Fatalities are a common occurrence for the evicted living out in the open in the harsh monsoon
If the summer was harsh, the monsoon has been merciless towards the residents of Ejipura housing colony for economically weaker sections, who were forcibly evicted in January this year to make way for a mall and a residential complex. Two elderly women died on consecutive days this week and one toddler died of the cold a month ago.
Neelamma (60), who was running high temperature for over a week, died on Monday evening in her plastic tent that overlooks the site where the construction of the mall is apace. “The tent got flooded every time it rained. We could take it because we were younger, but Amma was too old,” said Neelamma’s son Kumar (38). Neelamma, Kumar and brother Ramesh (42) shared the tiny tent, which is no larger than an average work cubicle. There are at least two dozen similar tents on the footpath opposite the construction site.
A day earlier, on Sunday morning, the Viveknagar police found the body of 70-year-old Maqbool Jehan on the pavement outside the police station. She too was one of the women who had been displaced by the demolition in January. A police official said Jehan died due to cold and hunger.
“Her mentally challenged daughter Salma (25) has been missing since her death,” said Siddharth, a researcher at IIMB who has been helping the displaced people in his individual capacity.
Riju, whose grocery store overlooks the pavement where Ms. Jehan was found dead, told The Hindu, “The night before she was found, it rained heavily.” Shanta Mary (35), another displaced person, said Ms. Jehan was too old to work.
“She relied on alms to feed her daughter and herself,” she said. While other evicted people at least had enough money to set up tents, Ms. Jehan was left with no option but to sleep in the open. “She feared for the safety of her daughter. That is why she used to sleep in front of the police station,” said Ms. Mary.
A few weeks before these deaths, at 4 a.m. on July 11, there was a birth on the same footpath. Nusrath gave birth to a girl out in the open. Her husband, who had been arrested by the local police on robbery charges, was not present. Hearing her cries, the neighbours rang for a government ambulance. “The ambulance driver cut the umbilical cord,” Nusrath told this reporter.
The ambulance then took her to the Primary Health Centre run by the BBMP in Austin town. Here, the mother was in for another shock.
“The nurse demanded a bribe of Rs. 600 to attend to me and give the birth certificate. I had only Rs. 300. She did not care for the Below Poverty Line card [which entitles her to free healthcare]. “The ambulance driver gave me the rest of the money from his own pocket,” she says.
On June 25, Clara, who lives three tents away from Neelamma’s, lost her 18-month-old daughter to the rain and cold. “I didn’t have enough money to treat my baby Adrena,” Ms. Clara said.