On the 5th of February 2009, bulldozers sent by the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi demolished some “encroachments” on public land. The demolition was conducted to enable construction of a flyover connecting Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium to Tyagraj Stadium for the Commonwealth Games 2010.
In a few hours, and with no notice, some thirty-five families lost everything—their identity cards, their livelihoods and their homes.
We arrived at the Gadhia Lohar basti in the early afternoon on Friday, March 21, 2014. As we crossed the street, avoiding cars, trucks, auto rickshaws, a family on a motorbike and all sorts of other vehicles (the traffic in Delhi!), Majnu, the leader of the community, a small man of indefinite age, approached us with a smile, welcoming us to his new “home.”
Majnu was one of the petitioners in a landmark case on housing rights decided by the Delhi High Court. In its judgment, the Court stated that “when a family living in a Jhuggi is forcibly evicted, each member loses a ‘bundle’ of rights—the right to livelihood, to shelter, to health, to education, to access to civic amenities and public transport and above all, the right to live with dignity.” The Court ordered the parties to “engage meaningfully, regarding the relocation of the dwellers.”
Five years after the judgment, Majnu lead us through a short, downhill, path, right beneath the flyover, which separates the two settlements that were displaced after the demolition in 2009. They are both members of the Gadhia Lohar community, a scheduled caste. The Gadhia Lohars are a nomadic group, ironsmith by trade, from Rajasthan. We were told, however, that the whole group in the basti (eight families on Majnu’s side, thirty across the street) has been living in the area since the 1960s.
There are few plastic tents on the right; on the left, at the end of a short slope, there is an intimidating and fetid nala (river). No water, no electricity, no sewage system: this is, I guess, what five years of “meaningful engagement” with Delhi’s authorities means for Majnu, his family, and his friends.
I find myself mindful of every step, looking down at my shoes as we proceed closer to the nala. You never really know what you are about to step on—mud, garbage, stagnant water. I forced myself to look up, hoping that no one noticed my clumsiness or guessed the rather obtuse concern I had for my brand new sneakers. Is it ever a decent response to feel discomfort when someone is actually welcoming you to his “home”? Is there a way to feel repulsion for a place, and not for the people that happen to live in it?
Not too far away from where we stood, facing us and dominating the landscape in the background, I could see the top of the monumental Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium. There, on 14th October 2010, the Commonwealth Games Federation Chief, Mr. Michael Fennel, speaking at the closing ceremony of the Games, emphatically remarked that “The Organizing Committee overcame all obstacles and presented a successful Games. Delhi has now a rich legacy, the world class venues and improved city structure. It has presented itself as a world class city. The world will have a better understanding of this wonderful country and its potential now."
As I looked at our project partners—Jayshree Satpute, Sukti Dhital and Francesca Fergulio of Nazdeek— I noticed their grace and passion in taking Majnu’s side. I felt proud and grateful of having witnessed an altogether different, more humane, and better kind of potential.
Housing is a core component of the right to an adequate standard of living. Read More.
It is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Right to Life, observes Supreme Court of India. Read More.
State has to guarantee that the right to health is available, accessible and of high quality. Read More.