Archive for the ‘Right To Water’ Category

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Once Upon A Time In Jamua, A Caste War, Election Violence And A Land Struggle

May 4, 2014

(5 of 50)

Nakul Ram Turi of Dudhwatol village in Jamua block of Giridih, Jharkhand, was among four people hospitalized after Bhumihars from the neighbouring village attacked them on polling day on the 10th of April, 2014, resentful of them voting for CPI-ML.

‘Hum log maarne nahi gaye teh, hum log vote dalne gaye teh. (We went to vote, not to fight) Said Govardan Rai Turi of Dudhwatol village of Giridih, where members of the Bhumihar caste had violently chased them away on polling day on 10th of April, 2014.

It was at Booth Number 320 at Gardih village, in Jamua block of Giridih District, that comes under Koderma Lok Sabha Constituency, where on the 10th of April, 2014, the members of the Turi Dalit caste alleged that they were beaten up and chased away from voting by local Bhumihars, resentful of them voting for the CPI-ML.

In the 2009 elections, Babulal Marandi, strongman of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, won 1,99,462 votes, with runner up Raj Kumar Yadav from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) who gathered 1,50,942 votes. In this election, it is said that the fight is between JVM’s Pranava Kumar Verma and Rajkumar Yadav again, with a landscape littered with the red flag of stars of the ‘Maley’ as the CPI-ML is called in the districts, and the Bharatiya Janta Party, whose flags are on the larger more prominent homes off the roadside.

Dudhwatol, a Turi famlet of around 30 homes, is a mere eight to ten minutes from the block headquarters of Jamua and I met two local journalists from prominent Hindi-dailies who had yet to report on the incident of poll violence a whole 10 days after.

The village of Dudhwatol is a known bastion of the CPI-ML. In 1984, the villagers were moved to where they’re settled now after their liberation from bonded labour, which is still prevalent in parts of Giridih today. They recall with pride, one of their leaders ‘Basru’, who was with them in their agitations against bonded labour, and the right to land. ‘Basru’ or Ibnul Hassan Basru, was a member of the Communist Party of India who would eventually join the CPI-ML in 2002. He succumbed to cancer in 2009.

According to testimonies from the village, on polling day of the 10th, they all started from their village in groups, six at a time, or five at a time, none of them travelling alone to the polling booth at nearby Gardih. When they first got there, two Bhumihar men were already in the booth. The election officers were all sitting on the verandah outside. As the men stood in line to vote, they felt that their women should vote first, so they could go home earlier. Naghu Rai Turi and then Tulki Devi, Kunti Devi, Devanti Devi and Kinku Devi would vote without any trouble. When it was Uma Devi who went in line to vote, she recalls, that they had cut the power line as she didn’t hear her the beep from the EVM. She was then told by a man inside the booth, ‘Tum log button bol, hum daba lenge.’ (Tell us which button, and we’ll press it.)

As she would protest, the villagers allege that a Manoj Narayan Dev, a Bhumihar from the nearby village of Jiyotol, the Bhumihar para of Gardih, pushed Uma Devi away from the booth, apparently molesting her in the process. ‘Hum log agal bagal mein teh, aur woh chilane lagi, toh hum log bhagke aye. (We were nearby and she started shouting, so we ran to her)’Would say a witness to the incident. Just as an altercation started, a police vehicle arrived, where the villagers allege (was constable Ashok Narayan Dev, from the same village as Manoj), who started to lathi-charge the villagers from Dudhwatol. The villagers from the Bhumihar caste, both young and old, also began to attack the Turi villagers with sticks and stones. They started to beat Santoshi Turi, whose arms would be left swollen. And eight people would be injured, four would be hospitalized – Lakhan Rai, Nakul Rai, Govardan Rai and Rittal Rai, all with deep cut wounds on their scalps, that could’ve only been caused by stones.

According to Sunil Singh, a CPI ML party worker who witnessed the incident, their votes were then divided between Congress and BJP. When I asked which party the Bhumihars supported the response was ‘Any and all – sometimes BJP, sometimes Congress, sometimes JVM.’

The next day, on the 11th of April, a day after a polling, over seventy people from Bhumihar-dominated Jiyotol would again enter the village and start ‘gaali-galosh’, much to the anger and chagrin of the villagers.

The men gathered outside, confronting them.

‘Kya kya bole yeh log? (What did these people say?) I asked the group of villagers of Dudhwatol.

‘Ma-behen waale gaali!

‘Marenge salle ko!

‘Sab ka haath-perr todd denge, haath kaath denge!

‘Marenge madarchod ko!

‘Aurat ko pakkad pakkad ke pitenge!

The attackers would eventually leave after there were phone calls made to the CPI ML Block Secretary, Ashok Paswan who called up the Daroga, who went straight to a Mukhiya from Chorgotta Gram Panchayat, Upendra Singh. While Upendra Singh was unavailable to comment, Ashok Paswan recalls their conversation went on the lines of, ‘Hum aapne log ko samja lenge, aap aapke log ko samjalo. (We’ll handle our people, you handle yours) The mob would then withdraw, and have left an agitated and alert people on the lookout for further attacks.

The Election Commission, while taking cognizance of 6 other booths where there has been booth tampering and the breaking of EVMs, claims to not have received any reports of booth capturing from Gardih, and the Superintendent of Police Kranti Kumar has marked the incident as ‘a conflict between two groups with a rivalry,’ and in a report to the Hindu, he has apparently ordered an enquiry. Suryanarayan Dev, one of the Panchayat Samiti members of Gardih, whose family the villagers of Dudhwatol explicitly accuse concur that there was a conflict on polling day, but it was the ‘Maley’ people, who were booth grabbing, who were harassing election officials, and chasing away voters, before the police arrived and lathi-charged them. He did not file any complaint with the election commission, or call for re-polling.

An FIR was lodged in the Naodiha police station on the 11th of April of 2014, along with a counter-FIR by the Bhumihars. 100 young men from Dudhwatol were named to eight of the Bhumihars.

Caste is land

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Anup Turi points at land lying fallow due to conflict with the Bhumihars and the Forest Department.

Land is central to the dispute. Dudhwatol is a village afflicted with migration to urban centres, to Delhi, to Mumbai, with countless young men recalling stories of working across the country. Many still didn’t return to vote, and many were informed of the attack only a few days later.

Entering the village from Jamua one crosses vast expanses of grassland which is unaffected by farming, land that is apparently used by the Bhumihars as a grazing ground, and was abandoned from farming in 1984 once the Turi’s were settled there after their liberation from bonded labour. The other side of their village, is forest land devoid of any forests, except for a bamboo plantation, and land that was given to the Turi’s in the 1980’s; land whose ‘pattas’ (deeds), brown-tinted faded pieces of paper the villagers hold dear, but mean nothing to the Forest Department that has interfered with their attempts to farm repeatedly over the past few years. The Bhumihars claim that that was land given to them during the Bhoodan movement, and is still a Reserve Forest, although there is no sight of any trees, and the Turi’s point out cultivation in progress by the Bhumihars themselves.

Beyond this disputed forest land, is a river that has still not run dry.

‘Do you see that ditch?’ Said Anup Turi, ‘That was what the forest department dug to stop us from farming, and you can see that the ditch takes a turn at where the Bhumihar land is.’

Baldev Turi and his son Mantoo Turi and Ravinder Turi were in jail for 15 days, charged under Section 26 of Indian Forests Act in 2013. He was farming one acre and 20 decibel, and the Forest Department refused to acknowledge his patta. They sent him a notice to come to Giridih court again, by the 12th of April, 2014, and he refused to acknowledge the notice, saying it is too far and he doesn’t have the money and has to look after home.

They continue to work with CPI ML in a struggle for land, and to return their lost land over the past few decades, which has also been taken over by the Bhumihars. The few houses built in the village through the Indira Awas Yojana were built after the Panchayat took Rs.10,000 from the families, in contravention of its rules. Once a village that used to vote for the Congress, and once where the labour was worth two kilograms of rice, it is now evident to all of them that there is an excess of land in their vicinity.

Conclusion

(48 of 50)2

10 days after the incident, the village prepares for a wedding. Young boys run around in excitement, two old men play the dhol, while women sing songs, dancing slowly to the jhumka. The young men of the village set up scaffolds and cook in the centre of the village. Beby Turi, aged 18 from Dudhwatol met Rajnish Kumar Turi, aged 20, of nearby Kurobindo village, during ‘chowkidaar’ training, or police training, and are getting married on the 20th of April, 2014.

The threat of further attacks by the Bhumihar villagers has dissipated but a sense of anxiety prevails.

‘Hum log ka bharosa hai ki Maley walley hamare saath hai. (We trust that the CPI ML is with us)’Said one of the village elders. But it becomes quickly evident that they are all 30 minutes away, and that the villagers are on their own in the event something would happen. They all know about Bathani Toli, they know about Laxampur-Bathe.

‘Yeh Bhumihar log kabhi sudrenge? (You think the Bhumihars will ever improve?) I had asked after a tirade after tirade on tales and tales on daily abuse, threats, from all their Bhumihar neighbours.

The question elicited muted laughter and jitters, and a ‘Nahi sudrenge (Never) from amidst the crowd.

‘Party mein hai Bhumihar log? (Are there Bhumihars in the party?)I asked

‘Ha leader log hai, (Yes, there are leaders)said one, man. ‘Ha, aur Sunil Ji hai. (Yes, Sunil is there)Said a villager elder.

Everyone’s attention moved towards a middle-aged man with a crew cut, sitting quietly in the corner. His name is Sunil Singh, he is a Bhumihar from the same village Gardih and a cadre of the CPI-ML.

‘Aap samja sakte aapne logo ko? (Can you talk to your people?)’

‘Inko bhi target kiya hai. (They have targeted him too) Said a village elder for an embarassed Sunil Singh.

‘Yaha samanti ka takat hai, (This is the strength of feudalism)’ Said Sunil Singh, ‘Usko samanti ka takat nahi chalana chahiye. Mein bhi nahi chalana chahta hu, sab ka adhikar hota hai. Issi par samaj ka hota hai, jaati-vaad ka hota hai, hum kisi jaati ka nahi! Yaha koi jaat par nahi vote dere, yaha insaf par vote dere hai.’

(He shouldn’t use the power of feudalism. I also don’t want to use it, everyone has their rights. This is where society and casteism comes into play. We’re not from any caste. Nobody here is voting on the basis of caste, we’re voting on the basis of justice).’

‘Aur insaf peh yeh log roziroti, mazdoori kamane walle log he, aur aap ke pas kaam kar rahe hai, aur aap log ko job hai, das baara bigha zameen hai, aap paise walle hai, yeh log aapse takkar nahi kar sakte hai. Sau rupiye kamake yeh log kitna ladiaye karenge?

(And with justice, these are daily wage labourers, and they’re working for you, you people have a job, have some land, you have money, how will these people fight with you? How much can these people fight after earning a hundred rupees?)’

‘Aapke gaon walle aap ko kya bolte hai? (What do your fellow villagers say to you?)I asked Sunil.

‘Aap yeh Soodoro (Dalits) log ko kyu bhakaya, humne bola hum adhikar par kaam kar rahe hai.’

(Why have you incited these Dalits? I said that we’ll work for their rights and livelihood.’

On wedding day, most of those who lived on daily labour had returned mid-afternoon, the sounds of singing would mute as a loudspeaker would begin to blare popular songs. Lunch was served to all the visitors, journalist, Bhumihar or ‘Maley’. The conversations over voting were secondary, it was land, land and the marriage on everyone’s mind.

