On the 16th of November, eight bulldozers rolled into Bhim Chhaya, a predominantly Dalit basti in Vikhroli East and over the next two days, flattened over 700 homes. Parts of the basti were set on fire and many people could not even salvage their belongings. Bhim Chhaya was one of the 19 settlements that was to be declared a slum as per the Government Resolution, after Medha Patkar’s fast in Golibar in May. Once declared a slum, they would have been eligible for housing under the Rajiv Awas Yojna, irrespective of when they settled there.
Most people moved to Bhim Chhaya in the late 90s when it was just a swamp. Despite having settled the land over many years, during full moon nights when the tide is high, the basti is knee deep in sewage water. People who live here are daily-wagers – we met a woman who sells garlic near the station to feed her four little kids and ailing husband, another who washes dishes in five houses to support her family. Over the last one year, the PDS shop has been refusing to give them their ration; Instead it has been cancelling their ration cards, asking them for proof by way of electricity bills.
Families have been sleeping either on the footpath, or in the empty ground where the basti had stood. As night approaches and the police vans leave, bamboo structures covered with blue tarpaulin and political banners are quickly propped up for the elderly and children to sleep in. Then in the morning, just as quickly, they are torn down before the police arrive. Meanwhile, a bulldozer works through the day, digging trenches through the land. Three children were injured in the demolition; most others have been missing school to stay back to help their parents.
The police claim this is encroached forest land, but there are other buildings, including one built three months ago by the MNS that stand on the same plot. The residents of Bhim Chhaya are on a dharna just outside their basti land. They do not wish to be rehabilitated elsewhere. They demand pattas to their land, basic facilities like toilets and an anganwadi and the reinstatement of their ration cards.
It has been a morale-booster for the residents of Bhim Chhaya to see people from other slums-Ambujwadi, Golibar, Sion Koliwada, coming to support them. If you would like to lend your support in any way, please call Sandeep Yevle at 98193 07417 or Uday Bhai at 86524 35041.