New Delhi: As one traverses the road flanked by heaps of garbage on one side and poorly constructed, densely populated colonies on the other, the road ends with a makeshift cloth canopy, under which around 50 individuals have been sitting since May 9. Behind them is a vast expanse of debris that was home to thousands of people until last week. After bulldozers destroyed their homes, the residents of Tughlakabad started a hunger strike near the debris left behind by the demolition. According to the protesters, despite pleading for justice from the judiciary, media and local elected representatives, the residents couldn’t save their homes, leaving them no option but to resort to the hunger strike to bring attention to their plight.
Tughlakabad is adjacent to affluent neighbourhoods like C.R Park and Greater Kailash, highlighting the stark inequality that exists not only in human rights reports but also in the lived experiences of its inhabitants.
As reported earlier, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) carried out a demolition drive in the area in the first week of May, leaving thousands of residents here homeless, without providing any rehabilitation. The area’s economic profile indicates that it primarily comprises a working-class community where residents work as domestic help, security guards, street vendors and factory workers. Most women workers work in the nearby area of C.R Park and Greater Kailash as domestic help.
The demolition drive has resulted in homelessness for the residents of the area, who are now facing several other social issues ranging from women’s safety to lack of education and hunger.
Homelessness and Hunger
Two primary issues that have become the talking point being repeated by each community member here are homelessness and hunger. Despite the demolition that has left no trace of homes, the area’s residents have refused to leave. Most of the families here have set up tents in the same place where once their houses stood. Others have started shifting towards the adjacent jungle.
Additionally, the locals report a sharp rise in rent in the surrounding area with at least a 20% -30% rise. Sarita Devi’s tent in the jungle validates this fact. Due to the high rent, she couldn’t afford a house in the surrounding area. She works as a domestic help in CR Park and is now forced to live with her four kids in a tent.
The other woman in the area echoed her concern and other issues, such that landlords prefer to rent properties to families with fewer people. Due to this, Sindhu (31) and her four children are staying in a tent on the debris of their former home.
“They want small families to rent out their properties. If someone with four children approaches the landlords, it’s a straight rejection for them. Also, even if someone rents the property to a large family, the rent is skyrocketing. We can’t afford that much,” she added.
Amid the scorching heat of May in the national capital, the inability to have two square meals a day has become a primary concern for families here in Tughlakabad. Many women reportedly here have been unable to go to work for the past week and have not received any aid or assistance from civil society organisations in the form of food or water. Giving an example of the lack of empathy towards the residents here, Ritu (35) pointed out
“The NGO here is distributing food to the stray dogs, but they can’t see thousands of human beings with hungry stomachs,” she said. Also, the lack of support has been exacerbated by the scorching heat.
“The combination of inflation and high prices makes it difficult to afford food from outside sources. The demolition not only took away our homes but threatened our lives,” she added.
Women’s Safety and the Future of Education
Women’s safety has emerged as a significant concern among the residents who have set up their tents around the nearby jungles. Sarita expressed her fear of drunk men, which has increased since the demolition drive. She is worried about her elder daughter, who is 15 years old and has to leave her at her workplace in CR Park. She moves back and forth between the protest site and the tent during the day, as leaving the tent unattended would result in losing all her belongings.
The fear of women’s safety has been a recurring theme among the residents, especially women. Protesters here also question the PM’s much-used slogan ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’, which according to them, is nothing but a farce.
Another concern that has been grappling the residents with anger and anxiety is the loss of education that their children are enduring due to the demolition. Laxmi(40), a mother of three, has worked in the factory for the last nine years. She, along with her family, has been living in the area for the last eight years. She alleged that due to the sudden eviction, she did not get time to collect her belongings and documents of her children.
“I didn’t want my children to work in the factory like me. Now their documents are lying under this debris. The way this eviction took place, it didn’t even give us time to collect the educational documents of my children,” she said.
Since the demolition drive, the locality kids have stopped going to school. Several parents here have received calls from the schools threatening to cancel the admission of their children in case of more absences. The parents can also not provide a stable environment for the children due to the lack of housing, electricity, and water. The loss of education due to this drive also raised some serious questions about the government—commitment towards the right to education.
The residents also questioned the way the drive was organised. According to them, no notice was served to them before the drive. The only notice sent out to them by the ASI was sent in January.
“The officials should have informed them a week or at least 24 hours before uprooting a population of almost 20,000,” added Laxmi.
Speaking with NewsClick, ASI’s spokesperson Vasant Kumar Swarnkar defended the government’s position on how the demolition occurred. According to Mr Swarnkar, the residents were served with a notice in the month of January only and given a time of 15 days to evict the area. He further said the ASI can not harbour illegal construction around archaeological sites.
Regarding providing rehabilitation to the residents, he stated, “Rehabilitation is a matter of the state, and ASI can not comment on the matter of the state.”
Political Class’s Lack of Empathy
It is a point to note that the ruling parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, have not shown much interest in the issues that the residents are facing here. The lack of empathy from their representative was visible in the conversations that were taking place at the protest site. The locals had reported that when they met the local MP Ramesh Bidhuri in January to help them, he accused them of voting for AAP in the local Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) election and used abusive language towards them. NewsClick also attempted to contact Mr Bidhuri at his residence in the same area, but he was unavailable as he had gone to Karnataka for the upcoming assembly election.
However, the Delhi Urban Development Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj from the AAP has suggested that alternative arrangements should be made for the displaced residents of Tughlakabad whose homes have been demolished. Still, no representative from his party has met the victims yet.