Come October 3, Delhi will be all decked up to exhibit its splendid and metamorphosed image for thousands of international tourists, who will throng grand stadiums across the city to watch their respective countries' sportspersons participate in the Commonwealth Games 2010.
However, the cheer and excitement in the run-up to the Games is accompanied by the painful cries that were drowned by the roar of bulldozers. Behind the frothy façade, lies an unpleasant story of forceful eviction, demolition, homelessness and helplessness.
With its ambitious plan of taking Delhi's infrastructure to an international stature, the government is trampling upon the poor's rights in the name of beautifying the city. This mega sporting event has robbed millions of poor of their shelters who are bearing the brunt of beautification drive for the 12-day extravaganza. By the end of the Games, as Delhi's Chief Minister herself as accepted, three million people will not have roof over their heads.
The demolition drive has been on for quite some time. January 9, 2009, was a doomsday for 605 inhabitants of Prabhu Market slum cluster in Sewa Nagar in South Delhi. Their houses were reduced to rubble in front of their eyes. All the houses were flattened by MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) bulldozers to pave way for the construction of a huge parking lot for the opening and closing ceremony of the Games.
57-year-old Shanti Devi, is one of the hundreds to have suffered for the 'world-class' event whose Jhuggi was demolished. With no other place to take shelter, her ailing husband couldn't survive Delhi's chilling weather and died in January 2009, leaving her with nothing but piles of broken bricks.
"An officer would lose patience if he doesn't find his chair in the office at the right place. Imagine our plight; we have no roof over our heads for the past one-and-a-half years. We have lost everything and now have nothing except memories of our home," says Sunil, another slum resident.
The people of this slum cluster were residing there for the past 40 years. All of them claim to have ration cards or voter ID cards. Either of the two documents makes them eligible for relocation if evicted from their land. The residents have been running from pillar to post for their right but their struggle remains futile.
On January 12, 2009, in response to a writ petition filed by these slum dwellers, the Delhi High Court had ordered MCD to relocate them as soon as possible. Ironically, not a single displaced person has been re-accommodated till date. This amounts to contempt of court but the government is unperturbed.
To avoid possibilities of collective protests, demolitions were carried out in parts and without warnings. "The authorities did not serve any prior notice to us. They came with police force and demolished our houses within minutes," says Dinesh Kumar.
He alleged that just two days after the demolition, the Election Commission wrote off their names from its records to prevent claims for resettlement.
"We have lost all hope, as no one listens to us. We approached a lawyer to file a case in the court but he demanded a fee of Rs 50,000. Left with no choice, we somehow managed to collect this huge amount and paid to him, but till date nothing has come out of the case," rues Shri Ram who is a street vendor in the Prabhu Market.
Blinded by the beautification drive, the insensitive government did not even spare the localities earlier planned for the physically challenged.
On January 10, 2009, giant bulldozers wrought havoc in Viklang Basti (Colony for the handicapped) by rendering 50 physically-challenged people homeless. The high magnitude of injustice meted out to them comes to the fore when one gets to know the reason for their eviction: To cover a drain behind the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
With a fate worse than death, these poor handicapped people are now living near the Hazrat Nizamuddin flyover. What adds injury to their insult is the regular bashing by the Delhi Police for being found residing near the flyover.
"Why are they after us? What have we done to them? We are not against Games but to welcome the Videshi (foreigners), why are they troubling the Swadeshi (nationals)?" Mohammad Alam bombards this reporter with questions.
"In winters we shivered, in summers we burn under the sun. Now, during the rainy season we are not allowed to stay under the flyover. Where do we go? I can't look after my 4-year-old boy, as I can hardly walk. My wife cannot find work because people now confuse us for illegal settlers without residence," says polio-affected Zaheer, who inconsolably weeps for his fate.
