Archive for the ‘Scams’ Category

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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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Anatomy of a self-destructing system

September 2, 2013

(21 of 147)

This article appears in the Sunday Guardian on the 1st of September, 2013.

Another demolition drive at Sion Koliwada and the practice of claiming agency by the residents to prevent it has a lot to say about the way an administration has been co-opted by the market

The notice for demolitions at Sion Koliwada had arrived a day after Independence Day. It was in January of this year, that mass protests by slumdwellers across Mumbai led to the Principal Secretary, Housing, Debashish Chakravarti by direction of the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan to order a stay on demolition drives on six rehabilitation projects across the city where residents have alleged fraud and forgery by the builders.

But it was the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Ward Office of F North in Mumbai, who passed an ‘allotment’ notice (allotment is another euphemism for demolition) on the 16th of August.

From the moment the notice arrived, to the first brick that would fall in the coming days, the actions and practice of agency by the Kolis of Sion Koliwada, who marched from government office to office, to the reactions from police officials, and the administration, have a lot to say about a system where checks and balances are now completely flatlined, and the state is one homogenous monolith that has no space for the discourse of rights and it is time once again to acknowledge the role of the market as the new dharma of state officials.

The Core Committee of Sion Koliwada, comprising of young men and women, armed with prima facie evidence of forgery, countless documents acquired through the Right To Information Act, detailing discrepancy after discrepancy in the project, had one afternoon, on the 29th of April, sat with the Principal Housing Secretary, the Builder’s coterie of lawyers and armed guards, and members of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, and would finish their presentation at the hearing, leaving the builder’s lawyers with nothing to say, or respond. If that was an indication of the worth of a democratic institution, than their morale, their belief in the system that day, was justified. And would be further justified a few months later when Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte had ordered that the builder’s vast steel fence that had hidden Sion Koliwada from the world, to be removed.

Yet irrespective of that, and the constant delay of the publication of the inquiry report by the state, the demolition notice would arrive. A timeline from the 16th of August, to the 21st of August, has to be observed to reveal the schizophrenia of dealing with the state. The notice arrives, much to everyone’s chagrin and after discussions amongst the protesting residents, they realized they wouldn’t challenge it in court, as their matter is already under inquiry by Debashish Chakravarti, which was promised to have been finished by the 15th of May, and has not, till date.

They would decide to hold meetings with the Chief Minister, the Home Minister and the Chief Municipal Commissioner, but they did not take place initially, as no one was admitted to an audience with any state official on a Sunday.

Their first meeting would only take place on Monday, 19th of August, with the Chief Minister’s personal secretary, who quickly called up the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, and asked him on what basis did he issue an order on the Sion Koliwada case. Reportedly, the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Sudhir Naik, claimed he didn’t know there as a stay order, and the outcome of this conversation with the Personal Secretary and the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, in front of Sion’s protesting residents, was a verbal confirmation that there would be no demolitions.

The delegation of the residents then went straight to the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Sudhir Naik, and requested that they recieve a stay order in writing, and he confirmed that he would contact Assistant Commissioner Narendra Berde who passed the first notice and sort it out with him. They were told that they would get their written order by seven in the evening. They waited till 7:30. Nothing happened. It was only as they managed to catch Mr.Sudhir Naik as he was leaving office, that he said they should come the next day in the morning, as they still require the signature of Sitaram Kunte, the Chief Municipal Commissioner.

The delegation arrives the next morning on the 20th of August, and finds Sitaram Kunte in a meeting. They returned in the afternoon and they still found him in a meeting. In the evening, they saw the builder and his lawyers, along with the committee members from Sion, who had supported the builder at the BMC premises. They were then informed that they would receive a decision the next day, from Debashish Chakravati, the Principal Secretary of Housing, himself.

On Wednesday, 21st of August, they were given a written order by the BMC signed by Debashish Chakravati, that confirms demolitions. The letter, a jumble of strange logic, states that since a Writ petition 1184 of 2010 that asked for ‘the re-development scheme of this society should be declared illegal and cancelled, and the floors 8 to 14 of the re-developed building be demolished,’ filed by the residents was dismissed by the High Court in 2010, and that his own stay order of January of 2013, exempts demolitions as per High Court orders, then the demolitions would have to take place. He would further mention that that allotment letters were given to ‘not-cooperating’ tenants three times before his own stay order of January 2013.

