After the bulldozers left Shakur Basti

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Photo: Rajath Thomson
A toddler covered in cement dust plays on the railway tracks. Photo: Rajath Thomson

They took her to the hospital, where the doctors declared her brought dead. Police said they will take her to a bigger hospital — Sanjay Gandhi Hospital — where the doctors made the same declaration.

The police only gave the body back the next day. “They were afraid that if we were allowed in with the body, the demolition would have to be stopped,” he alleges. “They destroyed my jhuggi even after they knew my daughter had died,” says Mohammed Anwar, the father.

After the tragedy, Delhi cabinet minister and sitting MLA Satinder Jain had announced Rs 1 lakh compensation for the family. However, there has been no information on this since.

Anwar is also now jobless since the bureaucrat whose car he drives refuses to take him back after he absented himself for 10 days. There are many more who are now unemployed after missing work, trying to reconstruct their lives.

The issue is compounded since some of them have lost all documents in the demolition. Noufal, a young man, is desperate for a job. “But how will anybody consider me since I have lost all my certificates?” he asks.

“Why can’t the belongings be allowed to be collected? Everything is buried in the rubble now. When the JCB [earth-moving machine] comes, it’s a violent act. Some liability needs to be fixed for using violent force against unarmed people,” the High Court bench had observed on 17 December.

Many of the residents have been living here over 30 years and have been voters for as long. Over the years, they have faced demolitions and had to rebuild their jhuggis, despite hearing successive politicians promising land on their election campaigns. On 30 December, the residents held a meeting organised by the Basti Sanrakshan Manch.

The meeting was attended by around 300 people. The raised veranda of a nearby shop serves as a stage. A speaker is brought in a rickshaw. The audience comprises at least 70 percent women. Some men sit on railway tracks farther away, mildly interested.

Most of them, however, are at work. Two trucks are being loaded up with cement. The workers get 3 for every sack. Many work for 12-15 hours a day. Under the circumstances, it is hard for the poor to organise.

The women, however, more than make up for the absent men. One of them, known as Saddam ki Mummy, comes up to the stage and says, “Don’t go after kambal and rajai. We used to have them before the bulldozers rolled in. We used to have these before. Now these people come here and expect us to be happy,” she says to the crowd, which greets her words with applause.

“We build a jhuggi, live in it for 2-3 years, and they come and destroy it. They even destroy the utensils. For how long will we do this?” asks Poonam.

Jyoti is one of the few educated persons in the settlement. She has worked with an ngo for nine years. “Our fight is for land,” she says. “We stand in line for hours for to give votes after believing the promises made to us. We only ask the government to pay attention to our plight. We are also human.”

The residents wait for the court hearing on 27 January, following which they plan to launch an agitation to demand land. For now, there are bijli-pani issues to worry about, for the demolition squad had destroyed electricity meters and wires.

The residents, although they are paying customers, have not been able to get their connections restored as discom officials say they are not satisfied with the court order.

For now, the residents have all hopes pinned on the court to redress all their grievances. But justice delayed will be justice denied.

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