“We Are Ruined, We Have Nothing Left”
Residents of Tughlaqabad are now homeless, as ASI demolished decades-old houses
Shabnam is sitting on a pile of rubble, which just a few hours earlier was her house that she had built 20 years ago. The 50-year-old had been living in Delhi’s Tughlaqabad’s Chhuriya Mohalla for the past 22 years. She worked as a domestic worker in nearby houses.
On the morning of April 30, the residents of Tughlaqabad were faced with a heavy police and paramilitary deployment along with huge bulldozers. With no time in their hands, the residents ran out of their homes as the bulldozers demolished their lives into rubles.
“We have nothing left. They did not even give us time to take our things out. We thought there was some time but they came early and ruined our lives,” Shabnam said with tears in her eyes, as her 22-year-old daughter tried to comfort her.
Hundreds were razed to the ground as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) continued its demolition drive in the Bengali colony area in Tughlaqabad village for the second consecutive day on Monday.
The action was a week after the Delhi High Court directed the ASI to remove encroachments around the fort.
The drive was carried out under the supervision of a team of officials from the South East Delhi district administration, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Delhi Police and the ASI.
The Citizen had reported on the case,and how ASI and DDA officials had laxed for which the court had also reprimanded them.
“Why did they let us build our houses here, if we were illegal? For 22 years most of us have been living here and in a few notices, they expect us to leave everything and leave?” Lakshman Singh, a resident of the colony, said.
The Delhi High Court on April 24 had directed the ASI to remove encroachments in the historic Tughlaqabad Fort within four weeks, saying it cannot be a "silent spectator" on the issue.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma, while hearing pleas against rampant encroachment in Tughlaqabad Fort, warned it will order the personal appearance of top officials, including the ASI director, MCD commissioners, the sub-divisional magistrate and senior police officers in the event of non-compliance with its directives.
But for people of Tughlaqabad, which has a mixed population their livelihood has been affected due to this. Most of the people living in these houses worked as domestic workers, labourers or scrap workers. With their homes gone, they have to find alternative lodging.
“It has become so expensive to even rent a room. I have to give Rs. 6000 but where shall I get it from?” Shabnam asked.
For Anarban (name changed on request) there is an eerie calm. Anarban is a chemical expert and worked as a chemist. Looking at a tree that used to be outside his home, he said political parties just use people to vote.
“No BJP, no AAP, these political parties are all the same. I am going to vote for NOTA from now on. Let these leaders come to get votes from us,” he said.
“Look at this tree we had planted. It had grown so much. These people have ruined our lives. But it is okay. We spent Rs. 10 to 12 lakhs of our lives, now we will end ours,” he said calmly.
A majorly BJP supporter, the area’s Member of Parliament is Ramesh Bidhuri who has represented Tughlakabad thrice as a BJP MLA, and is currently an MP from South Delhi.
As you walk past the narrow lanes of Tughlakabad, Bidhuri’s bungalow can be seen with police deployment. However, it is not easy to meet the MP.
“We knocked on all the doors but no help came. I want to ask one thing, if our homes are illegal, then these rich homes constructed by Gujjars in the area are also illegal. But why is it that only our homes are being demolished?” Singh asked.
He also said if this is the case, then Bidhuri’s home also comes in the court’s jurisdiction. “They should also raze his house then and not only for poor people,” Singh said.
There has also been no discussion on compensation for the loss or the rehabilitation for the people. “At least they should give us some kind of compensation to start our lives again,” Shabnam said as behind her, people tried to take out whatever they could find in the rubble. As the heavy rains made it even worse for the residents, many left their now rubble home as it is to arrange for shelters.
After the order came out, residents were asked to vacate the premises at their own cost within 15 days. Subsequently, the people had appealed to the courts asking for rehabilitation before demolition.
The High Court had asked Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), DDA and ASI to sit together and find a solution. The DUSIB had submitted that their shelter homes are ready to accommodate the displaced people.
“The shelter homes are at best temporary homes and are not a permanent solution in any sense,” All-India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), which has been going to the court on behalf of the people, said in a statement.
“DUSIB’s role even in providing short-term rehabilitation has been poor so far: displaced people have been sent to farAway shelter homes that are at great distance from their places of work and from the schools where their children study. Evidently, no viable long-term solution has been found and yet the demolitions have started,” they said.
The people have also claimed that the land was sold to them by local landowners, who have not been pulled up for partaking in such ‘illegal’ transactions.
“The ‘encroached’ area around the Tughlakabad Fort also contains a government school and dispensary as well as houses of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Mr. Ramesh Bidhuri. None of those buildings seem to have been earmarked for demolition,” AIICTU meanwhile accused in its statement.
In January the people of Tughlakabad had received notices but after the court’s intervention the demolition did not start. This time, the residents said that they did not receive any notice but came to know that the court had ordered people to leave the area immediately.
“Poor people have no say, they have no strength and they have nowhere to go,” Anarban added.
The residents also claimed that two people had attempted suicide and succumbed, however the police officials on ground said “these were just rumours”.
On asking for how many days more will the demolition go on, police officials said “it is beyond their pay grade” to talk about the issue.
Meanwhile, fear has resided in other residents in the area, who have not received notices, but have been warned that their houses would also be razed.
Fiza, a transgender who lived in the next part of where the demolition is taking place, is in tears. She said that the police officials have said their houses might also be razed. “Nobody wants to give their houses to a trans woman. Do they expect us to live on the roads? We have packed our belongings but have nowhere to go,” she said with tears in her eyes.
While there have been no confirmations, people have claimed that the demolition is going to take place in six parts. “We have been living here for many years and those people near the fort had encroached the land, but we did not do it. We have been living here legally,” Shivam, who lived on the opposite side of where the demolition is taking place, said.
“We had tried to approach Atishi as well, but received no help. At the end they just used us to garner votes and then left us to fend for ourselves,” Singh added.
The Citizen tried to reach out to Delhi’s Education Minister Atishi Singh but received no reply.
All Photographs NIKITA JAIN