Election Result

At the day of counting on the 16th of May, 2014, the CPI ML’s Raj Kumar Yadav was trailing the BJP’s Ravindra Ray by a handful of votes throughout the day, but would eventually lose by a margin.

BJP won with 365,410 votes, with CPI ML coming in second place with 266,756 votes.

JVM came third with 160,638 votes, Congress came fourth with 60,330 votes, and AJSU with 25,522 votes.

Post-Photograpy

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Baldev Turi and Mantoo Turi who were imprisoned for 15 days under section 26 of the Forest Rights Act

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The villagers of Dudhwatol and Govardan Turi who was wounded on polling day

(50 of 50)2

Bhumihar grazing grounds leading to the Dalit village of Dudhwatol

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Post-Modern Undercurrents

April 26, 2014

(63 of 74)

‘Whether there is a Modi wave or not, is not to be known from the large gatherings, sometimes the undercurrents are stronger than the open waves.’ Says Medha Patkar, social activist and candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai North East.

This article appears in Outlook magazine on the 28th April, 2014 issue.

Santosh Thorat, an organizer for the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement from Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar in Mankhurd had many questions about joining Aam Aadmi Party, long before the Assembly Elections in Delhi, long before his movement and Medha Patkar would decide to stand for elections in Mumbai North East; his own constituency that had seen massive demolitions in 2004-2005 of 80,000 homes. It was pretty obvious that day, a year earlier in an Irani restaurant in Bandra, that he wouldn’t want his own politics, of strong community-driven movements, of Ambedkarite politics, a strong anti-caste centrality, of women’s participation, from the legacy of Bhagat Singh to Annabhau Sathe, to be diluted by joining any political party, as a footsoldier, but as a leader of people.

Today he holds meetings in groups after groups of women, all who have been part of dharna after dharna, march after march, demanding a right to a home, now moving their strategy towards electoral politics: everyone here must get ten votes for Medha Patkar and for Aam Aadmi Party. Exactly a month earlier, when Medha held a public meeting to decide whether to go for electoral politics or not: a patient Santosh waited for his turn to speak on stage, and when he got his chance, he gave a short speech to loud applause, simple and to the point: ‘Tai kudh nahi khadi hai, hum unko khada karaya.’ (Medha is not standing for herself, we are making her stand for elections)

‘Humare kaam karne ke liye hum Tai ko khada kiye’ (We are making her stand for elections to do our work)

In the 2009 general elections, her constituency was really a neck-in neck battle between Sanjay Dina Patil of the Nationalist Congress Party and Kirit Somaiya of the Bharatiya Janta Party, both who are running again, whose vote tallies had a difference of just 2,933 votes. NCP counted 2,13,505 votes to BJP’s 2,10,572 votes, with Maharashtra Navkiran Sena’s Shishir Shinde coming third with 1,95,148 votes. And while none of them have started their election campaign, apart from trying to ridicule Medha Patkar or talk about Modi Waves, at every other street corner laden with AAP’s signature white hats, a speech is often heard, ‘In the last elections 9 lakh people did not vote, this time please do.’

Medha Patkar’s AAP campaign strategy is to the point, she simply responds, ‘we’re reaching out to people. And we have to resort to whatever electronic media my collegues use, and to hold small meetings, work with groups that are active in the grassroots.’

“The campaign is of course hampered by the twin handicaps of funding and electoral rules: ‘We apparently can’t even put our stickers outside the autos, even if they are owned by autowallas,’ she would say. Just two days earlier the BJP had a frontpage advertisement, in the Times of India, which as per their rates of Rs.6960 per square centimetre, and that a frontpage has 1716 square centimetre, comes to Rs.11,942,360, without the 15% discount. Meanwhile Medha’s AAP donation website merely collected 13,000 in the 4 days it went online (On the sixth day a corporate lawyer from Kolkata donated Rs.1,00,00 for as he has seen Medha work for years, and feels corruption is a cause to all ills). ‘We say development planning has to be face to face, so how can electoral campaigning not be face to face?’ she says, sitting in a small AAP office in Vikhroli, set up by a small restaurant owner, over the chatter of volunteers and the tan-tan of drums ready to be played when they continue to go on the road. (the five young boys who had come from Vikhroli’s Bheem Chhaya Nagar to play drums for Medha’s walks through the bastis, also faced election rules, as the police did not give them permission to play publically.)

‘We have to depend on the social media.’ She says, ‘But there has to has to be very serious changes in rules and regulations from the election commission. Hoardings are allowed, on purchase basis, where parties pay lakhs of rupees but banners are not allowed. We are not allowed to put our stickers. Raj Thackeray has put up big hoardings, lakhs, and crores are spent, but those are not violations. There’s a rule that your hoardings should not face the municipal land, but the road is municipal land, why is that not a violation? Do we all just point our banners to ourselves?’

Almost every other day, her campaign starts after a night spent as late as time affords, as she wakes up at 5 in the morning, plans her meetings with her volunteers, and continues with short rallies and meetings, on the road, at parks, at markets, at crossroads and nakas, up the small by-lanes of slums, to small rooms and homes housed by countless supporters of the movement and now the party, with a motley bunch of volunteers, those rooted in the grassroots and those who have come down from their buildings, from across the city, and some from across the country. On the road with her, it is clear that in many of the lower depths of the city, her simplicity is something that strikes with her prospective voters, and her legendary energy, which some feel is her strenght but also others fear for her age, and the tolls of countless hunger strikes and arrests by the police.

In one of her public meetings on the 14th of March, at the one birthplaces of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, at Rafiq Nagar 2, it was almost an accepted reality, as far as bystander conversations can grace wholesale voting patterns, that they would all vote for her, they just don’t need to sit in a public rally where a thousand people, mostly unorganized workers sat patiently, donning the AAP hats that were being distributed by young volunteers. Rafiq Nagar, itself, is on the dumping grounds of Mumbai, where children die every other month from malnutrition-related disease, where policemen routinely harass young Muslim boys, and which has faced demolitions almost every other year. Rafiq Nagar, the citadel of the ragpickers, Rafiq Nagar, when it was still Rafiq Nagar 1, where some boys still have not returned home from the 1992 riots.

It was here that proceedings started with Lok Shahir Milind Kambli from Mulund, who starts the rally with a song, a rendition of Sambaji Bhagat’s Surat ko pehchano bhai’– a song that attacks caste as much as corruption, that invokes Dr.Ambedkar’s dreams, ridicules every political figure, from Advani, to the Gandhis, and invokes the blindness of those who ran after the ‘mandir’.

The organizers would then give speeches, with Santosh Thorat now talking about his memories of growing up near Rafiq Nagar, with Jameela Begum from Mandala talking about the memories of the movement, and Ram from Mandala talking about the recent custodial death of 22 year old Mohammed Sheikh who was picked up by the Shivaji Nagar police. It was exactly like all the countless public meetings of the Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan, except for the entry of the slogan: ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, sometimes invoked by Atique, himself a Muslim from UP, and sometimes to the chagrin of other Muslims in the movement, while Medha herself feels these slogans need to be reclaimed from the Hindutva, and returned to the tradition of the Independence struggle.

The one thing that AAP has done for Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement, whether as a boon or a bane, is that it has brought many volunteers from the upper middle classes, the middle classes, and upper-castes, or Savarnas, into what was once a purely populated by the working class, the urban poor, and those who have grown up in a tradition of Ambedkar politics. Her rallies at more suburban middle class areas are often done with the help of AAP volunteers and a ragtag group of locals who she has worked with in the movement. The slogans that she invokes, is typically from a rights tradition: ‘Hume Satta nahi Satya chahiye! (We are for truth not for power) and ‘Matya deya, hakka leva’ (Give your vote, take your rights.)

Her speeches at all corners are laced with not just ‘brashtachyaar’ (corruption) but also ‘atyachaar’ (atrocity) and covers the work done by the movement to expose the Adarsh scam, the Maharashtra Sugar scam, to the SRA scams, the corruption in the builder lobby, to the work that was done for unorganized workers, street hawkers, slum-dwellers, to invocations of women’s participation in the community and to vote, to the behaviour of the previous Minister of Parliament who has apparently never asked a single question in parliament, to the lies of every ruling party in the state that promised the regularization of slums, to basic infrastructure: sanitation, electricity, roads, and water, which many people of her constituency are deprived of. She often exerts that there is 30,000 acres land free in the city, and inequitible distribution of resources is a mainstay in her speechs on the street corner. ‘Land has to be released. Land is now blocked. From Bhayandar, Vasai to Mumbai, a handful of companies and a few hundred people have more than 10 acres, six companies have more than 500 to 2000-3000acres.’

The ten-year long movement for the Right To Housing, the Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan, is central to understanding the shifting genealogies of a city, where housing moved from being ‘shelter’ to ‘an investment’, and the markets only defence regarding its existential crisis of slums, is to demolish them in the name of urban planning. Meanwhile, a Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme for the BMC, 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.’ And against mainstream perception that the movement is demanding free housing, at every public rally, they themselves demand that they’re willing to pay for affordable housing, often to cheers from an entire crowd. ‘If Hiranandani gets land meant for us for Rs.40 per acre, we’re willing to pay even more!’ Said organizer Jameel Akhtar from Ambujwadi in January of 2012.

‘Our housing plan’ Says Medha, ‘Includes dormitaries, to self-reliant housing. And for that it is very necessary that you classify people according to their needs. And the whole plan has to be brought out by public-people participation. Under the public agencies and the people themselves – and the people include the construction labourers and the service sector.’

‘And some of the issues we’re raising are pollution and environmental, and the polluted air does not understand if its flowing through slums or the middle class areas. Drainage, infrastructure, the traffic, and there is no regulation about the number of cars coming on the roads, or whether there will be a skywalk or something else, there is just no consultation with the people. All of this clearly, brings out the non-participatory and undemocratic planning on one hand, and the corruption on the other. And it brings in the fraudulent and flawed planning, and the affordable housing’s definition and the plan for 1 crore housing, is very acheivable.’

It had become visibly obvious that her decision to stand for elections was not just taken due to AAP’s Assembly Election results, or that she is propelled to fight for her movement and Right To Housing, but she also adds, almost as an afterthought, that there had to be a counter to Modi. ‘Fear of him amongst people in Mumbai is not so strong, but fraud in his own presentation, is impactful. And who questions Ambani? Who questions Adani? Who questions inequality?’ That there was dissent in the National Alliance of People’s Movement against her decision to stand, ‘a handful of people’ as she adds, mostly from Assam, Karnataka and some NAPM units from West Bengal, the idea was that many felt that electoral politics had to be seen as complimentary to non-electoral politics. She often implies the role played by social movements in shaping policy and law, and her vision of development is motivated by the Directive Principles of State Policy, guidelines in the constitution, which being ‘not justiable’, has ensured that its tenets for more equitable development that pays attention to ecology, environment, and social justice, has not been followed by most state and central governments. Her desire to give more power to the Panchayats as per Article 243 of the constitution has often been attacked as playing into caste power dynamics but she continues to insist that, ‘Unless there is democracy in the bottom level, there is nothing, and this is why becoming a MP doesn’t mean so much. ‘

‘At the parliament we debate laws and policies and that is also important and as movements we have influenced so many acts. RTI has come from social movements. And the unorganized sectors workers who are part of NAPM, where we’ve had umpteen number of meetings with the workers, the ministers, with officials where we’ve drafted, re-worked, and we brought out that act, but certain sections are still weak, like regulation, and recording of labour. And as movements we continue to fight, even with the Hawkers act, we extensively have worked on it since the Kolkatta hawkers were evicted and the Hawkers Federation came into being. And we’ve taken all the movements of hawkers and the urban poor to every single ministry, from all states to that forum, with Jaipal Reddy, Shailaja, Shivraj Patil, and all officals. And we got the policy in 2003, the bill in 2009, we got it passed in 2013. And the president still has not signed the bill.’

