Slums Burning in Delhi Summer: Do the Poor have any Space in this City?

Sunil Kumar

500 meters from Nawada Delhi metro station  lies the kabaadi slum of Matiyala Machli Market. There are  about 125 huts in the slum built from mud and corrugated iron sheets serving both as houses and warehouses. Dalit families from Paswan, Ravidas, Doam and Sau communities from Patna, Nalanda and Sheikpur districts of Bihar have been living here for the last 10 or 12 years. The land belongs to the DDA. But it is also caught in an ownership dispute between Jaikishan Vats (pandit/Brahmin) and Jasbir Solanki (Rajput).  Each is affiliated to a different political party. If Vats collects rent from slum dwellers, Solanki takes money from building material (bricks and gravel) traders of Badarpur. The residents of the slum collect garbage from the streets but do not get paid for it by anyone. Instead they are labelled as thieves and dirty people. Their children are not admitted to schools. There are 250 children under 14 but until a year ago, none of them had been to a school until last year. Due to the efforts of a local teacher, 75 boys were admitted to school last year, but this year, the schools have refused to admit any more. Most of them have done very well in school. There are two secondary schools, four middle schools and three Anganwadi centers within one kilometre distance from the slum and it is the efforts of the teachers of the Akshar Gyan Abhiyan (AGYA) that literacy campaign was conducted in the slum and children were admitted to school last year. But this year, all of this may have come to nought with the fire accident in the slum. (Chances are high that it was not an accident).

Fire broke out on April 16, 2016, when all the residents were away at work. In all, 93 homes were burnt destroying clothes, money, junk, children’s book-copying. Officers had visited, tents were erected in a hurry and pulled out after a day leaving these people exposed to the scorching sun. Mali Arun’s wife sits under the tree with her one month old son trying to shade him with her pallu. Her TV set, and electric fan are both burnt down. There is no electricity and toilets in the slum – and drinking water has to be transported from some distance at 3-4 o’clock in the morning. People living in the nearby houses throw stones and glass bottles at the slum residents when they go out into the open ground to defecate. Yet all that people here ask for is to be allowed to continue to live there. Sona Devi who is over 70 years old says that when they first came here, it was all like a forest and they made their homes there. When people managed to borrow some money and began to reconstruct their lives on April 18th, some people claiming to be from the Nagar Nigam, came to the place with bulldozers and started razing the houses. When the public objected to it, they said they were only there to clear the rubble. Badal says we clear the rubble of the whole world, who are these people suddenly coming over to clear our garbage ? Then they went away but came back again the next day with more people and threatened the residents – move out or we will beat you up. As the people began to pack their things, news came that those who want to stay can stay but they have to pay rent to these new people.

Apart from giving them rotis twice a day, the government has not given them anything. It has not given them any assurance that they can continue to live here. An air of fear is rampant in the area.

Modi government spends crores on Swach Abhiyan, but gives nothing to people who make Swacch Abhiyan a success. On the contrary, their children are  kept away from schools because of their work. We keep hearing Beti Bachao slogans but we do not see daughters being admitted to schools. When there was a fire in sukoor basti, both the chief minister of Delhi Arvind kejriwal and the vice president of the congress Rahul Gandhi, lost no time in arriving there. But neither the central government, nor the state government and the opposition is interested in the people of this slum. Why are the children not being admitted to schools ? Why are the children of people who clear other peoples garbage not allowed to study? Is this the secret of our patriotism? All the three parties BJP, AAP and INC promised to give proper housing to slums during the elections. Ambedkar is in the air today as everyone wants to project himself or herself as the prophet for Dalits. But it all appears to end in jumlebazi.