New Internationalist

Dying for a home in Bangalore

Protest over the demolition
Protesting the Ejipura demolition Credit goes here

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.

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  1. #1 Cynthia Stephen 25 Jan 13

    Thanks, MAri, for writing this. I do hope that people will learn that cities are not only for the rich who shop in malls and drive on wide roads. Masses of the poor make the city too. Everyone has a right to a life of dignity. Our governments and political leaders have failed us in their greed and indifference yet again, but the shining hope endures in the persistence of the struggle of the slumdwellers and the solidarity of civil society with the affected - 6000 0f them including a majority of women and children. Even most of the mainstream media, barring the notable exception of the Hindu, have shown their true colours.

  2. #2 chandrika nath 25 Jan 13

    This is so sad!! When will the politicians stop persecuting the poor in the pretext of progress?

    Chandrika Sen Sharma
    New Jersey

  3. #3 Marie-Pierre Paulus 25 Jan 13

    Hi Mari
    Congratulations for your blog and very interesting articles. After so many years the struggle continues and i'm very impressed to see the work you still do for human rights issue. Christophe and I are now in China for 2 years (Shanghai). As we love Asia we do enjoy our new life! Take care and good luck in every thing you'll do especially with Adivasi people. Love to all family. Marie (french ’old’ friend!)

  4. #4 Louise Jaensch 26 Jan 13

    My 15 and 12 year old daughters and myself have just returned from a 3 week study tour to India including a number of days in Bangalore. It is inconceivable to us that, as we reconnect with our lovely, home, family and friends, and environment, pick organic strawberries, cucumbers, plums, etc from our garden which we have watered with fresh running water that rosemary and her family ( while we were in their city) have been brutally denied their right to their home and to live with dignity. While the conditions of their home seem deplorable to us who have so much, home is about heart and soul and rosemary knew that. It seems that again greed and callous disregard for basic human rights has caused a great injustice!

  5. #5 Sally Francis 26 Jan 13

    Thank you Mari for posting this beautifully written, but heart-wrenching article profiling such an act of political, social and human injustice. It's arresting for me to think that I was in Bangalore last week with my 11 year old daughter (on a study tour I organised with Community Aid Alliance for parents and children from Australia) when this inhumane tradegy occured. This shocking issue highlights so poignantly the disregard for the most basic of human rights in a city full of such constrasting and divisive wealth and poverty. The constrasts are palpable at every turn. The current protests by women and the slum dwellers outside the Bangalore parliament, and the work of people like Cynthia Stephen, are inspirational in honouring the memory and the sacrifice of women like Rosemary; pawns caught in a cruel, far reaching and complex political agenda. We have so much to learn and contemplate in considering such inequalities. The book 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' written with insight and integrity by Katherine Boo about life in a Mumbai slum is a great start to understanding this complex issue.

  6. #6 Aloke Surin 27 Jan 13

    ...and this happened just four days before Republic Day when traditionally a pompous display of power rolls down Janpath in the nation's capital, making a mockery of the right to human dignity enshrined in the constitution.

  7. #7 david cohen 28 Jan 13

    In my own country even as we fight human rights violations in legislative
    bodies, the Courts and on the streets, I welcome matters that are taken to international forums, including Courts.

    The Bangalore matter that Mari Marvel Thekaekara writes about so movingly merits
    international attention. I know that violates the Indian official sensibility, But there as no such
    thing as too many forums to argue out matters.

    In every respect what happened in Bangalore is cruel and inhuman official behavior. It is
    undoubtedly fueled by corruption of the worst sort because it leads to the unmitigated
    cruel behavior.

    Journalist need to follow the money by following the toxic odors that corrupt money causes.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC

    David Cohen,
    Senior Advisor, Civic Ventures
    Senior Congressional Fellow,
    Council for a Livable World

  8. #8 Kalpana Rao Deswal 28 Jan 13

    Thank you Mari for the writeup . it is disgraceful and sad that humanity can stoop so low .
    Thankfully I have seen some good work happening around our area in Powai Mumbai - the local builders have provided nice little apartments for the slum inhabitants after demolishing their huts and these new units command a much better capital gain just incase they choose to sell it . Also the builder has given them water and good sanitation benefits . I am told many more slums will be demolished and similar rehabilitation will happen and they are all waiting and excited to own a better facility. For your information most our domestic help comes from these lovely hardworking cheerful lot .
    Having said that I am sure somewhere else in Mumbai there may be similar bulldozing of slums happening like the Bangalore one recently - i keep reading about it and get wild but i take great pride to say that our community here where i live has been kinder .

  9. #10 Finnbar 08 Feb 13

    On Tuesday and Wednesday of the past week 5th and 6th Feb my class mates and I from Stonehill international school went to the Ejipura site. We were there to help with food distribution, we had been given many items of clothing and were planning on distributing these evenly within the remaining people. It really brings you back to reality when you work in such a situation. The people were desperate and of course distressed. Some of the people are nursing wounds sustained in the near past. The major problem for these people is that they can't work any job because if there isn't anybody behind to watch their things or children they are most likely to be stolen and the children get into trouble. I found it so heart lifiting to see children and adults wearing the clothes that we had donated to them and the grin of the children when they received an item of clothing.
    However the problem that I see is that these people becoming dependent on organisations and NGOs supporting them which can lead to a thought that the people who are in need have the right to be given constant support. This provides a block for a long term solution because the people find it easier to take welfare that look for jobs and a more permanent way of life.
    Overall it is still not right for them to be living out on the pavements when they were supposedly promised housing by the government.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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