We met for an interview during breaks from campaigning at Vikhroli, where a visibly tired Medha Patkar seemed more out of place with english-media journalists, than the streets, and she seems absolutely comfortable on the road, campaigning in slums where her organization has just started to take roots. Volunteers would come and go, take long instructions, while she would sit behind a table in a small 10X4 room, laden with AAP newspaper cuttings, posters and banners.

‘There is a general middle class and media perception, which is anti-slum, but the only people fighting agaisnt the builder lobby are the working class and the poor. How would your housing policy move beyond those narratives?

‘Those fighting the builder lobby are not only the working class and the poor, that is my point. We are fighting MHADA re-development, all middle class people – government officials, government servants, bank employees, are all with us. We are fighting other redevelopment projects, and everywhere people are cheated. The Catholic properties in the heart of the city are grabbed by builders.’

‘How would you defeat this perception?’

‘We are holding meetings in societies, and raising these questions. And the more confirmation I am getting is that they say ‘we need your kind of fighting spirit’. And they know they can’t fight these battles, wherever they face injustice. Even the Campa Cola people came to us. So everyone seeks support and it’s not only the slums. And it’s only through the media we can defeat the perception. And we’re not so strong in social media. Aabhi do din pehle mujhe maloom pada ‘Whats APP’ kuch cheez hai. And someone told me that you can put in a 25 second message, and I can’t even give a speech less than 25 minutes.’

‘Your constituency, especially around Ward M, which is also known as the dumping ground of people, owning to all the displaced people and the dumping ground, has a high prevalence of juvenile deliquency and violence against women. Are you going to address this issue with your constituency and the general public?

‘We have to come to a position. Women’s rights, though we are actually empowering women through the movements, and their participation itself is their way out of drudgery, and insecurity. And people become secure themselves so they don’t have to beg for outside external security forces. And suffice to say, Justice Verma’s committees recommendations should be implemented which has not happened. And there is no political will, but social will has to be there, and nowadays it is there, and people know they can’t beg before politicians, they know there is something about a demand for better governance, and much will be achieved when people will say we will govern ourselves. And that change, whether at an individual women’s level, or a community level, is self-reliance. Swaraj can’t mean self-sufficience but go up to self-reliance, and this is the position we as people’s movements have said. We can’t be naïve on an economic or political level, and there are caste and gender divisions. And at the same time, we feel that asserting people’s right to resources, even land in an urban area. Water in an urban area people don’t have access to. Why? Because water falling onto the roofs or anganwadi, is not recognized as a resource. And it is all just lost due to people being diverted by bad politics.

And what about policing? The police in fact, in a general perception, does not represent the people of Ward M. Just on the 21st of January, there was a custodial death of a 22 year old Muslim and about four months ago there was a custodial death of a dalit man, after an altercation outside a restaurant. There is a breakdown of trust between the people and the police.

‘The police as an institution is a big problem. That’s because from top to bottom it is corrupt. And corruption ensures they will not fulfill their role and leads to them commit crimes themselves. And these custodial deaths, you have seen, only after mass action they acted on going on a second post-mortem. But how many people can fight like this? With this kind of perseverance and this strength? And the police can’t be totally ruled out, and there has to be a security force within the community, and we don’t mean there be a parallel army, but the security will come with community level inputs, and strenghtening the community relationships. Everything else is value change.

Mumbai has a long legacy of Ambedkarite politics and working class struggles, which is represented in the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. Arvind Kejriwal may have taken a stand on contract labour but then there’s reservation and there are some radicals in the movement who’re uncomfortable with some of the language of AAP. There are internal contradictions between AAP whose slogans are very different from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. And do you see these contradictions and how are you dealing with it?

See, these are some allegations and questioning is based on lack of knowledge. The other day, I told Arvind Kejriwal to take a clear stand in support of reservation at Kannawaram Nagar in Vikhroli. And there are lots of strange situations with Marathas asking for reservation and Brahmins asking for it and even with Muslims, not every movement is in support of it. And Dalit muslims must get reservation as per Article 341. The other thing is, about contract labour what the party did in Delhi, it must go beyond what they have done. The manifesto is still not ready on it. But with the organized worker’s sector, there were 31 committees formed on contract labour and I have seen their documents, and there are promises in it. As for as people’s movements, we’ve strongly taken positions. Everywhere in the country in all the movements of our supporters, there are mismatches, there are differences. I personally don’t feel scared of that, our conscience and commitment matters, there are disagreements in all families. But no doubt a common mimimum agenda must be developed.

***

It was after this point as Medha would leave to prepare for the next rally, after her response to a question in English, was spoken in Hindi, deliberately by Medha to her listening volunteers, that led to an internal conversation between the AAP and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao-AAP, about the suitability of certain slogans, about the importance of Ambedkar’s Birth anniversary on the 14th of April, about those who feel the Lokpal is against the constitution, and is therefore against them, and these people must be spoken to. ‘RSS chaddi pehnti hai toh hum chaddi pehna chodd de?’ asked one man. Over the ruckus of interview-exploding into a conversation ten minutes ago, an elderly AAP volunteer had said that Vande Mataram is the same as Jai Bhim, and no one paid much attention to him.

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The Vengeful Ghosts Of A Gold Mine

February 8, 2014

A legacy of gold mining in North Karnataka has wreaked havoc in the lives of locals whose groundwater sources have been polluted by arsenic.

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The mine tailings of the Hutti gold mine are referred to as ‘The Cyanide Mountain’ by the locals of Hutti town in North Karnataka, due to the high amount of sodium cyanide in the tailings. 

This article appears as a photo essay in the Hindu Business Line on the 8th of February, 2014.

When Sudhram is asked when he and his late wife Rukhmanibai started to realize she was beginning to fall sick, he simply lifted his leg to show a small lesion on his foot. If it would become infected, it would then develop gangrene, and the doctors would amputate his leg. His wife lived and worked on crutches for years until she finally died in 2012 of cancer.

There were dozens of cases like hers in the Lambada  adivasi village of Kiradali Tanda in Yadgir District of Karnataka, where during July and September 2009 an independent study led to a report that cited the groundwater in the village indicated an arsenic level of 303 micrograms per litre, when an acceptable level of arsenic  according to the WHO, is merely 10 micrograms per litre. The report ‘D. Chakraborti, et al., Environmental arsenic contamination and its health effects in a historic gold mining area of the Mangalur greenstone belt of Northeastern Karnataka,’ would further mention that,

‘A total of 181 individuals were screened for symptoms of chronic Arsenic toxicity and complete demographic information was collected for 171. High rates of arsenicosis were identified with 58.6% of screened individuals presenting with at least one related symptoms.’

‘For individuals with no known arsenic exposure, concentrations of arsenic in hair generally range from 20 to 200  _g kg−1 and in nails from 20 to 500  _g kg−1. Of 170 samples, 100% of both hair and nails were found to exceed the upper limit of unexposed individuals.’

‘When asked about deceased family members and skin lesions similar to arsenicosis, 12 individuals were named that had died with comparable symptoms in the last 10 years. Furthermore, four individuals who had skin lesions and died of cancer in the last 5 years were also reported.’

Today, there is only one amputee left, 38 year old Kishan Chauhan, whose photograph in the report he had never seen, indicated he had suspected Bowen’s disease. He lost his leg to gangrene after a lesion caused by arsenic poisoning got infected. Every year he migrates from his village of Kiradalli Tanda. In 2013, he had migrated to Dodamargh, Savantwadi in Belgaum, over 500 kilometres away from his village, where he earned Rs.200 per week, breaking stones to construct a road to a Taluk Court, for his two young daughters and his wife.

Nine people have died since 2009 after the report was published and the government installed water de-salinating machines, which in Kiradalli Tanda, are barely operative. Devaki Rathod w/o Champolal, aged 48 died in 2010, Khiropa Rathod s/o Ramchand Rathore, aged 60, died in 2010, Gurunath Rathore s/o Krishna, aged 50, died in 2011, Gurana Chauhan s/o Vantappa, aged 32, died in 2011, Lokesh Chauhan s/o Rajappa, aged 45, died 2011, Limbaji Rathod s/o Chayappa, aged 40, died in 2011, Sitabai w/o Chandrulal, aged 65, died in 2012, Jamhibai w/o Devaji Rathore, aged 55, died in 2012, Honappa Jadav s/o Sahrappa, aged 62, died in 2012, Rukhmanibai w/o Sudhram, aged 38, died in 2012.

Just four kilometres from Kiradalli Tanda, was the gold mine of Mangalur, which was mined by the colonial British Empire during the years, 1887 – 1913, and then briefly re-opened by the government of Karnataka in 1980 and shut down in 1994 due to excessive water entry into the mines. It is historically known that, Gold mines are abandoned without proper measures to protect the environment, and arsenic pollution has been reported in active and abandoned Gold mines in Australia, Ghana, Canada, France, Slovakia and Brazil. Yet a few kilometres from the abandoned mine of Mangalur, is the active gold mine of Hutti, run by the Hutti Gold Mine Company Ltd, in partnership with the Government of Karnataka whose contemporary environmental record isn’t so different from the past.

A show cause notice dated 31st of January, 2006, was issued to the Managing Director of the Hutti Gold Mines, Ltd, by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, who took cognizance of a complaint by Sri. Yamanappa of Hutti Village, who claimed that ‘waste water/decanted water overflown from tailing dam was accumulating’ on his land.

It was mentioned that, ‘You are directed to stop the flow of tailing dam waste water on to the complainant’s land henceforth and action taken in this regard shall be submitted to this office along with proof of photographic evidences.’

On the 15th of November, 2009, after a series of sit-ins by affected farmers in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Raichur District, a meeting was held under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner of Raichur Adoni Syed Saleem, representatives of farmers of Hutti Village and the Karnataka Pranth Ryot Sangh, where the sit-in was called off, after the Commissioner spoke to the then-Executive Director Venkatesh Rao of Hutti Gold Mines Ltd, over the phone. The Executive Director had assured the district administration, ‘that it is true that cyanide has caused damages in around 23 survey numbers of Hutti Village’, and that there will be an increase in the compensation paid to farmers after the company has acquired their land for the use to dump mine tailings, and that ‘compensation will be paid without further delay.’

Yet the farmers of Hutti remain in a problematic predicament as the town of Hutti has no other source of employment or livelihood besides farming, or as a job in the mine. Farmers who lost their land to pollution, where a soil sample report by an Agricultural University in Raichur even mentioned that the land is un-cultivatable for the next 25 years, have been demanding jobs in the company as a compensation, and yet live in a state of dependency and fear.

A farmer whose name I shall withhold on request, was more than happy to reveal all the documents of the year-long agitation, complaints against the company, and he took me to his land where it is clearly visible that mine tailings have been falling onto his crop. But since he lost around 20 acres of land to the mine’s pollution, he feels his only hope to earn a livelihood in Hutti is the same company who destroyed his farm.

Matters are further complicated with the rising number of silicosis amongst the underground miners of Hutti. ‘There are at least 15 mine workers I know who died of silicosis, and many more who still live with it,’ the farmer reveals and yet an interview with a worker he would introduce me to, led to the same predicament, as the worker himself is demanding a job for his daughters in the mine, and refuses to go on record.

