Thursday, June 13, 2024

“We vote for Congress to avoid Modi’s rule, yet receive no support”: Mumbai slum residents in demolished homes

Sajida Khan, a Congress supporter whose tin house is adorned with a picture of Rahul Gandhi and a Bharat Jodo Yatra poster, has lived in Panchsheel Colony for six years.

On February 7 and 8, 2024, BMC officers and workers started demolishing around 200 “illegal” structures made of tin and bamboo in a Panchsheel Nagar colony, which contained approximately 300 homes. The demolition primarily affected Dalit, Buddhist, and Muslim families, many of whom had lived there for over 20 years.

In the aftermath of the demolition, many residents, traditionally supporters of the Congress party, felt betrayed and neglected by all political parties including Congress.

They believed their votes were taken for granted, as no significant assistance had come from the party. Despite their grievances, there was a paradoxical loyalty to the Congress, with many hoping for intervention from leaders like Rahul Gandhi. Their frustration intensified with fears of more demolitions post the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This situation plunged the community into fear and uncertainty, causing them to question the political promises made to them and the actual support they received.

“Now we will only vote for politicians if they solve our problems or help us. None of the people living here want to vote this time. Why should we vote when no one is helping us or solving our problems? We will not vote for any party. We will not vote until Rahul Gandhi or Modi helps us. The people who win every time do nothing to fix our affairs; they just fill their pockets. All our houses have been demolished. It’s terrible—tell me, where are we supposed to go?” says Firdous Begum, standing outside her demolished house.

Hameed, a plumber whose house was arbitrarily demolished, says: “I sincerely believe that Congress will come to power. I am thankful for the good things Congress did during Indira Gandhi’s time. Now, Rahul Gandhi is rising. He will lead the country. During the Congress era, we received all our medicines for free at the hospital. But now, the municipal hospital has nothing. It wasn’t like this during the Congress years. After the election, the government will probably demolish the remaining shelters. Where will I go with my four adult daughters?”

Hameed, a plumber whose house was arbitrarily demolished, says: “I sincerely believe that Congress will come to power.”

When asked if Congress helped after the demolition, residents, including Hameed, said no.

Feroza, another resident, said: “We vote for the Congress party, but none of them come here.”

Shahid Muhammad said, “Look at how much trouble we are living in. Don’t you see it? The government doesn’t. Politicians come and make promises during elections, then disappear; our situation remains the same. They don’t see us as human beings. During the election, they will traverse every lane, but after they win, you won’t see them again. Our lives are like hell. Houses were torn down, and we barely make ends meet after twelve hours of work. We are not getting Voter IDs. When the houses were demolished, our documents, including Voter IDs, were lost.”

“Now they are asking for old documents to issue a Voter ID, but we don’t have those. What are we supposed to do?” he asked angrily.

Sajida Khan, a Congress supporter whose tin house is adorned with a picture of Rahul Gandhi and a Bharat Jodo Yatra poster, has lived in Panchsheel Colony for six years. She shares, “My husband, son, daughter-in-law, and I live in this one-room tin house. Three bulldozers came without any warning and demolished our huts that day. This house was destroyed, and now my husband has to sleep at a nearby relative’s house at night. We are afraid that this tin house where we now live will also be demolished after the election. No party has come here to help us.”

Bismillah, a young woman whose house was demolished, told Maktoob: “We all vote, but no party comes here to help us. Despite the demolition of so many houses, not even one person has come to see the situation. We are voting for Congress because we don’t want Modi to rule. However, no one from Congress has come here, and we’ve heard nothing from them. After the election, the rest of the houses will be demolished and cleared. We are afraid. Where will we go if they demolish it?”

The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) faced severe backlash following these demolitions, which left over 110 families homeless, sparking outrage and calls for accountability. Panchsheel Nagar, primarily home to working-class Buddhist, Dalit, and Muslim families, has been targeted by BMC’s demolition drives since 2002, often without prior notice or humanitarian considerations.

Residents and activists argued that this action violated the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance, and Redevelopment) Act, which requires due process and rehabilitation for slum dwellers. Although many of these settlements existed before 2011, qualifying them for paid rehabilitation, the BMC did not provide the necessary documentation to distinguish eligible from ineligible houses, exacerbating the situation.

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