Authorities carried out fresh demolitions on Wednesday in the Dhobi Ghat area of Batla House locality in Delhi razing 26 houses. The displaced residents alleged that they were detained and beaten up by the police forces for resisting the renewed crackdown without any arrangement for their rehabilitation.
Previously, in September last year, more than 700 persons were rendered homeless amid the pandemic by the demolition drive undertaken by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), citing that the families living on this land were encroachers. A year after the first demolition, residents--mostly slum dwellers--continue to grapple with the lack of rehabilitation while a fresh attempt at evictions is made.
The residents of the slum colony state that police forces were present in huge numbers in the area. Reportedly, 15 residents were detained on Wednesday and taken to the Jamia Nagar Police station for allegedly inciting violence and “pelting stones” at the police forces. Residents, however, claim that they were manhandled, brutally thrashed, lathicharged and detained for over eight hours by the police, and this included minors.
Speaking to NewsClick, Akhtari Begum alleged, “Fifteen adults and three minors were detained by the forces this time around as well. No notice was given to us, many of us were thrashed and manhandled by the forces -- I had a 22-day-old child in my arms, but despite that no one bothered. Three minors--Alisha, Taukeer and Chotu--were also detained. The forces beat us up and then they stated that we were throwing stones at them. Nothing is breaking our spirits anymore, we have been living here for the past 30 years and we deserve justice.”
Present on the ground during the demolition, Srishti Jatav, a journalist with Dalit Times, was also detained by the police forces and taken to Jamia Nagar police station. She said, “I and my colleague Rahul were mistreated by the police and later detained. We showed them proof that we are media persons however, this was not taken into account, instead we were told that we are inciting the people and creating tensions in the area.” She added, “We were told that we are not journalists, if they wanted to could get a 1000 people like us to stand here and claim that we are media persons, we were finally let off at 6.30 PM in the evening.”
Observing that while their right to rehabilitation is yet to be determined, the Delhi High Court in June this year had remarked that Dhobi Ghat Jhuggi Dwellers “cannot be left on the streets to fend for themselves, finding themselves evicted from a place where they claim to have been living for the past two decades.”
Speaking with NewsClick, Sucheta De, an activist with the All India Students Association (AISA), said, “With the ongoing pandemic situation, the High Court had stayed the evictions in June this year--they had also added that since the matter is sub-judice no more demolitions could be carried out and had asked the DDA to provide the residents with food and water, however, that has not happened. Since then, there has been no response from Amanatuallah Khan, the Aam Aadmi Party MLA from Okhla region.” She added, “When we confronted the DDA officials Mr. Madanlal, present on the ground, stated that he was not aware of the High Court order.”
NewsClick had previously reported on the demolition of houses in the city’s Batla House area, a drive which rendered over 700 homeless. The initial demolition drive had taken place on September 24, following which the families were occupying the area in make-shift tents while dependent on aid from residents in the locality and civil society groups. After the demolition drive, the DDA had even collected the rubble which had clothes, documents and other valuables of the residents.
The residents of the slum colony consist of domestic and daily-wage workers. They have been the worst-hit group due to the pandemic and a rapidly contracting economy. The slum clearance procedure began on September 22 last year. However, no notices were reportedly served to people and no alternate site was designated for their rehabilitation, the residents of the area claimed. The area had been at the centre of the infamous encounter in 2008, following 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.
Demolitions and forced evictions in India are continuing at a rapid scale despite ongoing campaigns and an international cry to stop them. The United Nations had also urged India to put a hold on the procedures given the volatile situation of the ongoing COVID pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis that has followed.