The 2009 survey by the Government of Karnataka and Unicef had also identified five villages in Gulburga and 10 villages in Raichur with an arsenic content of over 50 miligrams per litre, well above the WHO standard of 10 milligrams per litre. A further 14 villages in Gulburga and another 39 in Raichur had drinking water concentration higher than 10 miligrams per litre.

In July 2013, the Comptroller Auditor General Report, would again mention that there are around 16 habitations in Raichur and Yadgir district: Deodurg, Sunnada Kallu, Lingasuguru, Kattagal, Hatti, Yalghatta, Irkal, Kurukunda, Nanjaladini and Hunnur in Raichur district, and Mandyal, Arker, Rampur, Gudihal and Bijaspur, where a combined 24,000 people live with a drinking water supply that is affected with varied concentrations of arsenic.

The Hutti Gold Mine Company Limited has not responded to repeated queries to their office over a 6 month period as of the 8th of February, 2014.

A more comprehensive photo essay is here.

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Obituary Of An Abiku: Or How Hunger And Preventable Disease Claimed Another Child In A Metropolis

July 22, 2013

IMG_9554Meghala (2006-2013)

This piece appears in another form along with a photo essay on Yahoo News on the 22nd of July, 2013.

* Abiku: The word is derived from Yoruba: (abiku) “predestined to death”, which is from (abi) “that which possesses” and (iku) “death”. Abiku refers to the spirits of children who die before reaching puberty; a child who dies before twelve years of age being called an Abiku, and the spirit, or spirits, who caused the death being also called Abiku.

‘Dekho meri beti kaise soh rahi hai,’ Said Muragama, a visually impaired single mother of two, whose second child now lay covered in ceremonial shrouds, as she and her eldest daughter, prepare to bury her at Dodamma Burial Grounds near DJ Halli in Bangalore on the 17th of July, 2013, just as news and the political-mudslinging of the mid-day meal tragedy, 23 deaths and counting at Bihar’s Chhappra district begin to enter into mainstream and international news.

The tragedy of the everyday, simplest lives of others, the tiniest statistics, the numbers of the diminishing laughter of children, seem to belong on the same planet as the UNICEF report that claimed one in three of the malnourished children of the world, live and die in India.

Meghala was born on the 17th of November, 2006, to a Christian Dalit mother, who lived at Bangalore’s DJ Halli, in a small decrepit corner of the slum next to a garbage heap, which leaked and seeped miasma into their lives. It would be the same world, where her mother would mostly spend time sitting on her neighbour’s porch, often abused and sent away, literally left to her own means. A family of hijras, would at times help feed Meghala, her sister and her mother, within their own limited means, but it would be Meghala’s older sister Ruth, who would spend her day at a factory making incense sticks, that earned her Rs.15 a day but she would leave her job once it started to afflict her hands. Her sister used to return home with callused and sooted palms and help to cook, clean, collect water, and help her mother move around. Her sister is just thirteen years old.

And Ruth’s toys would be Meghala’s toys, her silent demeanour would match her mother’s calmness, and  her sense of curiosity compensated for her mother’s blindness. She loved her cake, whenever she could get some, and she would spend her time watching Chutti TV, and unlike her elder sister, she had a few friends, often joking with her neighbours, ‘when are you getting your mother married?’

She would spend her entire life in DJ Halli, a place with more temples, churches and mosques than anganwadis, and at her home at Modi-Road itself, her own anganwadi of Indirapura, one can clearly see the temple encroaching over the anganwadi building, or the anganwaadi encroaching into the temple. It has neither a toilet, or a storage space, or like her home, no supply of drinking water.

Her mother Murugama, who lived without a BPL card, who deserved both a widow’s pension and a disability pension, didn’t receive it till date, and lived in a cynicism, of unemployment, of listlessness, of a history of pain, from losing her eyesight to a life without a husband, to her helplessness of not being able to bring up her two girls. Murugama lost her eyesight when she herself was just nine years old, to an inexplicable fever, and was brought up by her own mother Pushpama, who worked and toiled as a construction labourer, who passed on in July 2008, leaving her alone to look after her two girls.

Yet there was a sense of strange pride in her, ‘I have to beg, what can I do?’ she would say, taking her children to the Church or the nearby Durga for food, an unsteady supply of nutrition, like the anganwadi that could only deliver ration to her home once in a while, and would relegate responsibility to Meghala, as she just turned six, an age above the mandate of the ICDS programme.

Disability, blindness, did not fit into the scheme of things of the community-based program, and the first government official from the Women and Child Welfare Department to visit Murugama, would mention, ‘we need community support as well.’ And Meghala was suffering from malnutrition, which was evident in the fact that she couldn’t use her legs, or that she looked a mere 2 year old when she was turning six, and her recent weight was a mere 11 kilograms, which is far from the standard weight of a six year old, 16 kilograms.

It was finally after Sunday Mass, when Meghala’s mother began to notice that she was developing a fever and would be diagnosed with pneumonia. And they would take her to BR Ambedkar Medical Hospital at Tannery Road, who refused to admit her. She was only admitted in Baptist Hospital across town, after a social worker threatened to expose them with legal threats and media coverage. But within two days, Meghala would lose the use of a third of her lungs, now filled with mucus and blood, would be vomiting and coughing blood, and would be left on a ventilator.

Meghala, would finally leave this realm of hunger, at 4:31pm, and would be taken to Dodamma Burial Grounds, and watch a Christian Dalit ceremony, while her older sister, would quietly say goodbye to the one who was more than a sister, but also a daughter. A short ceremony in Tamil, interspersed with silence, songs, and the quiet tears of broken people, ended with a pastor asking the visually-impaired Murugama, if she would like to see her daughter one last time. She would touch her, and move back, and as the sounds of shovels covering her small coffin with the earth filled the quiet landscape lit by an ambulance’s headlights that began to retreat, Murugama and Ruth leave the cemetery and simply sit down on the side of the road, watching members of the Church and others leave.

Her neighbours were visibly absent. Poverty is loneliness.

The last Global Hunger Index (GHI) by the International Food Policy Research Institute, had rated 120 countries and India has ranked 65th with the level of hunger being the same as it was in 1996. Malnutrition in India remains the constant, the saint of deprivation, the anti-posterboys and girls of a growing economy’s mythical rise, the moonfaces of an invisible shame of a middle class.

2689 died between 2009-2011 in Raichur, Karnataka. The death toll at Attapadi in Tamil Nadu, has now reached 54, as per the 18th of July, 2013. Dates. Numbers. Statistics. Dates. Histories. Public Policies. Hunger. Hunger. Hunger. They tend to remain the same. In Maharashtra, the issue was raised in December 2011 in the state assembly where it was revealed that 65 infants die daily in the Maharashtra, with 13,683 deaths having occurred between January to September 2011 alone. Yet the State Woman and Child Development Minister claimed that these were not related to malnutrition. As for pneumonia, more dreaded statistics from the grim reaper statisticians of the UNICEF again, state that 3.97 lakh children under the age of five died of pneumonia in 2010.

Meghala, turned this year six. While the age of St.Complacency of the government, seems to grow older, staking its claim to divinity and immortality. The Woman And Child Welfare Department says it has no responsibility about pneumonia, which comes under the watch of the Health Department. The wreckage of a house that housed this family, the heaps of garbage, the seepage of miasmic rainwater, doesn’t come under either department, as infrastructure comes under the gambit of the Bruhat Bangalore Municipal Corporation.

‘Why did no one from your community ever help you Murugama?’ I had to ask her, and she spoke to me in broken Hindi, Unko dil nahi lagta hai, woh bhi garib log hai.’

She would eventually joke, and say it, ‘Meri beti abhi hamari ammi ban gayi.’

And it was Ruth, who took pride in looking after her.

‘Do you think I should go to school? Everyone keeps telling me to go to school. But I wonder what is the point of going now, I have already missed so many lessons and what will I be able to learn now? Plus my mother is blind. Who will look after my mother? If I go to school, I can only come back by four, and she will be alone, how will she manage?’

One wonders how the Food Security Bill will answer the her question.

In Karnataka itself, it was the 22nd of May, 2011 when a Kannada news channel had put out the news of starving and dying in Raichur, the only place where there is a a gold mine in India, arsenic in the groundwater around it, and the Thermal Power plant that supplies electricity to half the state. A letter concerning the matter written by Vimochana Sangha led to a Public Interest Litigation and the creation of a Core Committee.

What is clearly stated in the Core Committee’s reports in Karnataka is that every government body, from the Panchayat Raj, to the ICDS, to the Municipal Corporations, to the Horticulture Department, to the Women and Child Development department has a roll to play, yet to everyone’s dismay they often just blame each other when swollen bellies start showing up on television screens. If there is no space for Angaanwadis in Bangalore, the Karnataka Slum Development Board, has to help to ensure there is. If the supply of food to Angaanwadi centres is broken, the supervisors have to ensure that Angaanwadi workers don’t have to buy eggs and milk out of their own pay. ASHA workers must work with pregnant mothers to ensure the mother’s themselves don’t suffer from anaema and give birth to the most fragile littlest of a human beings. Once severely malnutritioned children are sent to NHCs, the government has to ensure that there is a provision for the mother or guardian to stay with the child, and is provided minimum wage under the MNREGA, as the mother or guardian would be losing work-time during her/his stay in the hospital. The Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj should conduct Gram Sabhas for the purpose of empowering communities in dealing with malnutrition. The Department of Horticulture, Government of Karnataka should plant fruit bearing saplings i.e., guava, chikku (sapota), papaya, pomegranate and local seasonal fruit bearing saplings i.e., nerale (blackbeny) anjur (fig), sitaphal (custard apple) etc., in the backyard of the Anganawadi Centres.

Yet these are only a few recommendations from an 89-page report that covered every crumb and corner of the state’s embrace of malnutrition and its salvation. The case, a symbol of anything that can claim human decency, has as many lessons as the 12 year long Right To Food case.

Meanwhile the Food Security Bill has no grievance redress system, no provisions like old age pensions for the support of senior citizens, the homeless, destitute, and only provides for cereals and not basic food necessities, it provides upto 5kgs per person per month, thus ensuring only 166 gms of cereal per person per day, which is barely enough for two rotis a day, according to the Right To Food Campaign. Yet in Murugama’s case, it clearly fails as the new Food Security Bill, again opts for a targeted Public Distribution System. Murugama, had no BPL card, how is the state going to find her? It already lost Meghala, and the government is promising her a BPL card after news reports of her death even got the Chief Minister to deem the matter serious.

Apparently, it takes a death of a child to get the government to consider you poor enough to get a BPL card.

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The Bricks Of A Right To A Home

February 4, 2013

There are no homogenous slums and there is no homogenous people’s movement. And there probably isn’t a bigger illustration of it is Mumbai’s Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that was born after 80,000 homes were demolished in 2004-2005. Young women leaders with MBa degrees and others who are housewives. Young boys who are science students, school dropouts and ‘taporis’ or even those who top their exams studying during demolition drives. There are ragpickers, small businessmen, autorickshaw drivers, government clerks, railway employees, physical trainers, full time activists, teachers, tailors, fisherfolk, students, informal labourers, artists, aspiring filmmakers, mechanics, plumbers and the unemployed.

Here are seven short profiles on few of the organizers working in Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, printed in Fountain Ink Magazine in their February Issue. You can read it here.

Uday Mohite

Uday Mohite – Bheem Chhayya, Vikhroli

A 16 year old Uday Mohite had come to Bombay in 1992 but returned to his village due to the fear and violence of the riots. A Matang/Mang dalit, he hailed from Dahivali-Budruk village in Ratnagiri district, where his parents lived as daily wage labourers, and he remembers growing up eating mango skins with chilli powder. ‘The Hindu people used to throw rotis on us after we worked for them.’

