Standing on the piles of rubble in Chhuriya Mohalla of Tughlakabad village in New Delhi, in chaos and panic, a group of children can be seen looking for their belongings from rubbles with gloom and tears rolling down their faces after their houses were razed down within seconds of blinking of their eyes.
On Sunday morning, 30 April, the residents of Tughlakabad village saw heavy police and paramilitary deployment along with huge bulldozers entering their area. Within no time, the residents ran out of their houses as the bulldozers started demolition, not giving them even time to take their belongings out of their houses.
Every lane going towards the area where the demolition was underway, barricades were put and the people were not allowed to go near the area by the police personnel.
The action came a week after the Delhi High Court directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on April 24, 2023, to remove encroachments in and around Tughlakabad Fort within four weeks.
The drive was carried out under the supervision of a team of officials from the South East Delhi district administration, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Delhi Police and the ASI.
Last week, a division bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad observed that the case pertained to large-scale encroachments in and around Tughlakabad fort and that the matter had reached the Supreme Court (SC) and the apex court, in its February 14, 2016, order making it very clear that encroachments are to be removed.
Thereafter, the bench said, the court cannot be a “mute spectator” given the orders passed by the SC. Later on, the court directed the ASI to take appropriate action against all encroachments in and around Tughlakabad Fort following the law to remove them adding that the “Sub-Divisional Magistrate South East and the MCD will provide logistical support and also directed the Commissioner of Police to provide logistical support”.
The court directed that the action be carried out within four weeks.
Nearly 50-60 houses were razed down on the first day of demolition. However, the officials who were present at the spot said that more than 1000 houses are to be demolished in the area.
More than hundreds of houses were razed to the ground as the ASI continued its demolition drive in the area for the second day.
“No place to go”
In a shrieking voice, Komal Singh, a 19-year-old teenager who works as a painter says, “We have been left with nothing, we built the house by saving each penny for years and within seconds our houses were demolished. We are poor, we do not know where to go, and we do not have any other place to live. My family has been living here for a long time. Now, we have to roam on streets until we do not find a shelter to hide ourselves”.
“I have two little sisters, I do not understand where I will keep them and how they will bear it as they are too young to understand that our house has been taken away from us”, Singh told Maktoob.
The residents claimed that the officials did not consider it was raining heavily and did not allow them to take their belongings out before the demolition started.
“My house was razed down in front of my eyes, I could not do anything. It was raining so heavily we could not understand where to go to save ourselves and our children from getting rain-drenched. These officials were so blind to see us crying in helplessness as they could not see where we would take our children in this rain. We struggled to find a tarpaulin so that we could make our children sit under that and our kids were hungry as we could not make food for them as the demolition started in the morning “, says Suman, a resident of Bengali Colony.
“I could not save a single belonging as they did not even give us time to take out our things. Now I have to again save every single penny to build a house. I do not know if I will look for my children’s education or if I will find shelter first. We thought there was some time left in demolition but they came early and ruined our lives”, says Suman with teary eyes and in a murmuring voice.
In January the residents had received notices but after the Delhi High Court’s intervention, the demolition was halted. This time, the residents claimed that they did not receive any notice but came to know that the court had ordered people to leave the area immediately and the demolition will start on May 1 2023.
But instead, the bulldozers arrived on April 30.
Suman adds, “Even if we will look for shelter that is beyond our financial conditions. Some ask for 10,000 or 15,000. It has become so expensive to even rent a room. Where shall I get the money from?” asks Suman.
Located near the historical Tughlakabad Fort, which was built in the 14th Century and lies in ruins now, the Bengali colony houses people who have migrated from West Bengal and Bihar. The area has a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims.
Most of the residents work as domestic workers, labourers, rag pickers, scrap workers, painters and sweepers or do some mental jobs.
“Why did they let us build our houses here if we were illegal? For more than 22 years, most of us have been living here and in a few notices, they expect us to leave everything and leave?”, tells Pawan Kumar, a resident of Bengali Colony.
Kumar adds, “We had approached everyone, knocked on all the doors but no help came for us. If our houses 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? Because we are poor and helpless”.
The residents asked if the colony was illegal then how the land was sold to them and Aadhar card and other basic documents were given to them.
“Why were their Aadhaar card and voting cards made if the colony was illegal? Why do these political leaders come to ask for votes then? We have given votes from this area and still, they do this with us,” Shabnam who works as a domestic help in nearby houses questioned.
“These politicians only come when they need our votes and use the people for votes. Where are they now and why are they snatching our homes from us and what are they getting from it after forcing us to live on roads”, Shabnam told Maktoob.
“Narendra Modi, our prime minister, had promised Jahan Jhuggi Wahan Makaan, what happened to that? Does the government not want us to live in peace? We are daily wage workers and most of us have small kids with us. Where do these people expect us to go from here”, she added.
While asking for how many days will the demolition continue, the police officials said that “It is beyond their pay grade to talk about it”.
The residents also claimed that the land was sold to them.
Meanwhile, fear has gripped other residents who live on opposite sides of the area, who have not received notices yet, but have been warned that their houses would also be razed down soon so they should also look for some alternatives. The residents are left in a dilemma and a state of hopelessness and helplessness and they have to look for alternatives.
Fiza, a transgender woman, said that the police officials have said their houses might also be razed.
“If our houses will be demolished then where are we going to live? Nobody wants to give their houses to a trans woman. Does the government expect us to live on the roads? We have packed our belongings but we have no other place to relocate to”, lamented Fiza with a teary and lowered voice.
“They have razed down so many houses within two days and more are to be demolished. What development are they doing and why are they doing it and for what do they need this land and what they will get by making us homeless”, Fiza told Maktoob.
Rekha Biswas who works as a domestic help saw her house razed down after she reached there after her work. Biswas was anguished over the demolition of her house which she said was built after saving money bit by bit.
In anger, Biswas says, “If we were informed of the dates, we could have at least left with our belongings. Everything is gone, we are left with nothing. We had a TV, cooler and other stuff. How will I get it from rubbles now? Are we left with any option rather than crying about our miseries?”
Another resident, Ramesh who works as a helper says, “I have three children, all their books, uniforms and bags are under rubble. We could not take anything. How am I supposed to send my children to school when they do not have books to read and uniforms to wear? We do not know where to live. I was hoping that the demolition would be delayed but there was something else written in our fate. We had kilos of ration. That is also under the ruins of my house. Is it our fault that we are poor and have no strength to live in a good state? I could not afford a better place then why were we allowed to build a house here? If this was going to happen”, asks Ramesh.
“If they were planning this for us, they should at least give us compensation or provide proper rehabilitation so that we can start our lives again”.