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Demolition For Development: 17 Photos Of Human Hardship In A Bulldozed Settlement In Delhi

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By Manira Chaudhary

About two weeks before Shakur Basti in north-west Delhi was razed down by the Railways, a small settlement called Belagon on the banks of Yamuna in the Indraprastha Estate was pulled down by about a dozen bulldozers by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

It’s easy to completely miss this settlement (one of the many on the stretch from Wazirabad to Okhla running through the 22km length of Yamuna) while one takes the Salimgarh bypass towards Rajghat. It is perhaps one of the perverted offshoots of the blinkered idea of development that our country seems to have taken that despite being right next to the bypass, part of the swanky ring road overlooking Indira Gandhi National Stadium, we always fail to notice it. That explains why it took me over two hours to find it, considering its bleak online existence.

The morning of December 1st saw DDA officials, accompanied by scores of policemen and armed with an order from the National Green Tribunal (NGT), prohibiting any agricultural or construction activity on the Yamuna flood zone, showed up at Belagaon and got over 150 shanties pulled down. This drive was apparently part of a larger demolition program carried by DDA, post the NGT’s order, from the last week of November to the first week of December under which they cleared about 106 acres of land falling in the Yamuna flood zone.

I visited a small stretch of land which extended for about 300 metres and accommodated two separate settlements, both going by the same name. Where one settlement houses families who rely on farming for their livelihood, the other one, with about 85 shanties, houses mostly labourers and rickshaw pullers. Locals living there argue that they have been living there for generations and they wouldn’t know where else to go if they are evicted once and for all.
They also claim that such demolition drives began only in 2006 when most of their pucca houses were razed down, following which they have been living in houses made of hay, wood and tarpaulin sheets.

“These demolition drives have been pretty regular since 2006. They come at least once every year to throw us out of our homes. But this year has been particularly bad. On June 17th, they came and ran bulldozers not only on our houses but on our fields and harvest as well. And this time in December, again they’ve done the same,” says Keeno, a 52-year-old farmer whose past two generations have lived in the same house.

For the time being, they have been allowed to set up their dwellings again and have been given 3 months by the authority to completely vacate the place. The residents, however, continue to live there with no alternatives in near sight.

Kamal Singh (in the grey sweater at the back), the informally elected Head of the settlement, looking over his ruined field of spinach.
Kamal Singh (in the grey sweater at the back), the informally elected Head of the settlement, looking over his ruined field of spinach.
The field, which a month back had over 2m tall sugarcane plants, now stands as a playground in ruins for children. Many farmers of Belagaon sow sugarcane in this season and earn approximately Rs 10,000 from 1 bigha of its harvest. The demolition of December 1st razed over many hectares of sugarcane field.
The field, which a month back had over 2m tall sugarcane plants, now stands as a playground in ruins for children. Many farmers of Belagaon sow sugarcane in this season and earn approximately Rs 10,000 from 1 bigha of its harvest. The demolition of December 1st razed over many hectares of sugarcane field.
Keeno, a 52 year old farmer from Belagaon, showing the destroyed sugarcane harvest of his field.
Keeno, a 52 year old farmer from Belagaon, showing the destroyed sugarcane harvest of his field.
14-year-old Sahiba helping her grandfather cut spinach leaves. “They ran bulldozers over our other harvests but left the marigold patch untouched as they say Delhi needs more flowers. Is this a joke? Delhi needs flowers, but do we not need food?”
14-year-old Sahiba helping her grandfather cut spinach leaves. “They ran bulldozers over our other harvests but left the marigold patch untouched as they say Delhi needs more flowers. Is this a joke? Delhi needs flowers, but do we not need food?”
Anoop Singh, a 75-year-old farmer, bemoans his lost harvest of mustard. “We received information a night before DDA was to come. What can we do in one night? We pleaded them to give us a few more days so we can at least cut the harvest, but our requests fell on deaf ears.”
Anoop Singh, a 75-year-old farmer, bemoans his lost harvest of mustard. “We received information a night before DDA was to come. What can we do in one night? We pleaded them to give us a few more days so we can at least cut the harvest, but our requests fell on deaf ears.”
The remnants of the houses which were pulled down on the morning of December 1st. Rocks, bamboo roofs and torn tarpaulins lay strewn across the stretch.
The remnants of the houses which were pulled down on the morning of December 1st. Rocks, bamboo roofs and torn tarpaulins lay strewn across the stretch.
Residents are still gathering bits and pieces and trying to pull back their homes together.
Residents are still gathering bits and pieces and trying to pull back their homes together.
Budh Ram, 62 and Anoop Singh were quick to show the documents of the land and of the case they have been fighting against DDA since 2014 for the right to live on that stretch of land.
Budh Ram, 62 and Anoop Singh were quick to show the documents of the land and of the case they have been fighting against DDA since 2014 for the right to live on that stretch of land.
Jagwati has been living in Belagaon since the day she got married, 25 years ago. She is worried that she’ll never be able to get her sons married as “no family wants to wed their daughter into a family which lives under a tarpaulin sheet.”
Jagwati has been living in Belagaon since the day she got married, 25 years ago. She is worried that she’ll never be able to get her sons married as “no family wants to wed their daughter into a family which lives under a tarpaulin sheet.”
On our way to the next settlement of shanties. The glimpses of ‘development’ on the right contrasting with the condition of the settlement on the left.
On our way to the next settlement of shanties. The glimpses of ‘development’ on the right contrasting with the condition of the settlement on the left.
The ‘downside’ of being a farmer in the country. Even if one lives in the heart of the capital.
The ‘downside’ of being a farmer in the country. Even if one lives in the heart of the capital.
Shabana Begum (in red) talks about the inhumane and humiliating behavior of the police with them during the demolition drive.
Shabana Begum (in red) talks about the inhumane and humiliating behavior of the police with them during the demolition drive.
Akhtari Begum has not been able to send her 5 children to school in Daryaganj since the demolition happened. She works as a cleaner, along with Shabana Begum, in Rajghat Power House.
Akhtari Begum has not been able to send her 5 children to school in Daryaganj since the demolition happened. She works as a cleaner, along with Shabana Begum, in Rajghat Power House.
Two volunteers from a Delhi-based NGO have been teaching in Belagaon for free for the past two years. What used to be their library, is now just a bunch of wooden poles.
Two volunteers from a Delhi-based NGO have been teaching in Belagaon for free for the past two years. What used to be their library, is now just a bunch of wooden poles.
Rani Tai, 85, who has been living in Belagaon for the past 70 years spends most of her days in delirium talking about the day she briefly met Subhash Chandra Bose. Too old and frail to rebuild her house, she has been living with her relatives since the demolition happened.
Rani Tai, 85, who has been living in Belagaon for the past 70 years spends most of her days in delirium talking about the day she briefly met Subhash Chandra Bose. Too old and frail to rebuild her house, she has been living with her relatives since the demolition happened.
Debris of Rani Tai’s demolished house.
Debris of Rani Tai’s demolished house.
As I left from Belagaon, Harkesh, a farmer in his 30s, offered to accompany me to the bus stop. He lost all his sugarcane harvest in the demolition. To make ends meet, he has now started working at a bus depot as a bus cleaner.  As I waited for the bus, Harkesh kept sitting quietly at some distance, watching the vehicles drive by on the bypass.
As I left from Belagaon, Harkesh, a farmer in his 30s, offered to accompany me to the bus stop. He lost all his sugarcane harvest in the demolition. To make ends meet, he has now started working at a bus depot as a bus cleaner.
As I waited for the bus, Harkesh kept sitting quietly at some distance, watching the vehicles drive by on the bypass.
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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