‘Humne wada liya ki hum izzat ki roti hi khayenge.’

He returned to Mumbai in 1994, where he worked as a daily wage labourer for Rs.25 per day, where he worked in a small factory earning 650 rupees a month, and lived as a manual scavenger in private buildings across Ghatkopar area.

‘I used to throw up doing that work, in the gutters, with all that shit.’

In 1997, he started to ride an autorickshaw. And he continues to do so today, now owning his own vehicle.

On the 19th of November, 2011, a demolition drive in his settlement of Bheem Chhaya claimed the life of his 14 month old son Jayesh who fell and drowned in a ditch on the 12th of December, 2011. He would go on a hunger strike for 19 days demanding justice against the officers of both the BMC and the police for negligible homicide.

A year later, on the first death anniversary of his son, while plans were being made by the Ghar Bachao movement to march to the Mantralaya on the 1st of January, 2013, Uday would quietly sit in corners, alone, anxious, as his wife was in the hospital expecting a child.

A 3.4 kg baby would be born on the 4th of January, 2013, on the fourth day of the protest. On the fifth of January, as residents from over 18 slums were on relay hunger strike on the poduim, an extremely happy Uday Mohite was secretly distributing sweets to friends and supporters of the movement, while the crowd and other organizers thought that that people were cheating on the hunger strike.

In Bheem Chhaya, where residents have been living on the marshes, the battle for Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana is also an internal battle, when Uday was confronted with people who lived in MHADA flats who started to move into the slum to get another home of their own, in case of any victory from the Ghar Bachao movement.

These confrontations between him and the ‘dalaals’ have been taking place for years now, with one of the ‘zameen-dalaals’ even putting a case on him for attempt to murder.

‘After the death of my son,’ He said, ‘We formed women’s committees to deal with all the problems in the area.’

‘We’re only standing for those who have no house of their own.’

‘I am tired though sometimes,’ He says, ‘I want to just get into mantralaya even if they martyr us. We have worked really hard for the movement now, for respect, and this poverty is no life for any of us.’

‘Annabhau Sathe used to say, ‘Yeh azaadi jhooti, desh ki janta bhooki hai.’’

Nothing has changed. ’

‘My daughter, my eldest six year old says I have time for people, for other people’s children, but none for her.’

Anwari Sheikh – Mandala, Mankhurd

Anwari Sheikh

Anwari Sheikh, originally from Assam, a mother of 11, lost her house in Mandala the 2004-2005 demolitions. On the 30th of May of 2012, Anwari Sheikh walked into a neighbouring 20-home settlement called Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 esconced between a highway and a railway, that was being demolished by the BMC.

She was helping to prevent the demolition drive, and to help the residents organize, and join the movement that was born in her settlement of Mandala in 2005.

As the residents kept asking if their would be any hope for them in the story that I was writing about the demolition, Anwari was quick to assert that the media has never stopped demolitions and the only thing that has done anything, is the ‘andolan.’

Yet Anwari herself, since 2004, when she held her baby in her arms and had gone to Delhi to confront the central government with the demolition of 80,000 homes, has come a long way between hope and desperation. 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 gariblog ne aapko kursi par bhitaya, Hum garib log ne aapko vote diya, aur aap humko bhul gaye?’ Anwari spoke boldly and an ashamed Sonia Gandhi apparently had no response.

‘Hum thak bhi jaate hai,’ Anwari would tell me in 2010, yet on the day of the march on the 1st of January 2013, with the euphoria of thousands marching down Shivaji Park Road in Dadar, she remembers the days in 2004 when the movement was in it’s strongest phase.

With a sense of nostalgia she marched silently, yet like many of the marchers who had been marching since 2004, there was a sense of foreboding as well.

Her sons have at times chastised her for being so involved with the movement, and she has defended her position knowing that someone has to fight for a roof over their heads.

When her MLA Abu Azmi had come to Azad Maidan on the eight day of the protest, a small framed woman walked onto the stage and picked up the microphone, and stood over Abu Azmi, and spoke, with passion and with growing anger:

‘In 2004 when our homes were broken, when bulldozers dragged my home and pushed it into a ditch, into the filth, when my children, when my sister, when my brother were sitting in a line, Abu Azmi had come, seen everything, and at the same time, met and sat with the dalaals and put kichdi in their hands.’

‘Our biggest enemies, the dalaals. And we don’t need no builders, no dalaals. And we don’t need anyone.’

‘Our women would sit, in the water, in the cold, all night, and nobody would help us.’

‘I want to tell Mr.Azmi this, that our women have been on the streets till the first of january, with those brothers who work all day, those sisters who work at home all day, those labourer who builds the buildings, those who pick the thrash, why are we, why are we sitting here?’ She screams in anger.

‘Our fight is for a home for a home, and no matter what, we will earn from anywhere and we will put rotis on the table for our childen!’ She would say to loud cheers.

‘Your people come and take our votes, then after you win, where are you? So how do you come here? And what are we to you? Hum neta log ko, chil ke, ghuma ke, ghuma ke, gira bhi sakte hai, aur ghar ke liye roti bhi la sakte hai!’

‘This is our power!’

‘I wont say anymore or tai will get angry.’ She said to loud laughter, and the requests to carry on from the organizers around her.

Santosh Thorat – Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Mankhurd

Santosh Thorat 2

In 2004, Santosh Thorat was just a few weeks from being a regular in the police force. Then the demolition drives had come. Santosh was a part of the police party that was sent with the bulldozers to demolish his own settlement of Annabhau Sathe Nagar.

Santosh belonged to the same caste as Annabhau Sathe, a Matang/Mang Dalit, a social reformer, communist, who wrote over 35 novels in Marathi who literally died in the destitution that -Santosh was born into.

Through the anxieties of the demolition drives in 2004-2005, Santosh Thorat met the Senior Inspector and begged him to leave his house alone.

The Inspector told Santosh not to worry.

They sent him to another part of the slum, and when Santosh Thorat returned, he found that not only was his house demolished, but that the police had also leveled the house of a family whose two children were still in their home, hiding in fear of the police.

They had survived by running under their beds, but Santosh Thorat would make a decision that day itself, that would lead him to be a leader of his people in Annabhau Sathe Nagar, and the first man to scream, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’,  and sing songs of social transformation, at every protest that followed in the next nine years.

Bahut gaaliya diya woh din,’ (I abused a lot that day), he said, ‘And I knew there was no turning back.’

In 2007, Santosh led his people to block the highways at Mankhurd to ensure  his people had access to clean water. For years, people used to dig wells into grounds that were very close to the dumping grounds of Deonar and sicknesses were rampant during the monsoons.

A pipeline used to run parallel to the basti, and while there was a pipeline that led to Annabhau Sathe Nagar, it wasn’t connected by the Municipality.

‘Rasta rokne ke baad, policewalle sab aa gaye the,’ (after we blocked off the road, all the policemen showed up), Said Santosh, ‘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 Municipality assured them that they would connect the two pipes for water within eight days –  they did that in just six.

Yet again, on the 14th of May 2010, the bulldozers come and demolished an estimated 500 homes in Annabhau Sathe Nagar.

Krishna Nair – Golibar, Jawahar Nagar, Khar

Krishna Nair 2

Krishna Nair, son of a trade unionist, a chartered accountant by profession, a teetoraller and a Shiv Sena party worker is overtly aghast with the current situation in the country. ‘Gothala hi ghotala hi ghotala.’ (scam after scam after scam.) ‘My brother Ashok was a bank robber. He was caught by the police in Yawatmal district, and brought dead to Mumbai.’ Said Krishna, in the middle of a rally held against builders in Golibar, Khar, Mumbai during the fifth demolition drive two years ago, ‘I wanted to ask the police this. That my brother may have stolen some five or six crores and they gave him such a swift justice, but the powerful who steal three thousand crores or one lakh crore really just get away with it?’

Krishna lives in Jawahar Nagar and has a front row seat of the agitation against builders Shivalik Ventures and Unitech Group in Golibar. Like many people in Golibar, he watches how scam after scam follows and is reported dutifully in the media, but the fraud that is destroying the homes of his friends doesn’t seem to find much indignation in the mainstream press, and the government’s response does not really surprise him.

Krishna knows the middle class. He works with them. He knows how the politics of profit would not work in Golibar. ‘There’s an old lady, a very rich old lady, a client of mine, who lives all alone. One day she was telling me about how her whole family hates her and just wants her money. But I asked her, when you only taught your children the love of money, then what would you expect will happen?’

Krishna often speaks about ghettoization in Mumbai. In rallies he repeatedly mentions how people from the working class will eventually have to move out of the city, owing to rising costs of maintaining a building apartment. He knows this is a political move. It is an attempt to turn what was once a working class city whose political actions can challenge the financial edifice, into a city for the upper classes.

‘Javed bhai,’ He once turned to me in Nirmal Nagar police station, across a police officer sitting between us, on a day the supporters of the builder and protesters had a violent confrontation.

‘You went to all these Naxalite areas to report, right?’ He asked.

‘With all these corrupt people and builders getting away with it, you think you can find us some Naxalites?’ He asked, right across the face of the police officer.

The policeman between us was shocked. I erupted into laughter.

‘Krishna bhau, if Naxalites come to Golibar, the first person they will kill is you, as they don’t like competition.’ I said.

The  police officer agreed and started to chastise Krishna. Krishna loves to provoke people.

Kiran Keny – Sion Koliwada

Kiran Keny

‘All that land in Bombay is ours,’ Said Kiran Keny, ‘Just beyond Wadala Bridge, Bombay Port Trust,  Road, that land belonged to my great grandfather and the great grandfathers of most of the people here.’

Kiran Keny from Sion Koliwada is a 23 year old student third-year commerce student in South Indian’s Welfare Society College, who is a Koli adivasi, the original fisherfolk inhabitants of Mumbai, who’re now fighting against the builder Sahana Developers. His father who worked in the pharmaceutical industry, died in 2000 of cirrhosis of the liver, leaving Kiran under the care of his working mother and his older brother.

He is often seen carrying huge bundles of papers and documents, walking into the lawyer’s office, with a patience to sit and watch them prepare affidavits, strategies, complaints, and letters to the police and the administration. He would eventually notice the lawyers office were over-burdened by cases from slums across Mumbai, each facing a builder lobby, or demolition threats, or false cases put on by the police.

‘I was a little educated, and little by little the lawyers used to send me to listen into different matters and other people’s issues.’ He said, ‘The lawyers think I should take up law after this.’

‘And nowadays I don’t have time to study commerce.’

Sion Koliwada and a massive number of those who’re against the demolition and the builder are a younger generation, some still in school, some in college, some in their first jobs, and now with their first experience of state oppression, injustice and the long walk through the corridors of power – the corporators, the mantralaya, the courts. Their ideas of a nation, their ideas of democracy are changing, their illusions of rights, are being confronted with the arrogance of police power.

‘I know now, we never have been a democracy, and I don’t think we ever will be.’ Said Kiran Keny.

Kiran is the same age group as Prathamesh who documents the struggle of his people on video camera, who filed a complaint against the police when they tried to snatch his camera, and who would call up and yell at the officer who abused his mother during a demolition drive. He is the same age as Dhiren, who’d go on hunger strike during the recent protest. He is a little older than Frank who would be beaten by the police and pushed into the police van when he tried to stop the police from beating his father. He is the same age as Mahesh, who would remind history against forgetting, that Bal Thackeray was no hero to the Kolis, when he betrayed them 20 years ago, when the name of Sion Koliwada railway station was changed to Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar.

