In Bangalore, on Tuesday 22 January, Rosemary, 60 years old, died. She died a cruel, unnecessary death, cold and hungry. Rosemary and thousands of others were evicted from their homes at Ejipura in a slum clearance programme when the bulldozers descended on them without warning.
Women and children screamed in terror, falling at the feet of the eviction officers and the police. Their pleas were in vain.
Before the bulldozers came, Rosemary had lived in the same community for 20 years. She, her husband, son, daughter, son-in-law and six grandchildren, slept, cooked and lived in a tiny 46 square metre hovel.
The children were eating or playing when the earthmover arrived. In minutes, their tiny shack and 20 years of their existence lay in shambles, on the ground amidst the rubble. There was panic and then chaos as tenants rushed to move their meagre belongings: pots and pans, a few beds, mattresses, television sets. There isn’t a lot you can fit into a home of 46 square metres.
The people were threatened with dire consequences if they did not leave. Some were arrested and taken to jail. But many still refuse to move; they have nowhere to go.
The now homeless, have settled into huge concrete pipes. Some huddle inside a small wooden wardrobe or make-shift shelf. Bangalore is chilly on a January night. You need warm clothes and blankets even indoors. Out in the open, with no roof overhead, the people huddle together miserably around open fires to protect themselves from the cold and mosquitoes.
Local hoodlums have added to their misery. Shanthamma, a 56-year-old woman, lives with her learning disabled son. She sobs bitterly. A few nights ago, the goons threatened her and stole her life savings of Rs. 5,000 ($93). She is desolate, desperate with fear and grief.
Rosemary wouldn’t move. ‘I want to die here,’ she had wept. Her daughter told reporters: ‘She had barely eaten anything in the last few days. All she did was cry. The cold [out in the open] was unbearable. She was trembling and was constantly complaining about the cold.’ She had her wish. She died where she’d lived for 20 years, sitting with the rubble around her.
People from a nearby mosque, as well as Hindu and Christian groups have come forward with blankets, clothes, food and money for the traumatized victims. The pathos is unbearable. A distraught man carrying a child asked a reporter: ‘I’m not a beggar sir, but I need money for food for my kids. Can you help me please?’
As I write this, Cynthia Stephen, an activist currently heading a huge Bangalore women’s organization, sends me text messages me with updates. 1,000 women and other slum dwellers’ groups are protesting outside the Bangalore parliament for a solution for the evicted people. Slum dwellers are arriving from everywhere to join the protests and show solidarity.
The evicted people have been out on the streets for four nights, homeless. Old people and children shiver in the open field, remnants of their homes around them. I also read that two children have died, bringing the death toll to three. I couldn’t find the names of the dead children. Tragically, their deaths will pass unnoticed, another mere statistic that few mourn except their families.
Bangalore has a name for being a cosmopolitan, beautiful city to live in. But it’s hell for the people, rich, middle class and poor, who get caught in the battle for property because of the nexus between the building mafia, venal politicians and corrupt police and judiciary.
The rich can afford to fight. It’s the poor, like Rosemary and the two children, who die tragic, avoidable deaths.