The residents quickly went to the Mantralaya and got an appointment with Debashish Chakravati in the evening, who admitted to have a meeting with the builder and his lawyers, and refused to entertain the protesting resident’s concerns, stating that their case was dismissed by the High Court, while the residents asserted that the High Court never ordered any demolitions nor was there any order against the builder.

They spoke for over thirty minutes but the residents realized he wouldn’t budge.

Adding to this, it would be the attitudes of the police, the first face of the state to Sion Koliwada. Calls to every senior policeman on Monday, revealed the demolitions were cancelled, but the minute the turnaround took place, they enthusiastically decided to give police protection to demolition crews, once again highlighting that instead of investigating the matter of fraud and forgery, which should have happened years ago, the police is inclined to give protection to demolition crews.

A senior police officer at Sion, a veteran of the force, a tormentor as described by the residents, a self-described savior as much as his limits could take him, admittedly mentions that the system needs changing, is pessimistic about it, is too impatient for Dr.Ambedkar’s social revolution, and would ironically voice the CPI (Maoist), ‘that one needs to be in power to change the system.’ He feels that those protesting are not being practical, ‘saamne walla jaisa karta hai, tum bhi waise hi karo’ (do what everyone around you is doing); and one man can’t change the ‘system’, and if you fight it, the system will not help you, and they, the residents, should just take what they are getting, ‘that a person who can’t change their principles, can’t be successful.’

This is of course, is the free market.

And the free market, symbolized as four bulldozers, drove into the small colony in the middle of Sion, and while residents didn’t physically protest, due to the threats of further police cases against them, there was an incident that revealed the psychology of the police and the administration quite clearly. The elusive words, ‘stay order’ spread like wildfire amongst the residents around four in the evening on the first day of the demolition drive, and residents who were quietly watching their homes broken down, suddenly, empowered, began to protest, hurl abuses, and demanded that the state stop destroying their homes. The police and the BMC started to withdraw, without much hesitation, almost revealing that they themselves felt they had no right or authority to demolish. But when the elusive order was merely revealed as a fax of an admission of an emergency petition slated to be heard at 5pm at the City Civil Court, which was literally thrown down by one of the police officers, the police and the wrecking crews returned, but by then it was already five in the evening, and demolitions have to stop at that slated time.

The demolitions continued on the second day and 39 houses were demolished that even left one man injured.

A day after the demolition drive, a distraught people, congregated in hundreds at Walkeshwar, and had attempted to get a meeting with the Chief Minister who they felt had betrayed them. There was no meeting as they argued about the size of the delegation, and instead they would sit in front of his gates, until the police forcefully picked up the residents, and put them into police vans and drove them to Azad Maidan. It would be a point to mention, that anyone who looked like they belonged to the working class, were stopped by the police from even entering the road at Walkeshwar that leads to the CM’s residence of Varsha.

This self-destructing system is now catering to a general environment of gaping paradoxes where 13000 square feet high-end apartments worth a 100 crores are advertised by a financial magazine, where the working classes are quick to observe that the landscape of the city visible from the Virar Fast, is filled with towering buildings like honeycombs that lie empty, that the middle classes have a general perception that all slums are illegal and should be destroyed while they themselves can’t afford an apartment in most of the city and have neither the imagination nor the capacity to challenge the builder lobby; and where judges build their colonies on mangrove land, and pass orders that the poor cannot, where the land meant for the ‘dishoused’ is another judges colony, where the history of collapsing housing markets across the world, are not matters of polity’s concern; and social housing, which can reclaim housing from being an ‘investment’ to a ‘right to shelter’ for all, is a distant dream.

Yet this is one dream, that one can only imagine after the state can wake up from a nightmare it perpetuates.

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The stillness of rage

April 5, 2013

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‘Take a picture of my house’ before they demolish it

During the fifth demolition drive at Ganesh Krupa Society on February of 2012, Rajendra Mistry, a supervisor in a maintenance firm, pulled me away from documenting the demolishing of another house and asked me to follow him to his own house. I asked him why and he says he wants a photo of himself in his house before the ‘haramis’ (bastards) break it down. He sat down on his mattress, before his packed belongings, his idols and gods still hanging from the walls, with the solemnity of silence itself. I took the photos for him, and by the end of the day, it didn’t matter as much.

By five in the evening, the demolition crews left. His house survived.

That day.

On the 3rd of April this year, after the sixth demolition drive, it’s a field of rubble.

