An incident recount by 25-year-old Sangeeta Singh, from the time when was sitting outside the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) building in protest against her eviction, perfectly captures the absurdity of the situation she’s currently enduring. “During the dharna,” she narrated, “the police officials would approach us and threaten us with a challan for not wearing the mask in a public area.”
Singh, along with 100-odd protesters, however, found it a laughable matter, not in disrespect to the police. But, as she added, covering their face against the pandemic was the least of their concerns then. The protesters, who had been residents of Shyam Chandra Jha Colony for most of their lives, were demanding rehabilitation first.
After a demolition drive carried out by the municipal body earlier in the month of July this year, almost 600 families in their slum area were rendered homeless.
Demolished shanties at Shyam Jha Basti Colony (Left). Poster of the protesting residents enlisting their demands (Right).
The protesters called off the dharna outside the MCG building on October 4 – only to intensify the struggle further. “For months, while we were protesting, no one came to meet us. The municipal officials would not talk to us. And those, whom we had elected with our votes, would only offer us assurances – and no help,” Singh told NewsClick over phone.
Perturbed by this, the homeless families have now decided to shift the demonstration site to the residences of the law makers in the millennium city. The plan, as Singh informed, is to stage a one day sit-in protest – once every week – outside the residence of “every MLA, MP and others,” till their demands are met.
The protesters accuse their representatives of leaving the families in lurch, despite being approached multiple times. “If we can’t sleep properly; we will not let them to do so either,” Singh said.
Vinod Pradhan, 44, another resident at the colony, echoed Singh’s rage. “We have been demanding rehabilitation since August. We went to everyone – the mayor, the MLA of our area, the councillor – but no one addressed our issues seriously,” he said, adding, “now we will take this fight to streets; we will have to.”
Also read: Gurugram: Homeless Families Awaiting Justice ‘Attacked’ by Municipal Officials
For this, a “list” of law makers is currently being prepared by the families, who have come together under the banner of Shyam Chandra Jha Colony Residents’ Welfare Association. Rakesh Daulatabad, an independent candidate who was elected to the Haryana Legislative Assembly from Badshahpur constituency – under the jurisdiction of which the slum falls – tops the list, according to Singh. “We have approached him for help six times since July but to no avail. Now, we will protest outside his residence on the coming Sunday,” she said.
The need to intensify the struggle is marked with the urgency to be heard that the families are facing in the wake of pandemic-triggered disruptions, along with no hope of respite from the judicial or public bodies either.
A section of the families who had approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a statutory body, seeking its intervention against the “serious violation” of human rights, were left dejected after the later disposed the case, citing findings of its investigation division which suggested the same “as the matter is sub-judice.”
Demanding a stay on the eviction drive, a section of residents had moved the court in August. The next hearing is scheduled on October 17.
“… residents were provided due opportunity to raise objections and common notice was also issued for the same, announcement/Munadi was also done by Municipal Corporation, Gururam (sic.) for demolition drive in the area,” the human rights watchdog remarked on September 29 in an order, accessed by NewsClick, while concluding the case.
It further notes that the investigation found that no force was used against the residents, nor any personal belongings of the families were seized during the demolition – an allegation that was levelled by the families to the commission in their complaint dated July 29.
Ravi Kumar, human rights activist, who represented the aggrieved residents, said that disposing of the matter “came as a shock to him”. “We were demanding the commission to identify the series of human rights violation that were effected during the demolition, which above all, was carried amid a pandemic,” he said. “Videos and photos were made available to the commission’s officers during the investigations which clearly showed this,” Kumar added.
NewsClick has also reported earlier how at least two residents had incurred injuries at the hands of the municipal officers. Moreover, the “common notice”, that the commission cites in its order, was undated and unsigned – as against what is required as per law.
“The commission clearly failed in addressing our grievances. This is not what we had hoped for,” Kumar said, who is now mulling over approaching the High Court, demanding rehabilitation, compensation for the families and action against the municipal officers.
Also watch: Demolition Without Notice in Batla House, DDA Invites Flak
Meanwhile, both Singh and Pradhan, along with their families continue to live at the cleared colony site – now under tarpaulin sheds which are supported by nothing more than wooden poles.
“Where else do we go?,” asked Pradhan, who was stuck in Bihar with his wife and four children due to travel restrictions – owing to lockdown – when his makeshift house, along with all his family’s belongings, was reduced to rubble in no time in Gurugram.
Pradhan returned in August only to join the protest to press the administration for a place to live. The lockdown also meant that his 14-year long job in a five star hotel in the city is also gone.
“We were told to stay at home to curb the spread of coronavirus,” Pradhan rued. “It has all become a crude joke now.”
Hari Om Attri, joint commissioner, MCG, who had led the demolition drive told NewsClick that a rehabilitation process for the homeless families of Shyam Jha Colony is underway by the Haryana Shahari Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP), the urban planning agency of the state. “A representation has been forwarded to the HSVP, who have confirmed that flats are available that can be allotted to these families,” he said, providing no date of completion of the process.
Vivek Kalia, estate officer, HSVP, whom Attri referred to for further details, didn’t respond to text message or calls made to him.