Maharashtra Nagar demolitions – a report by Trisha Paralkar
“These trees are proof that we’ve been staying here for 20 years.”
“This place was a swamp when we came here. The tree behind me that stands so tall today was not planted recently; it is atleast 20 years old. It was obviously we who planted these trees and they’ve grown to tower us. Isn’t that proof enough that we have been staying here much before 1995. We built the land that you stand on today. It was all a marshy place back then.”, says Narayan of Bhim Nagar, a basti in Maharashtra Nagar in Mankhurd.
It is a rare sight to see tall coconut trees grow on a land that was always called a ‘khaadi’ or a swamp. Maharashtra Nagar has trees as old as 20 years that stand tall and sturdy. One wonders why the people who planted these trees are being uprooted.
On the 7th and 8thof May 2012, a bulldozer made its way rumbling through the sprawling bastis of Maharashtra Nagar in Mankhurd. The ‘pakka’ houses of Maharashtra Nagar and Samta Nagar were not demolished. But 2000 ‘kuchcha’ houses in Ambedkar Nagar, Indira Nagar and Bhim Nagar were bull dozed down to rubble.
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An old woman sitting under a tarpaulin sheet held together by two bamboo sticks is looking intently as her daughter and son in law are working hard on rebuilding their house. Theirs is the first house in Ambedkar Nagar and they have gathered some tin sheets and a few sticks with which they plan to make their house where it stood before the demolition. When asked about the purpose of the demolition, the son in law, Tole bhau, said, “The demolition supposedly took place following a complaint by the Navy. Our houses are around 500 to 600 feet away from the land owned by the Navy and those houses that are 50 feet away from the Navy weren’t demolished. Why did the government have to target our houses?” This resonates of the Adarsh Building Scam where buildings were constructed in Army sensitive areas but have still not been demolished due to the political force riding behind it.
Anandi of Bhim Nagar lives in a small 10X10 space built on a small pedestal with tin sheets for a roof. She has a small 2-month-old baby lying next to her trying to suck out the last drop of milk from the bottle. The child is her grandson and she is worried about the child being exposed to the harsh sun. She says, “ We’ve been here from before 1995. My kids have all grown up here. It’s always been the same here. We have erratic water supply and no one bothers to help us.” This Tamilian family has been staying here for more than 20 years. Anandi’s husband says, “ When we came here this entire area was a swamp. The water level was almost up to our chest. We are the ones who reclaimed all this land and made our houses on it. And now the Government is trying to eradicate us. I do not understand this step motherly behaviour and they might as well throw us out of the city than treating us like that.” Sunita Singh from Bhim Nagar says how difficult it is for her daughters to take a bath or use the toilet and though the government has built toilets in the basti they have to pay two rupees every time they use it. She urges for better facilities and a stop to these demolitions.
All of them echo how no amount of Proof or paperwork will satisfy the officials. Anandi’s brother in law, Narayan says how it is impossible for a group of illiterate people to fight against the system. He says, “The ‘jhopaddpatti’ needs a strong leader who will be able to fight for us. The Government is obviously on the side of the rich and powerful but then why do they come to us during elections? It is evident that the poor get fooled into voting for these ‘netas’ under pretentious promises and then they raze our homes down. The government asks for proof that we’ve been staying here since 1995 but they forget that we were the ones who built this land from the swamps. Now what sort of a proof does the government need? It’s a vicious circle of corruption and we are always in a state of constant fear”.
The people here have been told that their homes will be bulldozed again on 18th, 25th or the 28th of May. This fear inhibits them from building their houses again.
“The months of January to May are spent dreading the demolition and the latter half of the year is spent in rehabilitation. “ says Narayan.