That too after the Union Ministry’s Principal Secretary of Housing, Ajay Maken wrote to the Chief Minister to cease from demolitions and evictions until the investigations into the numerous discrepancies in the project are completed.  ‘Your decision to investigate six of the proposed or under construction projects through the Principal Secretary (Housing) was conveyed to me, which is a welcome step. I however, would request you to ensure that wherever as in these six SRS projects under enquiry, there are prima facie illegality, no irreversible damage or eviction of residents should be permitted to be done with police force.’

This would take place after a demolition drive at Golibar’s Ambewadi on the eve of Woman’s Day when women were dragged off and allegedly molested by the police and unidentified persons, and nine homes were demolished.

And this time the state accomplished in demolishing 43 homes at Ganesh Krupa Society, most of whom, in an act of resistance, were rebuilt by the residents after the last demolition drives.

To the people of Ganesh Krupa Society, who’re predominately working class, even if they break down their homes, that is more than just a property, more than just shelter, they will put in money to rebuild, some having spent anywhere between Rs.10,000 to Rs. 40,000, as an act beyond protest, beyond the frustration of protest, beyond dharna after dharna, march after march, court case after court case. Yet this last demolition drive has been particularly brutal, ripping out foundations, leaving no trace of a home, just leaving landscapes of an exploding city.

Meanwhile, Ambewadi society, across the road, has been on a sit-in, and a relay hunger strike since the 20th of January, 2012, after a private security firm hired by the builder ended up in a violent clash that led to the hospitalization of two women from Ambewadi, where the police refused to lodge a complaint against the builder, and instead charged the residents.

Ambevadi is where stenguns are carried by the police and taken to the settlement for a welfare scheme.

Ambevadi, is where the ironies of dalit capitalism are clearer than ever, where the Budh Vihar, is where the residents swear on Babasaheb Ambedkar, and the nostalgia of the Dalit Panthers, and plan their strategies against the builder, himself from the Schedule Caste.

Ambewadi is where the Ashis Nandy controversy at the Jaipur Literature festival was a stupid joke. And where Mr.Nandy should shut the hell up. Santosh Thorat, a matang dalit, organizer for the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, laughed at his comments, standing amongst broken homes of working class dalits, looking at the tower the builder built, and commenting, ‘yeh toh brahmin hi ban gaye’(they have just become brahmins).’

Ambevadi society and Ganesh Krupa Society, are the frontlines in this war of attrition of profit, two of 46 societies the builder has to acquire for his township, the thorns in his plans. He so far, only has eleven. Most have still taken him to court.

Most still join the rallies against him, as they did during the ten day protest at Azad Maidan in January of this year, that had led the Maharashtra State Government to agree to conduct inquiries, through the Principal Secretary of Housing into six Slum Rehabilitation Projects including Golibar. It had put a moratorium on demolitions until the end of the investigations, except those where the High Court has precedence. But to both Ambevadi and Ganesh Krupa Society, thanks to questionable court orders,  they faced demolition drives.

And that brings us back to the judiciary, and the redundance of it all: the order that was once passed in the matter concerning Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, where the Civil  High Court, ruled in favour of the builder, stating, ‘‘that no useful purpose will be served by allowing the petitioners to raise any dispute about the meeting which was held on 7th February 2009.’ A criminal case filed by the residents against the builder and the chief promoters of the project in Ganesh Krupa Society, led the court to order the police to investigate and chargesheet those accused of forgery and fraud, as the residents claim, there was never any mandatory 70% consent in the project, and the ‘disputed meeting’ never took place. Yet the police have only stalled their own investigations, and instead come for demolition drives.

The project and the builder has even been indicted by the Comptroller Auditor General report released in 2012, that the builder had grabbed public lands, and there was never any transparency in the manner in which the Slum Rehabilitation Authority or the builder acquired consent from the residents. Yet the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan remains a mute spectator.

And on the 30th of March, a few days before the coming demolition drive, resident, leader of people on Ganesh Krupa Society, tailor, mother, angaanwadi teacher, Prerna Gaekwad, asked the Deputy Police Commissioner why he was sending a police force to support ‘criminal’ activities, when the inquiry is yet to be finished, and his response was that he is helpless against a court order. Prerna was detained on the 7th of March, when she went across the road to help prevent the demolition drive at Ambevadi. There too, they were just following orders.

Thus the Judiciary is the hammer, the judiciary is the bulldozer, a judge might as well be driving it.

The anger against the courts, against the law, against a biased system, is palpable at Golibar.

