The following is a New York Times article written by Vishnu Varma and published on November 5, 2013. You can read the article in full below, or on the NYTimes website here.
NEW DELHI – On the morning of March 24, 2011, several hundred police officers, accompanied by giant bulldozers, surrounded the slum of Gayatri Colony in west Delhi as part of an eviction drive by the Delhi Development Authority, which claims ownership of the colony’s land.
The confused and bewildered slum dwellers rushed to contact nongovernmental organizations for help. Within a day, the slum dwellers managed to get a stay order from the Delhi High Court on the eviction drive, but by then, nearly 800 settlements out of the 5000 had been destroyed and several thousand residents had been rendered homeless.
“They did not even allow us to gather our belongings,” said Prabhu Dayal, 51, who lost his tiny mud house in the demolition process.
“When a couple of us started protesting, they threw us into the police jeep and arrested us,” said Mr. Dayal.
Manoj Kumar, 38, was tending to his sick father in his native village of Bheria in Bihar when the demolition happened in Gayatri Colony. By the time he returned, only dust and rubble remained at the site where his tiny mud house stood.
Mr. Dayal and others rebuilt their homes, using the broken pieces of brick and retrieving the sheets of polythene that were used for the roof. They still live in Gayatri Colony, but Mr. Dayal and thousands of other residents fear that they can be evicted any day, as the stay order gives them only a temporary relief.
Dirty and dilapidated roads, with heaps of garbage strewn throughout, lead to the colony, which sits atop a tiny hill. Home to an estimated 20,000 people, Gayatri Colony is typical of the many slum settlements in the state of Delhi, with 80 percent of the residents belonging to a scheduled caste or scheduled tribal group, both marginalized communities.
Most slum dwellers are poorly educated day laborers who earn about 4000 rupees ($65) a month. Some of them are vegetable and fruit sellers in the nearby market, while others work in factories and industries. Women in the household pitch in by working as domestic helpers in high-rise apartments in the nearby area of Patel Nagar.
Mr. Kumar left his village for Delhi when he was a teenager. “We were very poor and there was nothing to do there,” he said. “I was only 14, but I knew I couldn’t stay there.”
With the help of an acquaintance, Mr. Kumar managed to catch a train to Delhi and landed up at the house of a Sikh man who was an embroiderer. He started helping out his Sikh employer for 300 rupees a month. In 1996, after his marriage, Mr. Kumar moved to Gayatri Colony and started working as a day laborer.
Because of rapid inflation and high costs of living, most migrants to Delhi are forced to adjust to the cramped and squalid settlements in slums like Gayatri Colony, where homes have scant running water and are built without permits.
“Every time we build a small door or window, we need to bribe the police officers; otherwise they charge false cases against us and beat us up,” said Mr. Dayal, who hails from the village of Hanumatia in Rajasthan.
The rates are fixed, he said: 5,000 rupees ($80) for installing a window or door and 10,000 rupees for building a toilet.
Working toilets are in short supply at the colony. Mr. Dayal said about 25 percent of the residents are forced to defecate in the open, as toilets are few and dirty. “Women have no choice, and it is a major problem,” he said.
For availing medical facilities, residents have to walk more than four kilometers, or two-and-a-half miles, to the government-run Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel hospital. It is a lifeline for about seven lakh residents in the area of Patel Nagar, which includes other slum settlements such as Kathputli Colony and Rajasthan Colony.
“There are no clinics or health centers nearby and often babies are delivered even on the way,” said Mr. Dayal. He pointed to a small child who was nibbling on a tiny piece of biscuit and said, “he was born that way.” The area is poorly serviced by local transport, as it is located on an incline.
Though the colony lacks proper amenities and has shoddy construction, Gayatri residents are more fearful of eviction because they have no other place to go. Even if slums are demolished under government redevelopment plans that promise new apartments as compensation, it could take years before the residents move into their new homes.
The high court has ordered that surveys must be undertaken to identify slum dwellers who need to be rehabilitated according to government policies. However, the residents worry that the government could find unscrupulous means to bypass the order. Mr. Kumar said local politicians have threatened him with the demolition of his home if he did not vote for their party.
Abdul Shakeel, an activist with Housing and Land Rights Network, accused the city government of working with private developers who covet the land on which Gayatri Colony stands.
“The residents were not even served notices or intimated about the eviction,” Mr. Shakeel said.
Kamal Malhotra, a director at the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, which looks after slums and unauthorized colonies in the national capital territory of Delhi, said notices are always served to the residents before evictions.
Mr. Malhotra also said slum dwellers can benefit from redevelopment of their homes. “Right now, we have approximately 16,000 flats in areas of Dwarka and Bawana in west Delhi which have been constructed for the rehabilitation of people living in slums across the city,” he said.
However, Subhadra Banda, a researcher at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi who has seen slums demolished in south Delhi, said that even if compensation is offered, an eviction has huge ramifications for the community being displaced.
“For one, even if rehabilitation is being offered, usually a section of such residents are not found to be eligible for such rehabilitation, causing them further distress,” said Ms. Banda.
Slum communities also face a loss of social capital, she said, when the residents are randomly assigned to resettlement colonies in the outer areas of Delhi. Those who used to live close to their workplace can find themselves 15 to 20 kilometers (nine to 12 miles) away, resulting in higher transportation costs or even the loss of their livelihood.
A preliminary report on the impact of such evictions, conducted in Baljeet Nagar, which houses Gayatri Colony and several other slum settlements, by the Housing and Land Rights Network and others, concluded that demolitions in Delhi slums are resulting in the further impoverishment and marginalization of the city’s hard-working poor.
Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of Housing and Land Rights Network in New Delhi, said an eviction violates multiple human rights and has a significant long-term impact on the community, especially on women and children.
“We do not have a proper national housing policy which protects the right to adequate housing and provides security of tenure,” said Ms. Chaudhry. “Today, many people in Gayatri Colony continue to live in uncertainty and fear.”
Though they live in constant fear, the residents of Gayatri Colony say it is far better to stay where they are rather than go home to their villages.
“The lives we lead may be more of animals than human beings, but we don’t want to go anywhere,” said Suresh Chandranarwe, a 51-year-old migrant from Madhya Pradesh. “There is nothing to do back there.”