‘My father told me how all the Kolis had gone to meet Thackeray to stop the changing of the station, and Thackeray told the delegation it was all sorted. A few days later, the name was changed.’

In the month of December, 2012, there was a meeting held in Sion Koliwada where residents had gone to Sena Bhavan and found that the Shiv Sena and Udhay Thackeray might be able ‘to straighten the builder out.’

For a few hours, the residents held a meeting and discussed the strategy to utilize their contacts in the Shiv Sena. Kiran spoke about the pros and cons of such a strategy, the practicalities about such a move. Eventually, the residents refused to involve the Sena.

‘We don’t want to be indebted to such a party.’ Said Kiran.

Madhuri Shivkar – Sion Koliwada

Madhur Shivkar

Madhuri Shivkar, 28 years old, is one of the leaders in Sion Koliwada. A graduate of zoology from  Ruia College, she worked in a consultancy firm from 2006 till 2009 as an assistant in the revenue accounting department, and also claimed a degree from one of the most controversial management colleges in India. She had lost both her father and mother by the time she reached nine, and was brought up by her grandmother and her older sister in Sion Koliwada.

In 2010 in the month of September, when the first eviction notices started to appear in Koliwada, the residents and Madhuri turned their attention towards Golibar, after TV9 reported how a demolition drive was defeated by protesting residents and the intervention of the Chief Minister.

Madhuri and the residents then visited Golibar and met both the leaders in Golibar as well as the leaders of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. She would soon find herself first at the forefront of the agitation in Golibar against Shivalik Ventures and a few weeks later, when the demolition crews came to their village as well. ‘It was really being with them, that taught us how valuable documents were.’ She said, ‘And they trained us in a way no education institution can.’

She would have her first stint in jail on the 25th of January, 2011 for a week from charges ranging to attempt to murder and rioting and then again on the 30th of May, 2012, she would be dragged away by a laughing police as they protested against a demolition drive. She would be in jail for the next 14 days charged under Section 143, 147, 149, 152, 332, 353, 504, 506, along with Section 447 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Most charges concerned rioting, unlawful assembly and ‘causing hurt to a public servant’ when Madhuri Shivkar was merely lying down with her hands locked with the women of Sion Koliwada under a bulldozer and an approaching police contingent.

‘The builder’s lawyer had asked our lawyer what we wanted,’ She says a few months later, ‘Our lawyer told them, our clients went to jail, now yours have to go too.’

Madhuri ensured the formation of a 15-member core team in Sion Koliwada where the oldest person is 38-year old Rajesh Koli. ‘Senior log thode thakele hote hai.’ She laughs, ‘They are pessimistic at times and keep thinking and talking about compromises and I know our young people, we’re stronger, we won’t just give up like this.’

‘I am working fulltime in the movement now. I may be new to it, but I know we have a long way to go. There is too much injustice in the city.’

‘There are people who come to support us, who are so much more vulnerable than us, who suffer so much, and there is a strong bond that has formed between us all, and it’s stronger than family ties.’

For the 10 day protest, 5000 people who stayed at Azad Maidan were being fed by the efforts of two settlements – Sion Koliwada and Mandala.

‘We all took turns.’ Said Madhuri.

Devasandhan Nair – Golibar, Khar

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Devasandhan Nair not only lived in Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, but he was someone who was closely linked to the movement. In a meeting a few days after a demolition drive in February of 2011, he quietly and nervously tried to exhort his neighbours to put aside their differences and fight the builder and for their right to a home. ‘We are all leaders, it’s not like this one is a leader or that one is a leader,’ he’d say, to applause from his friends and neighbours.

A few months later in 2011, without telling anyone, he secretly accepted the cheque from the builder and left, leaving his home to be demolished in the next demolition drive.

What was first a rumour, next become the bitter truth. People called one another, to confirm whether he really did do it. When he was packing, people requested he reconsider his decision, but it was too late. He had already taken the cheque and was adamant on leaving. He would soon be alienated by all of his friends, he’d be unwelcome to all future meetings, and he’d be persona non grata.

A few days later he sent me a message, ‘I only did what I did, out of anger towards one person. I still cannot forget the insult that I have been given. I am not trying to justify my doings. I always had respect for you and the others. I will never be able to make up for this. I am still angered and this might be my weakness.’

But there was a pattern to this.

Devasandhan was an educated, professional storyboader artist for films and advertisements. He would even use his talents to come out with cartoons about the corruption in the state. He spoke fluent english and would often take on the responsibility of preparing press notes to cross that massive bridge between Hindi and english, the local organizers and the english press.

Devasandhan actually wanted to leave six months before he did. In his home six months earlier, he would quietly exert his frustrations, and his humiliation for being in a small room in the corner of Ganesh Krupa. He would often be embarassed with his home, and would reveal it when he borrowed a friend’s car to go and pick up his brother-in-law, who often disgraced him and his financial situation, and that he lived in a ‘slum’. Yet he refrained, he knew he had a responsibility to his immediate neighbours, who were a very poor family from Karnataka who had difficulty to make ends meet. He knew he was responsible for them, and had helped them with money and work in the past. If he left, what would happen to them?

Yet when he left, his other responsibilities were his schizophrenic wife, which is what those who could still be magnanimous towards him, felt was the real reason he left. His own reason was the insult he received from the local leader of the movement, Ajit, who had abused him in public. But most thought it was just money, no one felt that he didn’t take a lot of money to leave – probably more than what other’s were getting to give away their homes, as Devasandhan was a very visible member of the resistance.

There are still others who proudly proclaim how much they had refused, while some wait to be asked.

A few months later, a group of residents who wished to compromise had a secretive meeting with the builder. They had asked for a registered agreement and a promise of a home, and the builder had asked for them to withdraw their criminal case against him. Nobody got what they wanted and when the residents had returned, they were chastised by the rest of their neighbours.

‘Even if he gives a registered agreement, what makes you think he won’t break it?

‘He’s already cheated us once.’

‘Now we know how afraid he is of the criminal case against him.’

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This Participatory Democracy Shall Not Be Televised

February 4, 2013

On the 1st of January, 2013, over 10,000 marched, blocked roads, with 10 days of a sit-in and a parsimonious media coverage yet as the protests grew, as delegations politely marched into offices, the government promised to act, initially without offering anything in writing. The protestors would leave at the end after ten days at Azad Maidan with token promises from the government, and a muted disappointment with the movement, placated with a vow to intensify the struggle in a way the media and the state will not be able to ignore: to occupy the Mantralaya

This longform piece appears in Fountain Ink Magazine in the February issue of 2013, here.

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In 2004-2005, the Maharashtra government had demolished over 80,000 homes. On the 1st of January, the legacy of that demolition drive had decided to march to the Mantralaya to demand a right to housing under the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana.

Over the last nine years, the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that was born in the slum of Mandala, in Govandi, had also taken up the issues of working class and middle class slums and their battle against controversial redevelopment projects. It exposed the Adarsh scam, and recently filed complaints against 15 judges and government officials involved in the Nyasagar Co-operative Housing society, where the office of Vilasrao Deshmukh, would change the reservation status of a plot of land meant for the dishoused, and hand it over to the judges.

Right To Information activists of the movement, have been beaten by criminals and supporters of the builders, had false cases thrown on them (including POTA), and recently in the case of Mohammed Shoukat of Golibar, his fifteen year old son has been missing since August of 2012.

The movement for the right to housing in Mumbai starts when it was still Bombay. While think-tanks like the BMW Guggenheim lab have the David Van Der Leers pouting Thackrey-esque wisdom like ‘City is exploding, we may need to think of limiting people coming to Mumbai from outside’, the fact remains is that the people are already here, and they will still come, a majority have already had homes demolished repeatedly and they rebuild. There are those who have been here even before Mr.David Van Leer, who are being kicked out of their homes and onto the outskirts of the city through a process of gentrification that is more violent, fraudulent and arbitrary than it is mentioned.

The class character of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan itself is an indication that it’s not just migrants who’re facing eviction, social apartheid and the violence of a deep state, yet even working class and middle class Maharashtrians and Kolis, the original inhabitants of Mumbai, the former residing in a village built by the British over 70 years ago, after their lands were expropriated to build this city that the ‘Marathi-manoos’ claim as their own.

A few days ago I met an architect indulging in urban studies with one of the think-tanks that are envisaging a new city, who found himself in Azad Maidan surrounded by people who were fighting the builder lobby and rehabilitation projects, a majority of which have come into being through forgery. ‘I met a man the other day who does work as a forger with the builders.’ He said casually.

‘Can you give me his name?’

Silence.

Ex-information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi’s petition had stated 87 rehabilitation projects across Mumbai where there were accusations against the builder for forgery, grabbing public lands, and listing imaginary individuals to increase the number of free sale flats. These are the same accusations in all the SRA projects whose residents marched to the Mantralaya, from Golibar to Ramnagar.

Mr.Gandhi’s petition was argued in 2008. It led to the Anti-Corruption Bureau to investigate the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, which led to a suspicious burning down of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority office. And finally, it ended up with a High Powered Committee which has mostly been pro-builder, with slum-dwellers having little to no faith in.

A brief history of betrayal

On the 24th of November, 2010, just after Prithviraj Chauhan had gotten into office as the new Chief minister, he was met with a delegation from Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society who informed him about the impending demolition drive that was in progress in Golibar, and about all the alleged forgeries and discrepancies in the project, such as the grabbing of land from the Defence Ministry and the Railways.

The CM had passed a verbal stay order and the demolitions stopped.

A few months later in the January of 20th, 2011, demolition drives took place again, with a lathi-charge where the young and the old were detained.

The Chief Minister did not act.

They again took place in May of 2011, when the Minister was in Delhi and unavailable. And was then confronted with a hunger strike by an aging activist Medha Patkar and numerous residents, and the growing angst against his absence and popularity of the movement. The hunger strike lasted 9 days, and had asked not just for investigation into SRA schemes, but that 25 settlements be declared as slums under the Maharashtra Slums Act, 1971, thereby granting them legal status which envisages their right to water, electricity and sanitation, and that plans be made for the implementation of Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, for cheap and affordable housing for the poor.

His Ministry would then form an independent committee to look into the forgeries and discrepancies in 15 re-development projects in Mumbai,  to only withdraw the promise when the matter was taken to the High Court by the builders and their supporters.

A rally of around five thousand and more was taken out in the pouring rain on 28th of June 2011, demanding that the government stick to its promise yet it led to Mr.Chauhan replying to the delegation that met him, that even the builder’s supporters had their rally and if the builder’s had public support than he doesn’t know who to believe.

Unfortunately, recordings by freelance filmmaker’s of the builder’s supporters did not reach the Minister, when the interviewees clearly stated they didn’t know where in Golibar they lived, or that they came from Bharatnagar in Bandra East.

Since then and once again, during another demolition drive in Ambevadi society in Golibar in August of 2012, where the builder and the SRA wished to demolish homes on the premise that the building for the slum dwellers already existed (which only existed on paper), again there was a verbal stay order on the demolition from the Minister’s office. Yet on the 28th of December, 2012, those houses were demolished, preceded by a lathi-charge and an array of cases falling onto residents who merely asked the government to follow its own High Court order that asked for rehabilitation buildings to be built first.

Four days later, on the 1st of January, 2013, they had marched again to the Mantralaya.

A Day in the life of An Organizer

Jameel Akhtar

‘Jameel bhai, jab Ambujwadi mein demolition drive ho raha tha, us time, sadak par 3000 log road par aaye the. Toh abhi rally mein 5,000 kaha se aaye hai?’ I had asked Jameel Akhtar Sheik.

