be put in jail, the government would’ve probably let Medha Patkar die.

The Media Is The Menace

Children playing at Ganesh Krupa Society

Most newspapers and middle-class attitudes seem to find slums as criminal and the slum-dwellers as cheats. That the media dehumanizes slums and designates them as devoid of any human sentiment is something explicitly evident in not just corporate policy but in the attitudes of the reporters themselves.

In Mid-day, a report titled ‘Want a house? Build a Shanty’, a reporter, mentions that: ‘While you struggle to buy a house with your hard-earned money, all slum dwellers in the city, irrespective of when they came to Mumbai, could get housing for a pittance, if activist Medha Patkar has her way.’

Who does not struggle to buy a house with their hard-earned money? Does a slum dweller have no right to demand a home for building the city that the rich live in? Does this reporter think that the working classes of the city don’t ‘struggle to build a home with their hard-earned’ money?

Apparently, the years of demolition, and the insecurity of an existence, the right to life, isn’t a concern to the reporter. The article reeks of class hatred and why wouldn’t anyone be surprised? The almighty journalists, the self-expropriated guardians of cynicism wouldn’t ever get their hands dirty with the aspirations of the people against a ruling class that sticks their fists up their behind. That they despise activists is not a secret, but that they despise them as they don’t have the guts to fight with the people, is something they should openly accept: it is their guilt over the starving millions that drives their hatred for the people who’d die for them.

The Hindustan Times and The Times of India have even quoted Shubhangi Shinde, ex-resident of Ganesh Krupa Society, who has been chargesheeted as an offender in the forgery case. That she is to be investigated by the police for her involvement in the forgery has not been mentioned in the Hindustan Times report that mentions  – “There is too much delay in our rehabilitation. Although the high court ordered the demolition in September, and the supreme court concurred with its decision, a few people in the society have been stopping it every time,” said Shubhangini Shinde, chief promoter of Ganeshkripa society.”

The double standards of the Hindustan times is absolutely blatant as it makes no mention of the High Court order calling for her to be arrested, or the builder to be chargesheeted and investigated.

As of now, the builder has started to fund rallies against Medha Patkar and the journalists are giving these pro-builder rallies full coverage. The builder himself is taking out hoardings of articles written in his favour and has hung then across the slum. The full outcome of a very calculated media strategy is one that is repeated across the country: of divide and rule. To get at least 10% of the people in favour of the builder and the media can easily manipulate it into a majority.

Previously, in February, the mainstream media had given full coverage to another pro-builder rally. The Times of India had headlined it as ‘Golibar Locals Protest Against Medha Patkar’, but when an anti-builder rally was held, not a single news organizations had given it coverage, besides Hindustan Times who had two small paragraphs.

A photograph from that rally is below.

Post script – Golibar Diary

The following are a group of un-published and published notes and articles from the last few months I’ve spent in Golibar. I live a mere ten minutes away from Golibar, and often after spending long periods in central India, I found myself surrounded by a din of bulldozers, slogans, and the crying of mothers silenced by the hammering down of walls and doors.

The first time, the demolitions had come during my involvement with the people was on the 24th of November, 2010, and that day, the people had won. They chased the police and the demolition team away. The second time, I was in Kalinganagar investigating the death of a 12 year old girl, killed by the police as an alleged Maoist. In a bus in Raygada, I’d get updates from my friends in the basti about everything that happened. That time, there were beatings, arrests and a lathi-charge at Golibar and the MHADA managed to break down some 20 homes. The police also beat up a fourteen year old boy.

I had returned home, and to Golibar, ten days later to be lucky to watch a street play about the demolition put up by the young children of Golibar.

A few days later, there would be another demolition.

This time, I was there for every minute. An unpublished, incomplete article about it is included in this entry, along with a piece I had written for my ex-employers The New Indian Express :

THE RULES DON’T APPLY IN GOLIBAR

A policeman breaks down during a demolition drive at Ganesh Krupa Society on the 3rd of February, 2011

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 13th of February, 2011.

The 2nd-3rd-4th of January have seen brutal demolition drives against the residents of Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, starting with the20th of January when the police lathi-charged and detained over 48 people, including Medha Patkar along with women and children. Yet on the 2nd of February, 2011, the High Court ordered the police to arrest the chief promoters of the builder Shivalik Ventures, including the managing directors Ramakant Jadav and Kiran Jadav. Yet over the next two days, instead of arresting the chief promoters for fraud, the MHADA and the police still arrived at Ganesh Krupa Society, Golibar to demolish homes.

