Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Dear G20 guests, behind green sheets lies India’s poverty, we choose to keep it unseen

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A police officer restricting entry-exit of slum dwellers. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob

Aasma Qureshi and Altaf

As the world’s attention turns to Delhi for the highly anticipated G20 Summit, the Indian government has spared no expense in transforming the city into a picturesque haven for diplomats and world leaders. From resurfacing roads to adorning walls with vibrant murals, the preparations have been nothing short of extravagant. However, beneath the facade of grandeur lies a darker, more unsettling truth – the ruthless eviction and marginalization of the city’s most vulnerable populations.

In its quest to portray India as a global superpower, the government’s actions have raised disturbing questions about the price being paid by those who can least afford it. The beautification drive has led to the heart-wrenching destruction of slums and the displacement of thousands of families. The irony couldn’t be starker: a nation aspiring to stand tall on the world stage is choosing to hide its poverty and inequality instead of addressing them head-on.

In the shadows of Delhi’s gleaming facades, we find stories that demand our attention. The residents of the Coolie Camp slum near Vasant Vihar, many of whom were already living on the fringes of society, have borne the brunt of this makeover. Almost 1000 families were forced to leave their homes as bulldozers razed their makeshift dwellings. Their struggle for survival has intensified, with little hope for the future.

Ragpickers from Jaunpur, who call this slum home, share tales of despair. They speak of a sense of abandonment, as if they are being erased from the city’s narrative. The very people who play a vital role in recycling waste and contributing to the environment find themselves pushed to the margins, struggling to make ends meet.

Another poignant story is that of a 55-year-old woman from Rajasthan who ran a humble tea stall near JNU’s north gate. Forced to close her business due to security concerns in the run-up to the G20 summit, she, like countless others, faces an uncertain future. The livelihoods of street vendors and small entrepreneurs hang in the balance as the government prioritizes aesthetics over the well-being of its citizens.

Similar actions were taken during former US President Trump’s visit in 2020, where entire slums in Ahmedabad and Delhi were concealed behind tin walls and makeshift coverings.

Slum dwellers outside of the Coolie Camp slum in Vasant Vihar. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Slum residents, working as rag pickers, hastily stash their collected waste inside the slum’s boundaries upon spotting approaching police officers. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Rajkishore, a 58-year-old slum dweller, originally from Bihar, sits within the newly established boundaries of the slum. His sole income, a paan shop outside the slum, is now closed due to G20 Summit. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Slum residents travel long distances for water and restroom access, rushing back to shanties amidst police raids that seal off slum entrances. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Vasant Vihar’s Coolie Camp slum concealed by green sheets ahead of the G20 Summit, symbolizing a temporary transformation for the international event. Photo: Altaf/Maktoob
Arjun, a 24-year-old Chhattisgarh migrant, lives in the Coolie Camp slum. He worked at a nearby garment street shop, now closed. He’s unemployed and feels hopeless, spending days in the slum. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Children of the slum are forced to play within the vicinity of the slum as the police and the guards barricade the entrances. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
“Big responsibility, Bigger ambitions”; G20 banner on the boundaries of the slum. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Ragpickers from Jaunpur, who recently shifted to the Coolie Camp slum as their old slum was razed down by the MCD, now afraid of the uncertainties of having a source of income. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Slum residents emerge from their cramped confines to engage in daily labor beyond their makeshift dwellings. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Guards barricading the entrance of the slum. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
55-year-old Maala Devi, a Rajasthan tea stall owner near JNU, forced to close shop pre- G20, uncertain future. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
60-year-old Hemlata Devi anxiously waits for her son, who’s been gone 3 hours fetching vital medicines. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Behind green sheets and yellow barricades, the harsh truths of the slum remain hidden from sight. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob
Police officers closely monitor slums, sternly disciplining anyone attempting to uncover green sheets used for hiding it for the G20 summit. Photo: Aasma Qureshi/Maktoob

Aasma and Altaf are students of MA Mass Communications at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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