In that very fateful month (January 2009), 140 jhuggis were reduced to dust in Bengali camp behind Thyagraj Stadium. At a short distance from this camp, was the Gadia Lohar Basti (small colony established 40 years ago to settle nomadic tribe of blacksmiths) which housed about 20 families. These poor families of blacksmiths were also not spared from the axe of demolition during the ongoing beautification drive.
They now live in plastic sheet-covered houses, in what can be termed as harmful and, of course, inhuman conditions.
Though the government may be basking in the glory of enforcing the Right to Education Act, this Right seems to be a distant dream for the children of the displaced families. They are denied admission in the government schools as their resident proofs are no longer valid after the evictions.
"This is an elitist development paradigm where you can't provide space to the poor. The elite want the poor to be moved out of Delhi yet want all the essential services provided by them," says Dr. Gilbert Sebastian, a researcher at Indian Social Institute, who is working for the displaced families from Saibaba Camp in Lodhi Colony.
Intoxicated with the beautification drive, the Delhi government set an example of utter disregard for the dignity and rights of the poor in December 2009 - hundreds of homeless people were left shivering under the sky in chilling winters when their makeshift night shelters were demolished as part of beautification of Delhi for the Commonwealth Games.
The worst part of this demolition drive is that despite being entitled for resettlement, most of the displaced people have been left stranded by the indifferent Delhi government which has turned a blind eye to the basic rights of the evicted.
The Delhi government has prepared a list of 44 slum clusters which would be demolished and relocated prior to the Games. The residents would be relocated under the Rajiv Ratan Awas Yojna at the resettlement sites like Bawana, Holambi Kalan, and Sawda Ghevra among others.
"Though many have been rendered homeless, we are implementing measures to relocate as many as possible. We are looking into the matter," an official of MCD's Slum and JJ Cluster Department, who is not authorised to talk to media, told d-sector.
When this reporter visited Bawana JJ Colony, one of the resettlement sites, the claims made by government for relocation policy were nowhere near realisation. Many residents feel they have been taken for a ride in the name of relocation and the so-called resettlement sites expose the callous attitude of the government.
The living conditions at Bawana are even worse than those in the slums of Delhi. Many residents are yet to get their allotted land, which was due to be handed over within three months of their arrival here. They live in makeshift houses with no water supply, no electricity and poor sanitation. Locals say more than 100 people have died due to abysmal living conditions.
"I came here (Bawana) with hopes of leading a new life, but I have not been given an inch of land which they had promised me," rues a 52-year-old widow Chuniya Devi whose house was demolished in Sawan Park of Ashok Vihar.
Located on the outskirt of Northwest Delhi, Bawana has proved to be a bane for these displaced people. With local industries requiring semi-skilled labour, the resettled people are out of work. Their population includes vendors, cobblers, rickshaw pullers and daily wage labourers.
"First, they destroyed our houses, then they dumped us in a deserted place which is 50 km away from Delhi. Commuting to and fro Delhi costs Rs 40, and my per-day earning was mere Rs 125. I had to quit my work," says Intejar who was a rickshaw puller in Delhi.
Apart from the loss of livelihoods in Bawana, education of children is also a major problem. Most of the children are denied admission in the school as their parent have not been allotted plot by the government. Without the residents' proofs, these children cannot get admission.
"It is not only Bawana, but every resettlement colony of Delhi has dismal living conditions for these displaced families. The Commonwealth Games is just an alibi to get rid of slums which are an eyesore for the ruling establishment," says Brahma Pandey, one of the members of a leading NGO Hazard Centre.
Though the city may have donned a stunning international look, it can not keep up the pretence that everything is hunk-dory. The middle class of India may find pride in hosting the Commonwealth Games, but for the thousands of poor of Delhi the sporting extravaganza has brought unending suffering and misery. The Games will soon begin and get over but the pain and anguish of these wretched souls will remain with them for years. But the innocent little children or the helpless physically challenged, despite being evicted from their shelters, must learn to hide their tears so as not to spoil the moment of 'national glory'.