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Kunti, a class 12th student and resident of J J Resettlement Colony, Savda Ghevra recalls the very first days of their ‘resettlement’ from slums in Laxmi Nagar to desolate fields of Ghevra, with a sense of weariness she said – “When we came here first it was monsoon and the field was filled with water and we had to build tents over our beds.” Sitting in her computer class, run by an NGO, she spoke to me while gazing at the computer screen. She said there were so many tiny similar looking tents all across the field that in the mornings, after freshening up somewhere far away, upon her return she often got lost as she could not identify her ‘house’ and used to cry for help. It’s been five years since the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and, over a decade since the Delhi Government’s slum annihilation drive first began to beautify the Capital. The drive was indispensible, carried out with sheer apathy for those who, for the government were not human beings but some filthy living creatures who could threaten to tarnish the shining edifice of the Commonwealth games. On the assumption that foreign dignitaries and participants otherwise had not known of poor slum dwellers or labour camps in India or Delhi. Usually the norm is to first create and then demonize the ‘other’ to garner legitimacy to fight them but in this case there was no need. The government had nothing to say about these ‘other’ sub humans before they were to be crushed and thrown far off, so far that even if they wished to return they would think many times and give up eventually. This was not just structural violence it was outright State sponsored active violence on unarmed civilians. The case of Yamuna Pushta Slum Thokar No. 8 was the blatant show of state barbarity where the police burnt down slum shelters when inhabitants resisted the demolition. Anxious residents fled out of their houses to save their lives, whatever remained was immediately razed over by bulldozers. Ghevra is inhabited by people who formerly lived in slums from across the capital. Many of these families had migrated to Delhi, lakhs of them during the 1982 Asian Games as labour force to prepare for its infrastructure. And after more than two decades they were thrown out for Commonwealth Games. The Government never gave any compensation for destroying their houses, their livelihood and school education. All that they were provided with were trucks that would speedily load their belongings and dump them into open fields with not even basic sanitation and health facilities. People were expected to defecate in the open but special portable toilets were made available for females. These were cabins placed on small pits; upon overflow the users themselves would clear the muck filled pits with cans. There were only two hand pumps, with only one functional to serve more than 3000 people who would walk 15 mins to reach there. Whatever temporary structures people tried to create would often succumb to thunder storms. Nandini Mazumder, who worked in Ghevra in 2011 recalls her experience- “The place was full of filth and lacks almost all the basic facilities required for a human habitation. Even sewage and drainage is lacking. Shocking since even the Harappan’s got it right. Most importantly the houses stand on weak foundations and have inherent defects in the way they are built. One day a house collapsed around 2-2.30 p.m. When I reached the place, people were crying, families were discovering the dead bodies of their children under the rubble.” Many students had to drop out of school as it was simply impossible to travel for 3 hrs to and fro and only resumed school when Government schools were installed in Ghevra. Many youngsters took up temporary labor work and had to drop out as their parent’s gave up their jobs in Delhi. The schools have poor quality education and sanitation, for many older kids it is routine to mark their attendance in the morning, throw the bags in the classrooms and climb out through the school walls, often many of them return drunk or drugged to school. In situations of extreme poverty even the children who attend school have poor mental health resulting in high overall drop out rate. Those who were relocated from Khan Market in 2009 were promised plots in Ghevra only if they possessed a house number in their labour camp or had a ration card. And these plots were only promised on lease for an amount of Rs 7000. So many people who worked in Delhi and were perhaps the only earning members of their families were totally shattered. So far many of them continue to travel for almost 3 hours to reach their place of work, spending a major chunk of their salaries on travel and even though there is public transport that connects Ghevra with the rest of Delhi-NCR there is no consistency, there are no direct buses and travel is particularly difficult for women. There is no Police security in the long sparsely inhabited stretch from Mundka Metro station (last station of the Green line) to Ghevra, after 6 pm it is impossible to spot women. The early morning bus at 5 am from the colony gets jam packed from its very first stop. By the time it reaches other stops its almost impossible for the women to board it. The level of intoxication is so high that 8-10 years old boys are seen drunk on the streets. Alcohol that is brewed locally in neighboring areas is available for an affordable price, 20 Rs per bottle. “When we first came here in 2009, it was easier to arrange alcohol than food”- Rajesh Lal, resident of J.J Colony who travels for 6 hours everyday to work in Central Delhi. The bottles are delivered during the dark before dawn. People who sell it have dug pits under their beds in their small houses to store it. The local police are party to this illegal vending for a 100-200 Rs every time they are on the patrol. It runs into tens of thousands if they catch the delivery carriages. Unemployed and frustrated men put their meager savings into gamble and drugs. Low pay temporary jobs with hard labour, and in total 6 hours of travel amounts to such frustration levels that most people only find solace in intoxication. The resources earned entirely by a family are unevenly distributed owing to the huge gender inequality. Women suffer worst manifestations of physical and sexual abuse; broken ribs to gang rapes in the desolate fields have only been ignored and under-reported. In the end most parents choose to restrict the movement of their girls outside the household and they are forever doomed into the dungeons of few steps of walled space. Women suffer with extremely bad sexual and maternity health. Young girls at school receive sanitary napkins at maximum twice a month. There is only one dispensary for thousands of people; the nearest hospital is Sanjay Gandhi Hospital in Mangolpuri that is approximately 14 kms from Savda Ghevra. In times of emergencies the 14 km of stretch becomes impossible to cover as one has to first cross the railway barricade. Overtime most people managed to build small concrete rooms over the plots they were allocated. But most of them still can’t afford to build a toilet as there is no space at all. There are a few community water borne latrines managed by local people on contract basis but these are poorly maintained and not enough for thousands of people. Thus most people continue to defecate in the open, around puddles of stagnant water along with other domesticated animals. To justify Government action many absurd reasons were given and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had this to say about the slum dwellers- “this influx of population has resulted in the increase in population of the city, pressure on civic amenities, crime, social imbalances, economic exploitation, unplanned growth, deterioration of city beautification, culture, environmental setback to city development in a planned manner etc” So if these people were such a big harm to the city, its ‘culture’ and ‘beauty’, that they continually be shoed away, why let them settle in cities in the first place? Oh but who will carry those bricks, who will clear out those drains? Hence their lives be planted as and where it meets the labour needs of the mega structures and be bulldozed when the urban needs are replete. After this so called ‘resettlement’ that has made their lives only more unsettling, worse than their slum huts, cutting them further from the mainstream (geographically) the government has systematically re-isolated them. With extremely low self esteem and no support for mainstream education and job opportunities these people are pushed to the periphery every time. In their fight for survival and to break this cycle of deprivation many vulnerable youngsters give up and fall prey to incitement, leading them into theft and crime.
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WE are living in a world that is governed by rules and regulations for everything, created not by anyone else but by US only. The walls of these rules and regulations are so high that one wonders what to speak, think even sometimes what to feel. Everything seems possessed and in chaos. Amidst all this pandem
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