Invisible Cities: What Really Killed Baby Mohite?

Javed Iqbal ( Moonchasing)

The residents of Bhim Chhayya at Vikhroli have been on an indefinite dharna since the 19th of November, 2011. While they have been demanding land rights and a right to a home as per the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna, they have also been demanding justice for the death of 14 month old Jayesh Mohite who drowned in one of the miasmic ditches dug by civic authorities to prevent further ‘encroachment.’

The Vikhoroli police, at the behest of angry residents included the names of the Mumbai suburban collector Nirmalkumar Deshmukh and deputy collector Shivajirao Davbhat into the First Information Report, charging them under Section 299, 304 along with Section 304A, which states – whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide.

The officials filed for anticipatory bail in the courts and the Deputy Commissioner of Police had cleared the officials of the charges and had instead submitted a three-page report detailing how the boy’s family are encroachers and anti-social elements.

Yet before they were ‘encroachers’, in May 2011, the government had relented to a 9-day hunger strike by social activist Medha Patkar that had demanded, besides investigating fraud in the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, to also declare 19 settlements as slums under Section 5 of the Maharashtra Slum Area Act.

Bhim Chhaya was one of them.

The right of a settlement to be called a slum would’ve given them rights and protected them from further demolition drives – the settlement was demolished repeatedly, ‘from 2001, almost every year’ according to the Suburban Deputy Collector Davbhat himself. The government however, relegated on its promise and the settlement was exposed to demolitions once again, when on the 16th of November, 2011, the bulldozers had arrived and ran through the settlement, burning down parts of their homes, and dug up ditches to make the land unlivable.

A little less than a month later, on the 12th of December, Jayesh Mohite drowned in a ditch that wouldn’t have existed if the government kept its word.

Shivajirao Davbhat mentions that the government resolution regarding the declaration of Bhim Chhaya as a slum, whose matter is now in the High Court, concerns the homes of older slums, not newer ones. He would emphasize the point that the residents are all encroachers who don’t have any papers  to show that they have come to Bombay before 1995. A fact that the residents never denied.

Yet of the hundreds of homes demolished, almost all the residents were part of the agitation for a right to a home, and had even been on the two-day rally of thousands from Khar to the Mantralaya on the 28th-29th of June, when old men and women marched in the pouring rain, at times barefoot, hoping to meet the Chief Minister who was being pressurized by the builder lobby to oppose Medha Patkar.

Meanwhile, the land in question, belongs to the Forest Deparment, and the High Court had ordered the protection of all mangrove land in Maharastra in the Writ Petition 3246 of 2004, where it mentions, ‘Regardless of ownership of the land, all construction taking place within 50 metres on all sides of all mangroves shall be forthwith stopped.’

At Bhim Chhaya, a building built by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena right next to the mangrove, is still standing, overlooking the demolished slum.

Structural Violence Built For The Homeless

Jayesh was born on the 22nd of September 2010, his mother was pregnant with him, the last time their homes were demolished in the days between the 9th of March and the 12th of March, 2010.

He was the only son of Uday Mohite, an autorickshaw driver by profession and the un-official leader of the agitating residents, who’ve been fighting for a right to a home since 2005. He hasn’t worked a  day since the notice first arrived asking the residents to vacate the land. After the death of his son, he had gone on a hunger strike which lasted for 19 days, and he had even raised his voice and spoke about the long agitation for the right to a home, at the India Against Corruption rally on the 28th of December, 2011 but their protest goes on quietly in Vikhoroli, it being 66 days since their homes were demolished as of the 24th of January.

‘They’re cancelling our ration cards now,’ Says Uday Mohite, as a group of residents sit around him with their voter IDs, their cancelled cards, the birth certificates of their children.

‘Jhopadpati toot gaya na, toh ration cancel ho gaya,’ said Kantabai Bhimrao Khandkare, one of the women whose cards were cancelled, ‘They want the electricity bill. But do you see any electricity in the thousand homes here?’

‘They say we’re all living on the footpath.’

Around eighteen cards were cancelled after the demolitions in 2010. This time five of them have been cancelled.

When it comes to water, India voted to identify the right to clean water and sanitation as a human right in the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 28th of July, 2010, but in the state of Maharashtra, settlements that have come into existence after 1995, can’t get any water from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The residents are left at the mercy of the water mafia, and have to pay for water, while living an an inexistent home, with the constant risk of demolitions, while trying to make ends meet.

Most of the residents are Matang Dalits without any land holdings, from as far as Jaalna, Solapur, Osmanabad, Buldhana, Beed, Nasik and Latur, who’ve been working in Mumbai as domestic help or as daily wage labourers, who may or may not get work when they go to the nakas.

Sangita Awamisa is a widow and single mother who came to Mumbai forty years ago from Jaalna during the migrations of the 1970s. She earned her living selling lasan and now works as a domestic worker in one of the nearby buildings to support herself and her three children.

Chaeya Taide, spent Rs.7,000 thousand to rebuild her home when it was demolished the last time. She lives with her sister’s family in Bhim Chhaya. Both of them are from Buldhana district and both of them work as labour.

K.Soma Naik is the sole resident who is originally from Andhra Pradesh who has lived in Mumbai for over 30 years. A few years ago, Soma Naik was diagnosed with tuberclosis and eventually developed a tumour in his brain. His family had to sell their house at Kamrannagar to pay for his medical expenses and he moved into one of the empty plots of Bhim Chhaya with his wife, where they filled the marshy ground to build a foundation, and they live off their savings, paying around Rs.4000 every month on medicines alone.

‘A lot of people in the basti work as domestic help in those buildings where there are MHADA people live too,’ a resident points across the small field filled with tarpaulin tents and ditches, where low-cost buildings overlook their own.

Kantilal Shinde, 74 years old, had come from Osmanabad, ‘We put bamboos into the ground and made our homes. Many used to live on the pavement before this.’

A few days after the demolitions, people had gone back to the pavement.

 

This article appears in Daily News Analysis on the 29th of January, 2012