“The birth department of the Gods realized that there was a mistake when it found out that a handsome, cute, healthy and fair-complexioned infant was born in the house of a poor labour class family, whom the Gods did not create to enjoy human rights. Despite this infant having a compelling smile which made even the Gods feel jealous. It was the curse given by the Gods to the family for no reason but only to maintain a hierarchical order, to test their ability to survive in the harshest situation like, life without any integrity, respect, shelter, food and other human rights, to compel them to forever depend on the fate, which is pre-decided anyway by the will of the Gods and by force of birth. After realizing their mistake the birth department wrote an application to the headquarter, apologizing that they made a mistake which cannot be undone, the mistake of sending a prince to a slum, in a family where the beauty of such a prince would feel ashamed.
After giving services and some gold to the intermediate department and after tolerating the rebuke of his bosses, in between the six months, the application reached the headquarter. The application falls in the headquarter office like an atom bomb. First, the boss called the officers of the birth department and pretends how busy the boss has been in the welfare work of the humans and their employees. Then they cried and issued a notice to kill the handsome prince immediately. And the work had to be done by the birth department only. The birth department has never done anything with killing so it contacted the death department, which was miles away, in the outskirts of the campus, where all the waste of God’s welfare department was dumped. At first, the death department refused the job by saying that it is the fault of the birth department, not theirs but suddenly it realized it’s position so it said there is a way, such that both will not be a part of this sinful act and the work was transferred to humans, those humans, who are in power with the enjoyment of more rights than they deserve. And lastly, the handsome prince was killed and normalcy was restored.”
I wrote the above extract in 2017 when the Kathputali Colony situated in the National Capital Region (NCR) was demolished. In October 2017, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had ordered the demolition of the slum areas of West Delhi and during the demolition, the residents protested and the police used tear gases and resorted to lathi-charge in order to disperse the protesters. It took five days for the demolition of the entire Kathputali Colony after which a one-year-old child died.
Demolition of slums is not a new phenomenon in Delhi or any other Indian city. Recently the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of slums located near railway tracks in Delhi. The court also ordered the state to ensure the resettlement of the population to different places in the city. However, the court and government are going to ensure the demolition of “illegal” settlements in the cities but the resettlement has a completely different story. Resettlement of slum dwellers depends on the number of papers they possess and the days they can survive without any shelter.
Let’s take a few examples from Delhi to understand the genesis of slums and slum dwellers and the consequent story of the demolition of slums and resettlement of slum dwellers. The following stories emerged when I was involved in recording the narratives of daily wage earners who lived in slums, while I was pursuing my postgraduate studies in Social Work.
Story from Slum
In 1979, Umesh Yadav migrated to Azadpur Mandi in Delhi from Purnea, Bihar, after a cyclone hit his village and only one single crop could be cultivated. He started selling fruits in the city. But he did not earn enough money to sustain in the city so he decided to work as a daily wage earner. After some time, he shifted to Rohini in search of work. He recalls the time that India had hosted the 9th Asian Game and to beautify the capital city for this occasion the contractor had brought labourers from rural areas, especially from Bihar, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh. When the labourers came to Delhi to build these magnificent buildings, the workers were allowed to build makeshift dwellings nearby the construction sites. Even after the completion of the buildings, the daily wage earners remained in those makeshift houses, wherein gradually the city grew and the slums were pushed out of the city either by the government officials or by the private companies who had managed to buy land from the government.
In 2006, Bannuwal Basti, a slum was demolished by the government and the slum dwellers were pushed to Bawana which was 30 kilometres away from the basti (colony). The daily wage earners had been living in that basti for the last twenty years. In the new settlement in Bawana, which has now become one of the biggest slum areas in Delhi, they were not provided with any facilities: transport, water, electricity and toilets, despite being compelled to move in the name of resettlement. Slowly, after a few months, people started getting some compensation for the resettlement but a lot of individuals were left out.
How does Resettlement Work?
Before the demolition of the slums, the government officials survey the area in which they record the documents of residents and identity proof. Based on that survey, the DDA issues a demand draft. Only with that demand draft, can one can get a plot distributed by the authorities at the new location. However, the survey is not a pre-informed process, so the residents, who do not know about it, often miss the paperwork because they either have gone to work or somewhere else. Thus, those absent from home are naturally not included in the survey which further results in their ineligibility to get a plot at a newly assigned location. Sometimes, officials do not conduct surveys thoroughly or they do not fill the right information and such errors render few residents ineligible to get new plots according to the survey. Even people who have their names in the survey but are unable to show their residential or identity proof, get excluded from obtaining the demand draft and hence, from getting the plot. The process is not a simple one at all. It is not concerned about human needs. These were a few reasons why so many people who were eligible in reality but not on paper. They were not eligible to get the plot because either they were not present during the survey conducted by the officials or were unable to produce identity proof and resident proof in front of the officials. Nobody considers the fact that some people have lost their documents during the government-mandated demolition of their slums.
Migration can be seen in two aspects: first, the failure of the home state and second, the necessity of labour in the city. If people do not migrate to cities in search of work then there will be a scarcity of labour force. To maintain the status of the city, a massive labour force is needed and the migrant population constitutes the large chunk of this labour force.
As we previously witnessed in Umesh Yadav’s story, like him many labourers were brought during the Asian Games in 1982, to build the infrastructure of the city. However, the government did not plan for their resettlement or plan to ensure their right to shelter. Earlier this year, in February, when Donald Trump visited Gujarat, the slums were walled similarly during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, wherein the slums were covered with colourful sheets. The dignity of slum dwellers was ignored in both of these cases. The policy-makers need to make a robust and inclusive policy for the resettlement of slum-dwellers.
About the author: Ajit Kumar is an M.Phil. scholar in Department of Social Work (DSSW), University of Delhi. He has worked as Junior Research Fellow in Educational Survey Division of NCERT. He has done Masters in Social Work from DSSW. During his masters, he was engaged with the Hazards Centre, an NGO working with daily wage earner.