Delhi

When their lives came crumbling down

Families walk among the rubble of their homes, which were destroyed on Saturday. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty  

For the slum dwellers living along the Shakur Basti cement siding railway terminal, the eviction notice they received on the evening of December 11 was nothing but "just another day" in their lives. Like the previous times they heard of such notices, this time too they hoped it shall pass. However, the morning that followed unfolded a different story with the slum dwellers waking up to bulldozers, heavy police deployment and a death of a six-month old girl, Roqaiyya.

Even as the rubble from Saturday’s intensive demolition drive by the Railways lay still on Sunday, the air was filled with activity. The already dusty atmosphere owing to the cement siding warehouse got worse by the frequent movement of police vans, ambulances and other government cars - each vehicle throwing a thick cloud of dust in the air. Men were seen tying up bamboo poles to make temporary rooms; their discussions rarely touching on how their tragedy has become a fresh battleground for yet another confrontation between “political parties” – the AAP government and the Centre. Women, on the other hand, were busy kneading dough and making piles of chapatis.

Like all other things lying around, a wooden box-cum table and a mirror which were fastened to a Neem tree too were coated with an inch of dust. 52-year old Ratan Thakur claims the tiny table is his only “workplace” – he is a barber. “Every male who lived in the slum used to come to me for a shave, a haircut or even a head massage. My saloon has been under this tree for the past 12 years and now nothing is left,” said Thakur.

While the children played with the debris, running around dysfunctional tracks and stagnated water, an 11-year old girl, bandaged on the head, shivered in the cold as she lay inside a tent built by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB). “People became too panicky. Some were hurriedly gathering belongings of their families while others were running in horror. It was almost a stampede like situation and it is then that she fell and got 9 stitches,” said Kamal Singh who has been living in the stretch since three decades.

By 5 pm, the arrangements of tents and toilets by the DUSIB could be seen in the front part of the slum cluster. Walking just a kilometre ahead, people could be seen juggling with their broken shanties where the government tents and above all, toilets were far from sight. It is here, just behind the boundary wall of the Shakurbasti Railway Terminal that Shafina Khatun, mother of the deceased toddler, quietly wept.

As the winter chill spiked, a group of men gathered around a fire and spoke of the “contrasts in the government’s actions.” Flashing their voter id cards or Aadhar cards, they said, “Why were we given these ID/Address proofs if were are illegally living here? During elections, they (political parties) want us to vote and make our cards, only to later evict us?”

Mohammad Irfan who works in the cement warehouse said his father came to this part of Shakurbasti in the year 1995. “We have been here for generations. I got my Voter ID card from this jhuggi in 2002,” said Irfan.


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 11:23:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/when-their-lives-came-crumbling-down/article7985903.ece

Next Story