It is the High Court orders that take the bulldozers into their living rooms, it is the High Court orders that annihilate any idea of equitable justice, and becomes the reason itself for injustice, the enemy of the people. It is an unstoppable movable force, a betrayal, the judiciary that is meant to protect the constitutional rights of people, is a market ally, a creation of the stillness of rage: a stillness of rage that is not impotence, it reaps a whirlwind, it destroys any idea of respect for the law, and then lawlessness will be justified, the anger will be rebellion, it will become the fist that fantasizes to smash the collector’s face, it will be the riot, the arson, it will become the irrationality of the stone thrown onto the moving local, it becomes to rage against those in the towers who sit quietly, it becomes the end of a citizen, the anomie, the culture that keeps reacting to violence with more violence, an informal violence, for those who destroyed their lives, the so-called police-builder-politician-nexus, are too far beyond for their reach.

Here is a dying society, where if the law itself does not follow the law, then everything is permitted

And even if the market and the prophets of the free market of the world may eventually win, whatever scraps of the earth that is left to them, for a brief moment in the history of time, of a million years of this earth whose stones told the lonely geologists the poetry of a world without men, there are the bricks of demolished homes of people who lived in the slums of civilization, who will speak about self-respect. Interviews with builder after builder, the question of respect for the residents is a joke, their only response is silence.

Instead, during the demolition drive, a builder wanted to watch each and every brick breaking from the house of Sudesh Paware, a railway employee and one of the residents who protested with resolve against the builder. ‘With a lot of pride, he watched them level his house to dust,’ said Shekhar Mirgule.

Yes, many residents don’t protest against the state, against the builder. The homes of those who supported the builder in the beginning itself, or those too wary to fight the Juggernaut of development were the first to go. Then there are those who’re bought off.

Yet there are those who refuse: there are those who hold onto their self-worth: their rights, their protest. Even after 43 homes have been broken down, not a single resident has taken the builder’s offer. And for a brief moment, it wasn’t the market, it wasn’t greed is good, it wasn’t aspirations of the working class to claim the towers of the rich without baying for their blood, it was simply a humility and a truth: that we want respect. The market respects respect as the machineguns the police bring into the settlements they want to destroy in the name of a welfare scheme. A welfare scheme that is nothing but the annihilation of community. Give us your riches, and we shall leave our home, maybe. We will betray our brothers, our neighbours. You spend more money trying to destroy our resistance, than you do in just giving it to us. The market is the ego of the rich, the market will not allow the working class to claim equality in profit. The market is the bulldozer of the stillness of nostalgia, it is the rubble of rage, and from that rubble, your streets will be filled with madness.

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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

Deva Nair 1

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

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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 Fifteen: Missing

December 14, 2012

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

Sajid Mohammed, a 15 year old boy from Golibar disappeared on the 1st of August, 2012 on his birthday. His father, an RTI activist who fought against the builder lobby in Golibar, wrote complaints one after another stating that his life and that of his family was in danger but the police took no action.

Shoukat Mohammed was 25 years old in 1992 when his video cassette store at Nirmal Nagar, Khar was burnt down in the riots. He lived away from his home for four years, than eventually moved back into nearby Shastri Colony in Golibar, where he has lived since, bringing up a family with three children, his first child, a daughter Rukhsar was born in 1994, and his son Sajid was born in 1997, and then Zahid, his youngest, in 1999.

He has worked in the railway department’s as a Senior Indicator Operator directing traffic of the local trains for the past 22 years now and over the past few years has been campaigning against Shivalik Ventures and the re-development project in Shastri Colony, Golibar, alleging that in Shastri Colony, the ‘secretaries and the chief promoters had given bogus names who are non residents of Mumbai’ for the SRA project, and that ‘the survey was not conducted as per proper rules of the SRA,’ that illegal structures were listed as legal, and that homes were surveyed twice, and that one of the members of the society Chandrakant Gaurav alias Dagdya had prepared bogus ration cards, bogus electricity bills for his own structures to be declared eligible.

Developer Shivalik Ventures has repeatedly asserted that there has been no wrongdoing in their massive redevelopment project in Golibar where one after another of the 46 societies has made accusations of forgery and highhandedness of the SRA and the builder.

Shoukat, alone in his society has been singlehandedly writing complaints about the project, his home being one of the lone standing structures in Shastri Colony, the rest demolished or residents having moved away. In his complaints to the police, he even stated that one Mrs. Zaibunnissa Khan, a relative of the chief promoter, Sayyed Rauf, had approached him with an offer of 15 lakhs to withdraw all the complaints against the builder.