‘We have a High Court order to follow,’ Says Deputy Collecter Rokade to the people of Ganesh Krupa Society, as they tried to prevent their ‘pukka’ homes from being demolished on the 3rd of February. The people attempted to get a stay order on the demolitions in lieu of the order by the High Court regarding the criminal case, yet their turn at the court never came up, as homes were slowly being broken down by the MHADA.

The Slum Rehabilitation Authority has complete authority to cancel the Letter Of Intent given to the builder if there is any evidence of fraud, yet it has not responded to any of the complaints of fraud or forgery made by the residents of Golibar against the builder.

As of the 8th of February, the people don’t have a stay order, and the police are yet to arrest the chief promoters for fraud. Meanwhile, the residents of Golibar along with members of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao, marched into the Adarsh building and symbolically started to take over apartments, which have to be demolished as well, as per an order by Minister of Environment and Forests.

‘The government tries it’s best to protect the homes of scamsters, but destroys the homes of the poor with great urgency.’ Said a resident of Ganesh Krupa Society.

At the same time, one of the biggest investors in the SRA project is Unitech Group, who is already under investigation in the 1.7 Lakh Crore 2G Spectrum Scam. In a public hearing/rally on the 6th of February, where thousands of residents gathered on the road next to demolished homes, it was brought to light by members of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao, that the Unitech group that is also responsible for the breaking of their homes, has close ties to Niira Radia, and had also received Rs. 750 crore from the infamous Lehmann Brothers.

In a Top Secret memo regarding Unitech Group, from the Office of the Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), that intercepted phone calls between Niira Radia and associates, it has been mentioned, ‘There is suspician that the group has taken bogus loan entries through entry operators. The entry operator, worried by the then recession, wanted to reverse the loan entries.’

‘There are conversations indicating Unitech’s worry when Lehmann Bros collapsed. There was concern regarding two more tranches of money which was due to come through Lehmann from “Third Party” investors. There are conversations of damage control and immediate bogus announcement of investments coming from Telecom Italia into the Telecom Venture.’

‘Investment into Telecom Venture finally came from Telenor Norway not Telecom Italia.’

‘Cheques given by Unitech to Tata Realty have “bounced” even through press briefings dictated by Ms Radia give out that “advance” has been cleared.’

Now, from 323 homes at Ganesh Krupa Society, only 143 remain. The people still live within their homes that have remained standing, or amidst the rubble, and have pledged to defend the rest of their homes against any other demolition drives.

 * * *

Notes From A Rally

‘Neem ka patta kadva hai! Shivalik builder bhadwa hai!’

‘Neem ka patta kadva hai! Shivalik builder bhadwa hai!’

There were three days of demolition. There will be more, they say.

The people had to bear it, non-violently, as their homes and the homes of their neighbours were broken down. Contrary to mainsteam media reports, there were no violent protests- no hands were raised, no violence was inflicted by the people onto anyone. For two days, they were made to sit down quietly by their own people.

‘We’re family people, we don’t want our women and children in jail again, let them break our homes, our families are more important.’ Said Sudesh Paware of Ganesh Krupa Society.

On the third day, they had had enough. They packed themselves within the little gullies leading to their homes. They promised to delay the state on it’s demolition drive.

But a non-violent movement does not mean the people can’t verbally abuse the police and the builder.

‘You come into my house with dandas (sticks)’, Screamed a mother to the policeman, ‘And I’ll stick a danda into your little house.’

A crowd of children and women jeer loudly across the field of rubble and debris where the police loiter, as target practice for a long session of innovative abuse. Nobody cares for PG-13.

‘Harami hai, harami hai, salle builder log harami hai.’ Sings Atique to a crowd of cheering old women and children, clapping their hands, singing along. After three days of demolition, it had put a smile on everyone’s face – those who were weeping, who were crying, and screaming were now laughing, dancing. It was five o’ clock, the demolitions had to stop, it was over, temporarirly.

Then there was a rally. The people left their homes and started a slow march towards the transit camps, where the builder is trying to coerce the people into opposing the resistance.

‘Galli galli mein shor hai, shivalik builder chorr hai.’

‘Galli galli mein shor hai, shivalik builder chorr hai.’

From hundreds, it became a rally of thousands. Residents opposing demolition went up to the transit camps and found their names on the doors of locked homes. Residents whose homes were long broken down who lived in the transit camps filled every window, looking at the crowd.

Women whose homes were broken down by the MHADA forcefully, spoke up against the builder as thousands stood to listen to the small handheld loudspeaker. The builder has failed to provide any of the residents of Golibar with a registered agreement, leaving people to rot in camps for months on end with zero gaurantee that they will ever get a home.

The rally then continues to the mosque. It was Isha namaaz time, and thus the speech outside the mosque was shorter.

It continues through little narrow passages deeper into the basti.

‘Neem ka patta kadva hai! Shivalik builder bhadwa hai!’

