A rapid increase in population in recent years seems to have placed a strain on the locality

A visit to the long and winding Devara Jeevanahalli (D.J. Halli) Main Road, which begins at the D.J. Halli Police Station on Tannery Road, is an adventure in many ways. First, there are auto drivers who refuse to go anywhere near the area; others fear its reputation for being a dangerous traffic zone: Altaf, auto driver, says, “Until the start of this road, the IPC [Indian Penal Code] will apply. Once you enter the area, it is all jungle rules.”

And then there’s the task of actually walking on the road. Vehicles of all sizes do, in fact, zoom in all directions; people have to dodge large heaps of garbage and puddles of water in order to get around.

More often than not, D.J. Halli has found itself in the news for the wrong reasons, especially in recent times. For instance, Baby Afreen was from a nearby area; residents have been often hit by intense water shortages, sewage draining problems and chikungunya. A rapid increase in population over the last few years seems to have placed a strain on the locality.

Ask Umme Salma (34), who has a business selling dress material and artificial jewellery in D.J. Halli. She has lived here for over 10 years, and testifies to the rapid changes in the area: “Now everywhere there are new shops, new buildings. The roads are dirtier. There aren’t enough schools, especially primary schools. We fall ill often because of the garbage problem, take some medicine and go on with our lives,” she says.

C. Shekhar, a Congress worker in the area, grew up in D.J. Halli and ran a cycle repair store as a young man. Today, his shop has morphed into an office of the Congress (as a reminder of his humble past, he still retains the dusty cycles behind it). He, too, points out that the area has quickly become overcrowded: he recalls a lake, the Modi Kere, which has disappeared.

Omnipresent figure

There’s another curious feature of the area, perhaps signalled by the large printed cardboard arch covered with prints of B.R. Ambedkar that greets visitors heading towards the D.J. Halli, K.G. Halli and Tannery Road side of town. On entering D.J. Halli, several spots — walls, buildings, boards — bear vibrant portraits of Ambedkar, sometimes in conjunction with other figures such as Buddha, Thiruvalluvar, Kempe Gowda and even Subhash Chandra Bose.

D.J. Halli is home to the offices of more than one political group: the Socialist Democratic Party of India, the Dalit Panthers of India and the Congress all have a local presence.

The area has seen its share of communal tension, and is often referred to as a ‘sensitive’ area. Small issues flare up quickly, says A.J. Khan, who runs the Karnataka Dalit and Minorities Sene, which has an office on D.J. Halli Main Road.

“A majority of the residents are Dalits and minorities, who have not had access to proper education. Laws that apply to areas like Jayanagar hold good here too, but are not ‘applied’ due to lack of education,” he says. According to Nazia Masood, who works in the D.J. Halli branch of microfinance organisation Lifeline Trust, the intense amount of political activity works to the area’s detriment. “There are a lot of young political leaders, who have far-reaching influence. There are a lot of factions, so things very quickly blow out of proportion.”

But for residents, life goes on. Children fly kites, attend one of the many nearby government schools; festivals are celebrated, raucously; small enterprises — from mobile stores to tea shops — continue. “Adjust karte hain, karna padta hai [We adjust; we have to],” says Mahmuda S. (39), who has been working at her stitching business since she was 12 years old.

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