The residents of Dhobi Ghat, in Batla house area of Delhi, have been waging a sustained struggle for their right to housing for four months, after over 700 slum dwellings were cleared out in September last year in a bid to provide space for the creation of a biodiversity park.
Since then, the residing families have forced to live without a roof over their heads, without any documentation, food or water. Now, amid the numbing winters in the national capital, the residents have organised themselves into the Dhobi Ghat Jhuggi Adhikar Manch (DGAM) in order to demand their housing rights.
On January 19, over 200 slum dwellers of the Dhobighat area marched to the office of Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan against the apathetic attitude of the Aam Aadmi Party which is leading the government in Delhi. The march, which was led by womenm saw enormous participation of children as well, who demanded that they should be given alternative land close to the site which has now been destroyed by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
Speaking to NewsClick, Akhtari Khatoon, president of the DGAM, said, “All that we are asking for is a roof over our heads. For months now, we have battled apathy, harassment and complete oblivion from our political representatives.”
Also read: Batla House: ‘Over 700 Forcefully Evicted, Children Beaten up, Several Detained’
Pointing out the treatment they were meted out at the MLA’s office, she added, “But even today, Amanatullah Khan did not spare a moment for us. Instead, his secretary told us to go to a rain basera (night shelters managed by Delhi Government). Why should we go to these night shelters? We have lost our houses that we had built from scratch. We want those back, not some temporary shelters. they cannot be a permanent solution to our problem.”
The slum dwellers had been living in the area for last 25-30 years and as per the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), it is their legal right that they be provided with alternative housing in the nearby area of their present residence, before any government agency demolishes their slum.
Earlier, the Delhi High Court had also stayed the demolition. However, the DDA cleared out the rubble from the area nonetheless, taking away precious documents of the people and leaving many without any proof of their identity.
Meanwhile, during the march on Tuesday, the residents were surrounded by police officers carrying tear gas and lathis, in a bid to intimidate the protesters and to stop them from proceeding further. Shabana told NewsClick, “Since, the houses have been broken down, we are facing harassment. Our children are threatened with violence and the DDA guards pass lewd comments on our girls because we are poor and now we have no houses. But we will ensure that we put up a fight. Today, again they tried to scare us and harass us to go back but we marched on.”
Finally, the delegation were allowed to meet the representatives present in the office and submitted their memorandum of demands. According to Khatoon, they were told that the MLA office will forward the demands of the Jhuggi Bachao Committee to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). However, “no concrete assurance” was given, she said.
Also read: Batla House Demolition: After Razing their Homes, Delhi Police Returns to Finish off Makeshift Tents
The residents were accompanied by the activists of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU). Talking about the march, Sucheta De of the AICCTU said, “The question is not simply about rehabilitation of people but their legal rights and their housing rights. Instead the priority of the government is to build a biodiversity park by trampling on the lives and livelihoods of the people.”
The area is occupied by rickshaw pullers, domestic workers and daily wage workers, who are among those bearing the worst brunt of the pandemic.
Moreover, the area remains predominantly Muslim dominated– battling stigma over the infamous encounter in 2008, post which it has been reduced to a ghetto. Since then, the area has been facing a number of issues including the lack of basic civic amenities and neglect from the administration.