Yet a few teenage boys from the transit camps, around a hunded people behind, decided to reframe that slogan and screamed it out to their heart’s content.

‘Neem ka patta kadva hai! Shivalik ka lund thanda hai!’ (Un-translate-able)

‘Neem ka patta kadva hai! Shivalik ka lund thunda hai!’ (Un-translate-able)

‘She wanted to join the IAS.’ Said Parab bhai, ‘But after she saw how these IAS fellows behaved, she changed her mind.’

The young girl smiled shyly. There was no secret that the MHADA collectors who broke her father’s home were all IAS cadre.

* * *

The wrench that can be thrown into the machinery of the corporate state, is the slum.

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Invisible Cities: Part Six: Water

March 7, 2011

A people adrift: The slum-dwellers of Mankhurd are not only victims of repeated demolition drives but they are often in want of the most basic necessity of life: water.

On the 28th of July 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations, recognized access to clean water and sanitation as a human right, with a recorded vote of 121 nations voting for the resolution, with none voting against, along with 41 abstentions.

India voted for water as a human right.

Meanwhile in Mumbai, as per the Maharashtra government and BMC rules, there is no need to supply clean water to slums that have been built after the 1st of January 1995. And where the government refuses to take responsibility for its own people, a private mafia has filled its shoes with a profit-motive that ensures that the U.N resolution is nothing but a faraway fantasy for millions of people.

This has left people in slum communities across Mumbai to spend hours walking kilometers to fill 35 litre drums with water, that may or may not be clean, for Rs.5 or Rs.30, depending on availability or source. Families that can barely make ends meet, have to pay exorbitant prices due to shortages of water, and women and children lose out on work and school, as sometimes water is only available between 12pm and 4pm.

According to a recent study conducted by Tata Institute of Social Sciences in over 21 slum communities of Mumbai, over 81% of the population needs to buy water, with 87.5 % of women taking responsibility of fetching water,  with an average monthly expenditure on water at Rs.600, for families that earn an average of Rs.3500 per month.

At the same time, according to an RTI response by the BMC’s Hydraulic Department, between January 2009 and February 2010, 2,95,576 kilolitres of water were used by seventeen bottling plants in Mumbai – for instance, Dukes & Sons (Pepsi), used 78,721 kilolitres of water, while Jayantlal Mohanlal (Bisleri) used around 42,403 kilolitres of water.

Jhopda aur Paani

In Mumbai’s infamous Ward M, Mankhurd, over 70% of the area is slums – and a majority of the residents have settled after 1995. In Sanjay Nagar, adjacent to the towering walls of trash of the Deonar Dumping grounds, the people haven’t gone to work for the last twenty days, waiting for the notice from the BMC to break their homes.

Almost all their homes were broken down in 2004 in the infamous drive that destroyed over 80,000 homes across Mumbai.

‘It took me two weeks to get all my possessions back, as they had bulldozed everything into the dumping ground,’ Said Mrs. Hussain.

And with the daily struggle for a  home,  there is the struggle for water.

‘My son had gone for water in the morning one day,’ Said Mrs. Hussain of Sanjay Nagar, ‘It was magrib and he hadn’t come back yet. I even went and filed a missing person’s report.’

Her son, Saddam Hussain, had to apparently go to Lotus Colony, some 2 kms away, and wait all day for water to come. And once water had come, he had to wait in line as hundreds like him had gathered from across Mankhurd, and paid Rs.5 per drum. Saddam, a name his mother has started to laugh about, would carry four drums of water back home by bicycle.

‘Water starts coming there at five in the morning,’ Says Gulaab Hussain, another resident, ‘And if it doesn’t come, a whole day of work goes as hundreds wait in line.’

Most of the residents who live on the periphery of the dumping grounds are ragpickers. And supply of water is not just essential for drinking, but even as essentially, for cleaning clothes and bathing.

‘I need to wash my clothes, I have one pair for ragpicking, and another for home.’ Say Shefali Abdul Kadir of Rafiq Nagar 2, ‘And I need to wash my ragpicking clothes every two days, of course, there isn’t enough water.’

Rafiq Nagar 2, not just lacks access to drinking water, but it lost access to water. It is well known in the area that an independent corporater called Suresh ‘Bullet’ Patil, an ex-policemen, and encounter specialist once ran for the MLA elections and lost. He blames the people of Rafiq Nagar 2 for not voting for him, and is allegedly responsible for cutting off their water supply.

‘All the pipes were ripped out and taken away by truck,’ Continues Shefali.