‘Jameel bhai, when there was a demolition in Ambujwadi in May, there were 3000 people on the roads before bulldozers. So how come there are 5000 for the rally today?’

Jameel Akhtar smiles, his neighbours around him laughed. He knew the answer, they knew the answer; they had organized. There was no Medha Patkar in all the gallis, going to every home, it was the local organizers, the Jameel bhais, the Masood bhais, the Rashida behens, the Vijay bhais, the Girija behens, the Jagdish bhais and the 56 society organizers they had created that have worked for years in Ambujwadi, whose grassroot level actions have at times, have most importantly, threatened the power structure of landlordism prevalent in the settlement.

A few months ago, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers close to a slum landlord had planted flags over one of the offices of the Ghar Bachao movement in Ambujwadi, and instantaneously, hundreds of people of Ambujwadi surrounded the police station and demanded their removal without incident.

When the local organizers of the Ghar Bachao movement are threatened by any of the slum landlords, who not only demand protection money for the protection of homes against demolition, but make money even after the BMC demolishes homes, the local organizers have galvanized group actions that have seriously threatened their standings in a slum.

Ambujwadi, born post 1995, exists on the fringes of suburban Malad, without electricity, without access to clean water, with a history of petty crime, child trafficking and health problems, where the ‘dadas’ sell shanties to people from anywhere from Rs.40,000 to Rs.3,00,00

With the passing of the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, the parallel government that was born – the slum landlords who built illegal settlements by paying massive amounts of grafts to local political parties, to the police, to the municipality itself, will possibly come to an end.

Jameel Akhtar during a speech in an unorganized but just demolished Prem Nagar in Goregaon, was greeted with massive cheers when he said: ‘‘If the government is going to give land in Powai to the Hiranandanis for 40 rupees per acre, we’re ready to give four hundred rupees.’

One of the most prevailing myths of Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana and of shanties in Mumbai today, is that the residents are getting free housing. Yet in the case of ‘illegal’ shanties, they not only have to pay to acquire a small corner without electricity, water or sanitation, but they’re deprived of security. With Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, they will simply pay the state a stipulated rent amount, thus increasing revenue for the state, and obliterating the parallel government that has existed as the state has abdicated from its responsibility of the Right To Housing.

‘We want housing, that is a fixed house, no one will sell them once they get it,’ Said a speaker at Azad Maidan to massive cheers from the crowd, ‘Those who already have a house, shall not get one.’

Jameel Akhtar Sheikh, 48 years old, a tailor by profession and one of the main organizers in Ambujwadi had on the 28th of May 2011, organized his own slum to thwart a demolition drive by the BMC. Over three thousand people stood before the police who would eventually withdraw, along with a JBC bulldozer retreating to loud cheers. Just two days later Jameel Sheikh would be halfway across town to help thwart a demolition drive in Sion Koliwada which is agitating against Sahana Developers.

This time Jameel Akhtar lies down before the bulldozers, and is promptly arrested and sent to prison along with 25 other women, half from Sion Koliwada and another group from Kanavaram Nagar who had come to support the anti-builder movement of the Kolis in Sion Koliwada.

I managed to interview him when he was out a few weeks later.

‘Police asked me, why do I come to support these Koli people even when they’re not people of my slum.’ He said during a rickshaw ride from Goregaon West, to Ghatkopar where another slum Ramnagar was facing a demolition drive, ‘Mein ne bola, ki jab police ki justice aur court ki justice fail ho gayi, toh janta ko haath uthana padta hai.’

‘I told them, when your justice, and the justice from your courts have failed, then the people have to stand up.’

On the 1st of January, 2013, in the morning of the march, the first call I get is from Jameel Akhtar who tells me that five thousand people have already left Ambujwadi, where they will march to Golibar, and then link up with another group, marching from Mankhurd.

But for five thousand to march from Malad to Golibar, a distance of 20 kilometers is no easy feat. So the organizers instead marched into Malad Railway station and took over two trains to reach Khar east, and marched into Golibar where the residents had prepared breakfast for 4,000 people. It took the residents of Ambujwadi around 20 minutes to simply enter into Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society.

Eventually the first group from Golibar and Ambujwadi marched from Khar to try and link up with the second group led by Medha Patkar from Mankhurd towards Mahim.

They would eventually take over Kalanagar road and Shivaji Park road, ‘hum garibo ne road banaya hai, bhetho’ – they would say, as a visibly polite police tried it’s best to not exacerbate a massive crowd of thousands, and organizers made spaces for cars to pass through.

The marchers sang songs and screamed slogans of solidarity, government violence, inequality, and revolution, kept discipline, and moved without incident and reached Mahim Marchi Marh, where the second group eventually caught up with them. They would eventually march to Shivaji Park and spend the night.

By 10:30 on the 2nd of January 2013, they marched from Shivaji Park, via Lalbaug, Byculla and Mohammed Ali road, to eventually be blocked by a contingent of police in front of CST station. They were not allowed to march to the Mantralaya, and were being requested to move into Azad Maidan.

The crowd was restless. They had marched on the 28th-29th of June, 2011, and were pushed into Azad Maidan before. They wanted to march to the Mantralaya this time. They screamed slogans against the police, they made their intentions clear to walk to the Mantralaya, yet the organizers were quick to placate their anger as Medha Patkar would speak to the Chief Minister’s personal assistant via cell phone.

A promise from the Chief Minister’s office to meet a delegation of 20, eventually convinced the marchers to move into Azad Maidan.

Then the government broke its first promise of the year. While a delegation of 20 started to move towards Sehadri, the Chief Minister’s guest house, they were told that the Minister will only meet six representatives. The delegation refused and just moved back into Azad Maidan.

A visibly angry Jameel Akhtar took the podium, and throughout his short four minute speech he was being shushed by Medha Patkar to be a little less subtle. Yet he didn’t relent.

‘Forget the delegation,’ He screamed, ‘it’s not just about the 20 people, if the government doesn’t take our demands, it won’t be 20 people, or even 20,000 people, but 50,000 will stand at their gates. Manzoor hai?’

‘Sehadri is not far from us, nor is the Mantralaya.’

‘The people here from their office, the dalaals, the builders people, why don’t you go, go to the guest house and tell them that we, the workers built the guest house, not you, and we will come there as it is ours too.’

‘If they have the guts, tell those builders that those workers who make your homes, should get a house. If they have the guts, tell them that those who stitch your clothes, should get a house. It they have the guts, tell them those who sell vegetables on the street or bring it to your house, should get a house. Those who bring milk to your house, should get a house!’

‘Or leave your chair, and leave your guest house!’

‘We won’t tolerate any insults, we have been marching for two days, not for any political party or any dalaals, but for our rights, our right to a home. And our right to live.’

‘Humare liye, hamare mazdoori ke liye, humme kya milta hai?

‘For us, for our labour, what do we get? We built such high towers, but for our children, for one family, one meal itself is such a struggle.’

‘yeh kursi wallo ko ehlaan karna hoga, sadak banene walle sadak par chalenge, aur building banane walle building mein rahenge,aur  tere baap ki jaagir hindustan nahi hai.’

‘Those in power should understand, those who built the road will walk on the roads, those who built the buildings shall live in the buildings, and this country is not your father’s estate.’

A few hours later, a few speeches later, when other organizers felt that they should stay outside Sehadri and see how many people could fit inside, the government finally agreed to meet 15 representatives. They left in a police van, to the anxieties of other protestors who felt that if the government is going to behave in such a way about a delegation, how will they listen to our demands?

An hour and a half long meeting ensued with Medha Patkar, State Home Minister RR Patil and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan and fifteen representatives from numerous slums from the city. A sympathetic R R Patil and Prithviraj Chauhan admitted to most of the demands and stated that they have their own problems with the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme. When bringing up the issue of lack of land in the city, they were confronted by plans prepared by the delegation that ‘30,000 acres of land above ceiling must and can be recovered from – 138 entities- 17,000 acres and also 13000 acres from a few hundred others. Land given on long term lease at 1 Rs/ sq feet etc should be recovered. All this should be re-allotted to the cooperatives of poor and middle class. Hiranandani’s land allotted at 40 Rs/acre needs to be recovered.’

Yet with nothing in writing, the protestors came back to Azad Maidan and decided to stay until the Minister’s office committed itself on paper.

Jameel Akhtar then found his three children and his wife, and slept in the open air of Azad Maidan.

10 Days of A Protest

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‘Who bought that poster of Gandhi in the rally?’

‘We should’ve had Bhagat Singh.’

‘Why is Ambedkar’s poster smaller than Gandhi’s?’

–          Said the younger organizers of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement

There is a strange element of radicalism present in the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement which quietly grumbles under its breath when Anna Hazare is on the podium. ‘You know what was the first question he asked, when he was told about the andolan?’ Said an organizer, ‘How many people are there?’

‘Not what is the issue, not what we’re fighting for, but how many people are there?’

There is a stranger element when invited India Against Corruption activists who’ve never been present during a demolition drive give speeches that get a lukewarm response and are followed with a Gaddar song that takes apart everyone from Advani, to Modi, to Sonia Gandhi, and speaks of years of loot and the suffering of the poor, which has the crowd of mostly daily wage labourers, highly amused.

Anna Hazare had come, with an army of pressmen and presswomen following him, taking up massive amounts of space in front of the once empty podium. During the press conference there was not a single question about the Slum Rehabilitation Scams or the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, the interviewers merely asked about the Delhi Gang rape, the Maharashtra irrigation scam and his own anti-corruption movement. Mr. Hazare had to plead, ‘Basti ke baare mein mujhe poocho.’ (ask me about the slums)

Yet as he left, the media left. The first two days of the protest had a few articles in mainstream English newspapers while some of the regional newspapers carried front page stories. The next eight days and the final agreement with the government wasn’t present in any of the English press. There wasn’t a single cameraman present when MLA Abu Azmi arrived at Azad Maidan where a mass of his betrayed constituency were protesting for the past week, and what ensued over the next two hours was a tragicomedy of epic democratic proportions.

The matter of Ganpath Patil Nagar, a slum on the fringes of Dahisar on mangrove land had been taken up by the movement, when residents had come to Azad Maidan bearing the fears of an impending demolition drive on the 10th of January, 2013. The demolition drives took place and over 200 homes were demolished even when representatives of the slum and the movement met officials to try and garner an agreement, with residents asking for a proper survey of the slum and that homes that existed before 2005 not be demolished. The demolition drive did not discriminate and a few mainstream newspapers ran frontpage articles, mostly praising the administration for their action.

Sarcasm and Democracy

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Abu Azmi, of Samajwadi Party swept the elections in 2008 after Raj Thackeray had declared war on the migrants from north India. Ward M, or Chembur East, a ghetto with one of the worst development indicators in the world, with a child mortality rate of 66 per 1000 births and a life expectancy of 46, voted en masse for him. Ward M, where once in 2004, 80,000 homes were demolished and there was not a single political party for them.

Yet over the years, the Samajwadi Party had become a parallel government due to the responsibilities the state had abdicated from: the right to water, the right to life and housing.

While India voted for water as a human right in the United Nations, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation denies water to every slum that came into existence after 1995. Abu Azmi’s people were quick to begin providing water, charging residents who would stand in line all day, to around Rs.20 for three cans water, amounting to six liters.

A water mafia was born.