Then on the 27th of April, 2011, his neighbour Chandrakant Gaurav had approached him and threatened his saying, ‘that he would be picked up and killed,’ and that he (Gaurav), ‘was well protected and could get away with anything’ and that ‘they would put a false case on him (Shoukat).’

When Shoukat had gone to file a complaint to the police they refused to lodge a First Information Report even when he produced witnesses, and the police merely lodged a NC (a Non-Cognizable offence).

Yet on the first of August this year, Shoukat’s son never returned from his tuitions. His suspicions immediately fell on his neighbours, Chandrakant Gaurav alias Dagdya, Javed Qureishi, Jaffar Qureishi, Ghulam Sheikh, Ismael Roshan Khana alias Pappu.

A worried Shoukat went to Nirmal Nagar police station and was told to wait 24 hours. On the 2nd he repeated to the Sub-inspector Sharad Panduram Jadhav that he has suspicions that members of his society were involved in the abduction of his son, yet instead of filing a kidnapping case, the sub-inspector wrote it down as a missing persons case.

Speaking to Sajid’s family, his teacher, and his friends, Sajid is described as an introvert, with little interest in outdoor activities, with few friends, and a diligent student studying for his 10th standard SSC exams at Cardinal Gracias High School at Khar. He vanished without any of his possessions but the notebooks he had taken for his tuitions and the clothes on his back. There are no suspicions amongst his friends, teachers or his family that the boy could’ve run away. And that too, for over four months.

Irrespective of whether it was a kidnapping or a missing persons case, the police did nothing for the next two months.

Then on the 26th of September, a whole two months after he went missing, with the help of a human rights organization, Shoukat drafted a letter to the Home minister, and the Chief minister, threatening to go on a hunger strike at the Mantralaya, if the police did not file an FIR and look for his son. Finally, the police took cognizance of the father’s complaints and  in a few days they arrested those Shoukat had accused.

The behavior of the police is implicit in the fact that they did not ask for police custody of the accused even though they hadn’t found the boy. The first three accused were merely released in 2 days, and the other two was arrested later and swiftly released again.

Meanwhile, Sub-Inspector Sharad Jadav refused to comment on why he did not file it as a kidnapping case when Shoukat first approached him and merely walked away pointing out a senior officer. Inspector Ramesh Khakale responds that the police had arrested the accused but the case is still in investigation and that it is now being handled by his Senior Police Inspector Sahebrao Sonawane, who refused to speak to the media.

In the past few years, a large number of RTI activists who fought against the builder lobby have been attacked by miscreants or known criminals – Santosh Daundkar of BIT Chawl, Aba Tandel of Golibar, Sandeep Yeole of Ramnagar, Suresh Banjan of Indiranagar.

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Invisible Cities: Part Fourteen: Ramnagar: Schizophrenia And The City

December 11, 2012

A few homes remaining at Sinhgad Society before the rehabilitation buildings - photo for part 1

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis in three parts on the 9th, 10th and 11th of December, 2012.

Mangesh Khopde (31), was admitted to Ward 1 of Sion Hospital on the 14th of November. He was screaming, violently lashing out, and had to be strapped in, given electroshock therapy and sedated.

It all started when on the 9th of November, 2012, his house in Ramnagar, Ghatkopar was demolished for a SRA project called the Satra Hills by Satra Developers.

Mangesh, who had also been sober for a year and a half, was on anti-psychotic drugs, that were lost in the demolition as his family could not rescue all of his belongings.

He had confrontations with the police and the supporters of the builder, and was pushed into the police van, raving and abusing the whole time.

Eventually, over the next few days, without taking his medication whose prescriptions were buried in the rubble, he found himself wandering aimlessly, fighting with strangers, and screaming. After a year and half without alcohol, he had a relapse, that led to his breakdown.

Taken to the hospital with extremely high blood pressure, he was sedated with Lorazepam, given the anti-psychotics olanzepine, haloperidol, quetiapine, and pacitane, over the days, reacting to some medication, and not reacting to others. He now doesn’t remember the events of the ninth of November, but still disagrees with the idea of moving into a building, preferring to live in a slum which has low maintenance costs.

The dispute between a group of residents of the 18 societies of Ramnagar, all named after Shivaji’s forts, are the numerous allegations and discrepancies in the project, especially concerning forgery and the undemocratic manner of the decisions taken by the developer,.

Central to the dispute is the strange role played by a resident called Prabhakar Shetty of Sinhagad society.