Rafiq Nagar 2, is also the capital of malnutrition deaths in the financial capital of India. 25 children have died in the last 2 years in Rafiq Nagar 2, and diarrhea is rife for a particular reason too – the water is not always clean. In no slum surveyed by TISS or by this reporter was there any slum that didn’t have access to water that was clean, or didn’t have any cases of water-borne diseases.

In Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, 35 year old Sushila Mata Prasad, had a severe bout of jaundice, and then pneumonia since november of 2010, and had to spend over Rs.19,000 in various hospitals on tests and medicines. Her husband works as salesman for incense sticks and could not afford his wife’s treatment, and only managed to pay for it after taking loans. To make matters worse, he fell ill himself and could not get to work.

In Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, apart from pipelines that supply water to the homes that have existed before 1995, there are around 30 small wells dug within people’s homes for water.

‘We don’t drink that water though.’ Says a resident, ‘We have different sources of water for different things.’

‘The BMC fellow comes every week and puts powder in these wells.’  Said another resident. Everyone is aware that ground water around the Deonar dumping grounds are massively contaminated due to seepage of waste along with rainwater.

The pipeline connection was another story altogether. It was only after a ‘rasta rokko’ in 2007, that the government established a water connection for the people. A pipeline ran parallel to the basti, and while there was a pipeline that led to them, it wasn’t connected by the BMC – it ran dry.

‘Rasta rokne ke baad, policewalle sab aa gaye the,’ (after we blocked off the road, all the policemen showed up), Said Santosh Thorat, of Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, ‘ACP aur inspector ne chehre se dekha hoga, yeh sab andolanwalle log hai. Aur agar woh hame aaj bhaga denge, hum kal bhi aayenge.’ (The inspector and the ACP had probably just taken one look at us and realized that we were andolan people, and if they drove us away today, we would have come again tomorrow.)

The government assured them that they would connect the two pipes for water within eight days – yet surprisingly, the government did that in just six.

The Politics of Water

There is no secret in Mankhurd, and Ward M, that the private mafia is run by local politicians especially those from the Samajwadi Party, who often bring trucks of water from Ghatkopar or have given water tanks and taps to their own party workers who charge the residents Rs.5 or Rs.30 for water. Any complaints against any party worker ends up with the party worker, and is often a futile exercise that the residents do not indulge in – a silence that gives the party a strong foothold in the area.

So why is the Samajwadi Party, a party generally ‘stronger’ in Uttar Pradesh, in power in Ward M?

‘Yaha par, bina jhopda, aur paani  ka issue, koi bhi election nahi jeetega.’ Said Muhammed Umar of Mandala.

While the Samajwadi Party promised residents water and homes, there are others who believe that the main reason the Samajwadi Party is in power is because of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

‘Raj Thackeray just gifted the election to the Samajwadi Party and the water mafia,’ Says Atique, a resident, singer and activist of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao andolan.

A majority of the people living in Mankhurd are migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the MNS’s loud and vocal calls against North Indians settling in Mumbai, ensured that the election was won by Abu Azmi of the Samajwadi Party.

Demolition Drive at Sant Nirankari.

‘Where else will we go?’ Asked a resident living on Sant Nirankari, on the dumping ground of Deonar.

On the 10th of February, 2011, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation demolished over a hundred  homes in Sanjay Nagar’s Sant Nirankari basti. The residents claim that the BMC had not given them a notice prior to demolishing their homes, and that they didn’t even know what slum they were demolishing.

‘I asked one of the BMC fellows if he knew which slum he was demolishing, and he said he was demolishing Sanjay Nagar, but we were in Sant Nirankari!.’

The majority of the residents were ragpickers who earn a living from the dumping grounds, and are now living under tarpaulin sheets or amongst the debris and trash off their own homes. In eleven days after the demolition, there wasn’t a single news reporter or politician who visited the slum, even though dozens of homes were broken down.

Amongst the debris, water cans were broken, crushed by bulldozers.

Next to Sant Nirankari, Sanjay Nagar is now waiting for its turn for demolition. And again, it won’t be the first time.

‘We haven’t seen demolitions for three years.’ Said Gulaab Hussain, ‘We get  a notice from them, and we go to court.’

The ultimate irony in Sanjay Nagar: children were playing with little toy bulldozers.

And while the state deems all these settlements illegal, the people express their constitutional rights – ‘the freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India which is also subject to reasonable restrictions by the State in the interest of the general public or for the protection of the schedule tribes because certain safeguards as are envisaged here seem to be justified to protect indigenous and tribal peoples from exploitation and coercion.’

But to the government, ‘reasonable restrictions’ ensure that life for the poor in Mumbai is almost un-livable.

Photography Post-Script

The aftermath of the demolitions on Sant Nirankari.

Update: On the 4th of March, 2011, Chikalwadi, also bordering the Deonar dumping ground was demolished by the BMC.