Three-year-old Adnan is moving around naked. “All our clothes are burnt and gone. I could only save one bundle,” said his mother Zubeida Sheikh. Her house was among the 1,200 houses bulldozed a week ago as part of the administration's demolition drive in the Anna Bhau Sathenagar slum in Mankhurd, Mumbai.
The slum now is an open stretch of propped up bamboo sticks and rags, barely shielding the people from the beating sun. There has been no cooking in many houses as vessels and stoves were crushed to the ground.
“We have been going to our sister-in-law's place to eat,” said Girijabai Dalvi. At meal time, young and old have been queuing up for food with plates in hand at the site where an andolan is currently going on against the demolition drive. The agitation is led by Medha Patkar of the National Alliance of People's Movements, under the banner of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan.
What the bulldozers failed to crush was stolen by thieves, who saw opportunity in the mayhem of demolition on May 13. Children lost their schoolbags and books. Over 2,000 people were rendered homeless within hours and since then have been languishing in a place that resembles a dump yard.
“Please write my name. I have nobody.” The elderly Sarubai Sonawne, who works as a scrap collector, cut her nose as she fell while running away from the lathi wielding police.
In a city like Mumbai where lakhs migrate each year in search of livelihood, demolitions are a part of life. The residents of Sathenagar claimed that they have been living there for the past 10 years, a claim the Deputy Collector Dhananjay Sawalkar rejected. “They are totally illegal encroachers. This land belongs to the government. We received proof of residence from 2,300 people. A total of 2,900 houses were slated to be demolished. We are implementing the government policy as per the cut-off date of 1995,” he told The Hindu.
The government's dalliance with the cut-off date is only worsening the acute problem of lack of low cost housing and the spread of slums.
“First they fixed 1985 as the cut-off date [for rehabilitating those who came to Mumbai before 1985]. This was raised to 1995. Now the discussion in the government is on increasing it to the year 2000. It's already 2010 and they are still discussing,” said activist Mohan Chavan.
Ms. Patkar said the government's denial to declare an area as slum is a conspiracy to deny land to the poor as the government has set its sights on building towers. Having challenged the 24-hour demolition notice, she said the drive was carried out even as the matter was pending. Plus, the demolition was not done in an authorised way as per section 4 of the Slum Act, since Sathenagar was never declared a slum, she said. She also brought the ownership of the land in question.
Mr. Sawalkar, however, said that the lease of the Sathenagar land, given to the Bombay Soap Factory in 1977 was terminated in 2005 and now the land belonged to the government. “There is no need to declare an area a slum if the land belongs to the government,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the band of Sarubais and the unclothed children left in the lurch grows with each demolition. Choking on tears as she remembered the day her house went down, Kamal Eknath Lokhande said, “That moment I was thinking, where should I go? What a time that was! Even your enemy should not have to face such a situation.”
Does the administration or the government think about what will happen to the people when their houses are demolished? “No, we don't think about that,” replied Mr. Sawalkar.