At the protest, he was greeted by an effigy that stated ‘Aamdaar lapata hai’, which was politely moved to the back when he showed up. A nervous Abu Azmi sat on the podium surrounded by his constituency, and would listen to residents of Ward M, list all the crimes of his party and his people, at times the speakers, assertively grabbing their attention, ‘Abhi aap dhyaan se sooniye.’  (listen carefully now)

The Samajwadi Party, was accused of everything from running the water mafia, to absence during demolition drives, to corporators who kick people out of offices, abusing residents by saying, ‘tum kaun ho mangne walle, tum kaun ho poochne walle?’(who are you to ask me these things?)

“We go into their offices and say, ‘our slums have been demolished.’”

‘And your people say it’s not been declared as a slum.’ Says Ram Bharadwaj of Mandala, ‘And when today, we had a meeting with the BMC, they agreed that any slum on government land should be declared as a slum and deserves electricity and water.’

‘The government makes development plans, and in the development plans our slums don’t exist. They’re little green spaces, empty plots. Because they just want to sell them to the builders.’ Continued Ram.

“‘What is this Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana? What is the point of all this? I will handle it,’ they tell us,” Say Umar Muhammed of Mandala, ‘Yet when this scheme is there in other cities around the country, why is it not there in Mumbai?’

Abu Azmi sat for over an hour, around the residents of Mandala, while Medha Patkar and other representatives were in a meeting with the BMC. He was nervous, fidgety, taking notes, constantly being reminded by speakers that they don’t care about identity politics, with speakers constantly screaming a slogan: ‘Hindu-Muslim, sab bhai-behen hai.’

‘When you speak, we don’t want you to talk about politics,’ Said Sumit Wajale, ‘We want you to talk about our development.’

Imtiaz from Antop Hill, an RTI activist on whom a POTA case was once put, was quick to remind him that he should’ve been present when his constituency started to march itself, and yet he only showed up eight days after they began to march. And he was followed by Sumit Wajale who got the crowd riled up to entrap Abu Azmi to sit down and stay on the dharna until the demands of his constituency was met. ‘Should he be sitting here?’ he asked a crowd that laughed into raptures.

When he finally was given the microphone to speak, he spent the first five minutes making excuses on why he wasn’t present for the past eight days, and managed to placate the crowd by praising Medha Patkar. He put the blame entirely on the administration, the ‘haramkhors’ as he said, who wouldn’t act unless there’s a cut in it for them somewhere. The government is a mess and only an ‘andolan’ like this would fix it. He promised again to support all the demands of the people and praising the collective power of thousands sitting in at Azad Maidan. He would begin to speak about the few times when he did act for the people, apparently bringing up the demolition of Mandala in the parliament, and ‘paani ka koshish humne kiya’ by bringing many water tankers into the area, and that he did try to stop the water mafia, but instead the police started arresting people who were buying water. Yet the highlight of his speech that did not miss many of the protesters was the fact that he couldn’t even say Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, stammering, calling it, ‘Rajoov….Rajoov…. jo… ya… Awas Yojana hai us ke liye mein khada hu.’

‘if I fail to support the people, you can give me a garland of flowers.’ He said to cheers from the crowd.

Abu Azmi left after two hours at Azad Maidan, with a promise to create a committee in every slum that belongs to his constituency, and a promise to lead a delegation to the Mantralaya the next day with both the issues of SRA and Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana.

‘How much he lied,’ Said a few residents of Ambujwadi and Mandala.

Post-Script: An End To The Protest

_DSC1255

Amina bi, 85 years old from Ambujwadi stayed at Azad Maidan for the entirety of the ten days of the sit-in. She sat in the front, covered herself in a blanket at night, screaming slogans, raising her fists, and laughing during the day’s proceedings.

Many other protestors would go home and return by the afternoon and evening, but there were thousands like Amina Bi, who lived in Azad Maidan, who were fed by the collective kitchens that were started by the slums themselves.

After the end of the protest was announced she quietly walked onto the podium to meet Medha Patkar but she had already left. When Medha Patkar returned she saw that she was busy, and said, ‘Chodd do, badme milenge.’ With muted disappointment

‘Andolan toh karna padta hai,’ she said as she quietly moved back to her space to prepare to go back to Ambujwadi, hoping that this time, after nine years, the movement did bring them some relief.

For 10 days, the protesters tried to bring a government official to meet them at Azad Maidan, and threatened them again and again with a march to the Mantrayala. Each time that action was postponed as different offices of the administration, either the BMC commissioner, the State Human Rights Commission, or the Water Department, had offered the delegation time to meet. Every office of the government besides the Chief Minister’s office was forthcoming.

On the 10th day, a secret plan was made to send small groups of residents from all the slums to the Mantralaya. Groups of ten and twenty slowly started to leave Azad Maidan and quietly took a bus or a taxi towards the Mantralaya. Within an hour there were almost five hundred people who had taken over the parking lot of the Mantralaya at Jeevan Bheema Marg, with four police vans and a contingent of police negotiating with them.

The police who were surprisingly polite, requested the organizers to send groups of ten and twenty from the same slum up to the offices of the Mantralaya to deliver their applications for the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, and others from the SRA projects to deliver their complaint letters to RR Patil, the State Home Minister and to the Chief Minister.

Lines outside all of their offices were nothing but the protestors from Azad Maidan.

‘Police bahu izat dikharahi hai,’ Said Noorjahan of Malvani in Malad.

At the end, hundreds of protestors had managed to deliver the applications to the Mantralaya without any incident. They returned with a letter that promised the pilot project for Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana in Mandala, and the news that the protests shall end for the moment, but that if the government betrays them again, then they will march again.

‘This is not a good end,’ Said Krishna Nair of Golibar, who walked away from the podium feeling that they could’ve really stayed on for a few more days and got a concrete decision on the SRA scams as well.

Yet he was satisfied when others promised him that they will march again.

Post-Post- Script

_DSC1547Eight days after the end of the agitation, on January 18, as the government started making preliminary inquiries into the SRA projects, private security personnel allegedly hired by a builder entered Ambevadi society of Golibar and started an argument with the residents which led to a violent confrontation; two women had to be hospitalised after the clashes. The residents managed to capture one of the henchmen and locked him up for the police to come and take his testimony. The police, however, threatened to charge the residents with kidnapping, which led to further altercations between the residents and the police.

It was then that Krishna Nair reached Budh Vihar and managed to negotiate a compromise between the police and the residents. He took the “henchman” to the hospital and managed to get his testimony collected by the police.
A few hours later he was furious,“Yeh saale haraami police log mere par rioting ka case daalne wale hain. (These corrupt bastards are going to book me in a case of rioting).”

Next day the private security firm entered Ambevadi again, with police protection, and this time pointed out resident Pradeep More, who was later arrested by the police. The residents resorted to a relay hunger strike after there was no response from the government to their complaints against the private security firm and the police. There had been zero media reaction to these events at the time of going to press.

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Invisible Cities: Part Thirteen: Premnagar : A Mall To Human Suffering

November 14, 2012

A young girl sweeps the ground where her house used to be in Premnagar, Goregaon, West.

Women who were beaten during a demolition drive at Premnagar at Goregaon, Mumbai, show their injuries.

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

Just in the vicinity of Goregaon’s Inorbit mall and Hyper City was a demolition drive of an ‘illegal’ settlement of thousands of homes at Premnagar that had started to exist over the last ten years. The demolitions took place on the 6th of November, without a notice, without allowing people to take their possessions out of their homes, which led to massive losses to small businesses who had their working spaces at home, and to school-going children who lost their report cards, certificates and their school books. Old women were beaten, young children were pushed. Testimonies collected revealed a pattern of brutality and loss and the evidence of violence were clearly visible on women whose bruises have yet to heal.

Rajkumari Kori’s children lost all their school books and their uniforms. Lokesh Jain estimates that he lost 15 lakhs worth of raw materials of his electroplating shop. Prakash Gond who worked as an electrician lost all of his work materials and was beaten by the police trying to save them. Vivek Ramesh Pawar lost his 15 year old bhangaar shop as well, now smouldering in a fire, and now has to sell his house to make up for the loss. Nazrin Ahmed Ansari is eight months pregnant and has trouble keeping her children out of the cold. Ajit Yadav is worried he can’t give his tenth board exams because his certificates are buried in the rubble.

Fourteen year old Nitin says the police only calls them to the chowkie to give money for protection. Behind him a woman says, ‘police pehle bolti hai banao, phir baadme bolti hai todo.’ (first the police says build, then later they come and tell us to break.)

An on-site MHADA officer claimed that it wasn’t necessary to give a notice as these were all illegal slums, while residents claimed that the police kept telling them that their houses were safe until the last minute when they came barging in, beating people who tried to recover their belongings from their homes. To add to that, the MHADA did give a notice the last time there were demolitions over 2 years ago.

Now over the next five days, bulldozers flattened the ground, destroying property worth thousands, and making it impossible to reclaim any belongings. The ground lay littered with thousands of electrical fixtures from numerous electroplating workshops, and small fires were lit over what used to be some people’s living rooms.

According to an on-site MHADA officer, the site is meant for a building complex for the general population.

‘For the lottery system?’

‘Yes.’

‘So if any of the people who lost their homes to this plot win the lottery, they can get a house here?’

The officer laughs: ‘Yes, of course.’

On Sunday morning, across the MHADA sign that indicated ‘This Plot belongs to MHADA, trespassers would be prosecuted’ thousands of residents gathered to sit on a dharna, but by evening the police broke down their makeshift tent.

The dream of Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna had been brought into their slum after the demolition. Jameel Akhtar Sheikh from Ambujwadi in Malad, a veteran activist from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, spoke clearly to assenting residents, ‘We’re not asking for free housing, we’re asking for cheap housing.’

‘This Inorbit mall was built on a dumping ground, it’s government land, it has flouted CRZ norms, and you know Infinity Mall, it was built on a playground.’ Continued Jameel.

‘If the government is going to give land in Powai to the Hiranandanis for 40 paise per acre, we’re ready to give forty rupees.’ He said to the loudest applause of his short speech.

‘You (the government) have empty plots, show us the rate you’re giving them to builders for, and we’re ready to pay for it ourselves.’

A crash of applause reverbeted again through his last words and there is some wonder why.

Vinod Vishwakarma was born in Mumbai, is a worker in Bollywood, and a registered member of the Film Studio Setting Allied Mazdoor Union, chaired by Mithun Chakravorty, who himself had once given the dream of a home to the invisible men who made films. Vinod lived in a rented house for most of his adult life, when his family decided to spend the few lakhs to pay off people in high places so they could construct a room of their own. The same people now ensured that he could not even save his clothes.

‘We have a Shiv Sena corporator Lochana Pawar,’ Said Vinod, ‘When our homes broke down last year we gave her our votes as she used to tell us she was also from a slum, and that she had a chai shop, that she understands the poor and that she will help protect our homes. The last corporator lost because he did nothing after the last demolition drive.’

‘And this woman hasn’t even shown her face to us now for five days.’

Corporator Lochana Chavan, 44 years old, who sold chai and worked with the Shiv Sena for 22 years, says she hasn’t been able to go to Prem Nagar because it’s Diwali and her mother is unwell. She adds that the orders came from the Collector and she could not intervene, and that there was nothing she could do. ‘I am elected to help the people,’ She says, ‘But where there are illegal things, I can’t go.’

Police officer Arun Jadav at Goregaon police station, who most of the residents reviled and blamed for their misfortunes, was not quite forthcoming when he was asked about the events of the day, or whether he ever looked into the ‘extortion’ or protection money that was taken to build the slum. He didn’t. And when asked about who took protection money for the building of the illegal settlement. His response was a terse, ‘Just ask them only.’