Archive for the ‘Urbanisation’ Category

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

July 22, 2013

IMG_9554Meghala (2006-2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her neighbours were visibly absent. Poverty is loneliness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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A Subaltern Guide To Filmmaking

June 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Invisible Cities: Part Eleven: Demolition City

June 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Bhim Chhaya was one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Structural Violence Built For The Homeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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