In a letter dated 27th of July, 2009 that RTI activist Sandeep Yeole acquired from the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, he complained about the undemocratic manner the SRA project was being handled by the Developers, by the resident’s federation itself, and by numerous members of the federation, including Shankar Mahadik, a National Congress Party Worker and treasurer and Sanjay Shetty, who was the under secretary.

His letter itself originally in Marathi, hints to the highly spurious manner of functioning of not just the developer, but of numerous parties in the residents associations, and the complete absence of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority.

‘Shankar Mahadik brought in Satra property developers. To start with the development the developer needs to send a letter of interest to the federation and the societies involved. Mahadik however made no such insistence for the letter and allowed developers to begin the surveys without providing any letter to the federation or any of the societies. On the other hand, they made contracts with the developers and architects in a hurry. This contract was lacking and inconsistent, which I noticed and brought to the federations notice, but they did not take any proper action over it. Many of the societies in the area were coming together to sign the contracts despite the problems in it, so we too gave our contracts and all necessary documents to the federation. As the president of the Sinhgad Society, I had been in touch with the federation and had been asking for additional information regarding the developer’s plans, but never received any concrete replies or answers from the them. I got into numerous arguments with them due to this. One night in July 2006, Sanjay Shetty came to my house with a single contract which Shetty said was in favour of the societies and made me sign the papers. He said that he would give me a copy of the contract I signed in the morning, but did not give me one. Because I had no copy of this, I got into arguments with the federation. Because they were always on the side of the developers and not the people, I started avoiding the federation meetings. I even met with the developer and tried to get information from him as the President of the Sinhagad Society, but he too was always vague and non-committal.

So I sought this info under the RTI. Under the RTI act I was only able to access the contract signed with the federation and not the contract with the developer. With this I also received the necessary supporting documents submitted along with the contract, including power of attorney, registration of proposal, and documents which the society was never shown. When we showed these documents to other society members and workers, we collectively began fearing that in future our houses will be broken and we would become homeless.’

In another letter to the Ghatkopar Vibhag he stated, that ‘We also found an authority letter and letter for registration, which were typed in English and contained forged signatures. Our Society head, Prabhakar Shetty had been elected as Vice President of the Federation. However, when the proposal was presented to us, Shripad Pawar signed as Vice President and named Prabhakar Shetty as only a member, and forged his signature on the proposal.’

There is clear prima facie evidence that Prabhakar Shetty’s signatures do not match on many of the documents where he has allegedly signed. However, on the 9th of November, 2012, he himself was pushing people out of their homes, abusing them.

Prabhakar Shetty, a very suspicious and evasive man, claimed, when asked if he supports the project, that ‘it (the project) is for the entire Ramnagar, and it is a government project’. When asked, if he wrote any letter to the SRA, he claimed ‘phele tha aisa’, but refused to elaborate on record. Praful Satra, the developer, claimed that he always had a majority consent in the project, and the few people who were protesting earlier, slowly started to accept him as the builder.

Meanwhile, those residents now who still protest, claim Mr.Shetty was simply bought off.

‘He used to keep calling us on the phone since the day the notice came, and told us to take the cheque before our homes were broken down,’ Said Sheetal Kopde, ‘But once the home was broken down, he started to taunt us, saying we should’ve just taken the cheque.’

Mangesh’s mother Sunanda has been a domestic worker for 31 years and feels it is too early for her daughter-in-law to work as a domestic worker, worried that her son might never recover from his psychotic breakdown, leaving him incapable of looking after their three children.

‘We won’t leave without respect,’ She said, ‘Sar jhuka ke hum nahi hatenge.’

The Marked Man

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Sandeep Yeole, RTI Activist and a social worker, carries around a gigantic bundle of documents that he has acquired from police stations, the slum rehabilitation authority, the collector’s office, the MHADA, the environment Ministry, regarding each societies discrepancies in the project. One such group of documents details that the Letter Of Intent clearly states that the builder must get environment clearance before a commencement certificate, yet both papers show, he has a commencement certificate arriving six days before the clearance. On that, the builder claims that he had the Environmental Clearance in March of that year itself, but the notice reached them late.

Satra Hills is currently, literally being built by digging into a mountain where stand the homes of working class marathi folk, where now a few hundred shanties overlook a construction site as a gigantic hole next to a hill, with residents anxious about the rain and possible landslides.

Sandeep, however, still persists to point on the discrepancies in the project, where all he desires is that the builder should be removed and the people given a chance to develop themselves.

