Pledges, Poha, and the People’s Parliament

“Desh hith ke naam par lakhon karodo ujadenge,
Aisi azaadi par, o logon, garv kya kar payenge!”

Jamila came all the way from Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Mankhurd, to Golibar Khar East for our January 26th rally. She’s a young woman, mother of two. Her life is under threat from ‘dalla’s’ of the builders, the kachha house she lives in is under threat of demolition, and yet, Jamila is one of the leaders of a land movement that is gaining momentum across the city, and indeed across the country.

The five hundred people of Ganesh Krupa Society and its neighbouring Societies attended and participated in a Republic Day rally. This was held on the ‘Sangharsh Maidaan’- this is what the ground has been named- the very ground where the police roughed up the residents and forced an entry into the Society on January 20, 2011.

The meeting was addressed by former Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Suresh Hosbet, Gandhian leader Medha Patkar, Director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences Dr. Parshuraman, land rights activist Daniel Mazgaonkar, Vivek Pandit, writer-academician Chaaya Datar, and Dalit poet Sambhaji Bhagat.

Together the gathering pledged:
– Unity among themselves against a corrupt system; to expose this corruption and to never be corrupt themselves.
– To be more understanding towards the police who have harassed them so far. They understood that the policemen and women come under great pressure from their seniors and therefore become aggressive with their common brothers and sisters.
– To insist on a government inquiry against Shivali Ventures – all documents and legalities they obtained to “redevelop” Golibar to be put under the scanner. The inquiry must be sanctioned in 15 days.
– Self-Development: The leaders of Golibar’s Societies decided to hold Basti Sabhas in a first step towards developing a strategy to redevelop their land themselves. The SRA has such a provision in its Salient Features: “Facilitating measure in the form of additional 5% incentive commercial area is available to the projects being implemented by either a society of slum dwellers directly or a NGO.”
– To attend and invite members of the media, government and civil society to the JAN SANSAD or People’s Parliament to be held on March 4th and 5th 2011, at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar. Here, basic issues of Water, Housing and Health will be discussed. The people will share their views, and actionable decisions will be taken by the people themselves.

“The problem of the poor being run off the land is more acute in Mumbai than everywhere else,” said Justice Suresh Hosbet, former Supreme Court judge, while eating poha in a “courtyard” carved out by the demolition team on an earlier visit to Ganesh Krupa Society . “All across the country, in every major city, the houses of the poor are being demolished in order to build luxury housing, multiplexes and shopping malls.

“These are brick-and-mortar houses, over forty years old. The judge on this case should pay a visit and see this place. People who have lived here so long have a right to be heard more mercifully by the Court. Twenty-five to 30 years ago, the Courts upheld the Indian Constitution’s Article 21 – The right to a home, as part of the Right to Life…”

When asked about the Slum Rehabilitation Act, Justice Suresh said, “The SRA should be scrapped. It is unconstitutional. By the time MHADA decides who is even eligible to be redeveloped, out of every 1000 people, not even 200 get a home. The rest are simply driven out. I’m seeing this happen in every major city. The builder has a profit motive. Inevitably irregularities surface. The poor move the Courts, the Courts put their case aside, and the poor man’s house is demolished. The SRA law itself is wrong. It works in favour of private gain, not for the good of the people.”

What would be a better way to “develop” slum-occupied land then?

“Every slum needs proper roads, running water, electricity and sewage facilities. If the State can provide this, the people can build on this very land, buildings upto four storeys high, which won’t require lifts and the resultant maintenance costs. The government can give the people loans. Banks and people can raise money to develop their slums. No need for SRA. Just improve this place!”

After having made poha and chai for all the guests at the rally, and attended it, some of the women of GKS began to sort through bagfuls of new clothes purchased for the families whose belongings had been forceably shifted into the transit camps.

In the days since the demolition of 19 houses, the people of various Societies of Golibar have helped to rebuild the lives of the affected. They offered shramdaan, clearing all the rubble of the demolition and refastening front doors on their hinges. They run a community kitchen and they have contributed money for the purchase of clothes and other essentials.

The place is stumbling back to its feet, cheered a little by the support of the larger Golibar community, the Press and support from civil society. But there is the lingering terror of the demolition squad which could arrive before they receive justice in the various litigations underway against Shivalik Ventures. For the working-class, the violent disruption of daily life, is taking its hard toll.

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