‘We are not against development,’ he says, ‘Vikas ke naam peh vinaash karenge, hum us builder ke development ke khilaf kaam karenge.’

‘In this scheme, there is no transparency, no democratic values, and it doesn’t work within anything close to what are co-operative values. It just plants a builder and that’s it.

‘All our self-development is based on environmental, social, economic, political and cultural values, and our fight is not to increase how much sq feet we get, or how tall the building is. We aren’t profit-oriented.  Our fight has substance.’

Armed men broke into a small room where he along with protesting residents held their meetings on the 30th of October this year. He was attacked by eight men in August of 2009. A large number of false cases of dacoity and extortion were put on him long before the SRA project, when he was instead investigating the role of a local Shiv Sena corporator and future MLA, Shantaram Chavan, who has now passed on, who was also involved in trying to bring a builder into Ramnagar.

On the 23rd of November, another resident Santosh Hinghe, whose house is still protesting against the demolition, complained to the apathetic police at Vikhroli Park Side Police station, that the construction of the building was damaging his home, but was instead beaten up by two constables.

Suspicion and violence is now a way of life in Ghatkopar’s Ramnagar.

A man was murdered on the 1st of October, 2012, yet all parties claim this has nothing to do with the project.

Dozens had even attacked those protesting against the project on the 1st of June, 2011, after the government agreed to investigate the project after Medha Patkar’s hunger strike.

The Slum Rehabilitation project in Ramnagar is one of 15 projects across Mumbai including Golibar and Sion, that the government had initially agreed to investigate after Medha Patkar’s 9-day hunger strike in May of last year. Since then the government relegated on its promise and the matter is now in the High Court.

Shailesh Gandhi’s petition in the High Court stated in 2006 itself that there around 89 SRA projects where there are ‘Forged  signatures  of  slum  dwellers  to  show  that  they  are  agreeable  to  the  developer’ and ‘Names of non-existent slum-dwellers being listed to increase free sale component’  (both allegations also exist in Ramnagar). The case led to the creation of the High Powered Committee whose record of offering relief to slum dwellers against demolition drives is an emphatic zero.

The government has claimed that all the controversies regarding SRA projects such as Ramnagar should be looked at by this committee which few slum dwellers have faith in.

‘The committee is completely anti-slum and pro-builder,’ Says Sandeep Yeole, ‘It exists so people don’t take all these forgery cases to the High Courts and stretch the project on and on, but to finish them then and there if they go to the committee.’

Sandeep believes in the long fight, and claims he is not afraid of any of the consequences. He is aware that he is a targeted man, but also knows that there is a quiet majority that sees the sense of self-development, considering that the SRA scheme has failed. His weapon, against those he claims the builder has: the police, the courts, the violence, is to inform people about what the SRA scheme really is. ‘Out of the 18 societies, Lal Kila society chased the builder away when he couldn’t answer their questions.’

 ‘What do I gain by committing forgery?

Praful Satra photo for part 3

Praful Satra, Managing Director of Satra Developers, responds to the controversies regarding the Satra hills project

Satra Hills, covers a plot area of 29,168 sq m, and is at an estimated cost of 275 crores. Five rehabilitation buildings will be built for the slum dwellers, while high-end apartments with swimming pools, a hi-tech gymnasium, and grand entrance lobbies will be built for free sale.

A few homes still unbroken, surrounded by the remnants of broken walls, are scattered around the construction site. It was here that Mangesh Khopde’s home stood, once upon a time, but now has literally been plummeled into rubble, along with his medicines to keep him sane, propelling him into a downward spiral that led him to the Sion hospital.

Praful Satra believes himself to be a veteran to Slum Rehabilitation Projects, referring to, and dismissing other builders in the city who failed to work at the few places in Mumbai where land is still available. In an interview lasting just under an hour, he reiterates repeatedly that he has the consent of the majority of the slum dwellers.

‘We have 98% consent, only 25 people are still protesting and they are all being misguided. In 2006, I had 75% consent, and today I have more than 98% consent.’

‘Can you tell me why there are allegations of forgery coming from some of the slum dwellers?

‘See forgery doesn’t even happen. It’s not possible. Andar ka shabd hota hai, see if there are 2000 people, and out of them 2 haven’t signed, and one think they will blackmail the builder, milenge, jayenge, then the one will say, the queries have been satisfied and will sign, aur usko bolega, I haven’t signed, both will fight, but he has!’

‘So this is a local problem?’

‘See if someone tells you there is forgery. Ask yourself, why does anyone commit forgery? And why do the forgery when you are getting an official majority? Do you have anything to gain from committing forgery?’

‘But there are documents available from the SRA, the complaints that have been written….’

‘See, no one has sent me any complaints, I have not gotten anything from any agency or anyone.’

‘There is a man who has four different kinds of signatures on four different kinds of documents.’

‘See, the society gives me the papers. The consent. I don’t know who is this, who is that, and it is attested in front of 10 or 11 people, not in front of me.’

‘Mr. Satra, if you have done everything legally, then let’s turn the question around. There are countless of projects in Mumbai from the SRA which are taken to the high court with instances of forgery. So why are people talking about forgery?’

‘We will talk about ourselves, And we haven’t done any forgery, and whatever consent we got from the Ramnagar Co-operative society, we got, we got the LOI, the CC, the environmental clearance and we have doing everything as per the rules. But there are some people, two-three, people, who’re misguiding other people. There is this one man, Sandeep Yeole, who is meeting everyone and he is telling people the wrong things. And just 25 people listen to him. He has never met me, never called me. And we replied to his letters asking what is his problem? And come and meet us, and what is your problem?’

‘Tell me more about Sandeep Yeole.’

‘See, I know, this man, he has an NGO, he just wants to give everyone a house. And that’s what I want to do. I want to give everyone a house too. See, you are an NGO, aap accha kaam karte ho, I love you, ok fine, aap bahut accha aadmi ho, aap paisa nahi kahte ho, very good. I am a builder and all builders have a bad name, but out of 2000 builders not everyone is the same.’

‘Can you tell me about the role of Shankar Mhadik of National Congress party. It is known that one needs the patronage of a political party to pacify the people. In your capacity, do you feel that this idea about forgery is in-fighting between different political parties?’

‘See I will speak about my own case. I will only talk about my case, nothing general. See like I said before, there are 2000 people, and people have been there for 70 years, and everyone is a legal tenant. And 98% is legal. There is very little controversy as everyone is legal. And I am a a builder, I have nothing to do with any political party. Internally, a slum is known as a political vote bank, and all parties are there, NCP, Shiv Sena, Congress, MNC, BJP, and on the hill, candidates from three parties are winning – MNC, BJP and Shiv Sena, what do I have to do with them?’

‘But if you have to work with the community?’

‘See in 2006, no one would go there. No one was interested. And because of will and experience, we went there, hum himmat kiya, and we were successful.’

‘Can you tell me why Mangesh Khopde who had a psychotic breakdown, is protesting against demolition and the project?’

‘There are some 20-30 who are protesting with this Sandeep Yeole. And this man Mangesh’s father, apart from him, all are ready to leave. His children, his wife. And we have the transit camp ready for them. We are giving 7000 per rent. And the cheque for 18 months is also there. And this is one of four such cases. And we did a meeting with them. And they want money. Unofficially. We refused. They want five lakhs, and if we give five lakhs to 2000 people, 100 crore ho jata hai. They wanted five lakhs, and I have never given anyone money. This is what I heard. Not directly. Through media.’

‘Now under 33-38 rule, those who still protest have to go through a process with the builder. And this man, who is protesting, is with Sandeep Yeole, and they want to develop the whole society by themselves. Sometimes they want a 500 sq feet home, and we can only go as per SRA rules where it is 269, and if tomorrow the government, gives 300, we will do it.’

Do you feel Sandeep Yeole is working for another builder?’

‘No, this man, he’s a good man. He wants everyone to have a house. So do I’.

‘I am not doing anything wrong. I am with people. I am working for them. And I have to make the tenements, and for those who are legal, I got to give them a house, and those who are illegal, I got to give the PAP to the government. What benefit is there for me?’

‘But you will have free sale flats? You are making very high-end apartments?’

‘And we have amenities. If we didn’t have them, we wont sell anything.’

‘And a swimming pool?’

‘See the first building I am making for the Slumdwellers of Ghatkopar will be the top building in Mumbai. I am giving them a flowerbed, a balcony, parking, and a swimming pool. For them.’

‘Different buildings for free sale and different for the slums? Swimming pools for both?’

‘No, different for slumdwellers and different for free sale. Tum aaj jhopad pati meh rehte ho, bahar jaa ke sandas karte ho, machar hai, nalla hai. And we are giving all the amenities and people are trusting us, and those who are protesting, they will come eventually.’