By Tanushree Bhasin for Youth Ki Awaaz:
When tragedy strikes, we all seek to understand who is to blame. But those whose lives are thoroughly disrupted and destroyed, seek first to survive. For the families of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, the fight for survival continues to be an everyday reality. While most have given up hope of ever seeing the killers of their loved ones behind bars, their struggle remains one of their basic needs such as water, electricity, education and employment. All that was snatched away from them in the blink of an eye has yet to return to them. Three decades and still counting.
In Tilak Vihar’s Widow Colony, residents continue to not pay their electricity bills despite pressure to clear their dues. “This is a colony where the widows and families of the ’84 riot victims were housed. With no employment or education an entire generation, the children of ’84, has already been lost. When even free electricity cannot be given to us – those who actually cannot pay for it – what then will become of this current generation of our kids? Will they go to school? Will they get jobs?” asks Atma Singh Labana, Pradhan of the C-Block and head of the Victims of 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Society.
According to media reports, the residents of the colony were promised free electricity by former PM Rajiv Gandhi, but there are no official records to substantiate the claim. However, from 1987-88 till 2002, they received free electricity. From 2002 onwards, when the electricity distribution was privatised, they started to face the pressure to pay up. In 2013, they were asked to apply for new connections to receive electricity.
For the residents of the Widow Colony in Tilak Vihar, the last few years have been spent getting the state to recognise their need for help. Problems are visibly many: open drains, dilapidated houses, overhead wires crisscrossing their way closer and closer to the ground, and housing lanes littered with garbage and swarming with flies.
An elderly resident of the colony stares vacantly, sitting outside his house.
The one problem that troubles most residents is of electricity. In the last three years, the residents of the colony have been accused of stealing electricity and non-payment of bills, with notices slapped against them by BSES.
In my conversations with the residents, it emerged that most people do not pay their bills simply because they cannot afford to pay them. “I get electricity bills between Rs. 8-10,000 per month. We don’t even have an AC in our house. How are we supposed to pay such a large bill? Only one of my sons works and that too on a small salary,” says Gopi Kaur who lost her husband in 1984.
Living in tiny flats furnished with fans and sometimes coolers, these are homes that receive bills for nearly Rs. 5,000 a month, now having amounted to nearly Rs. 20-25,000 over several months of non-payment. Jaswant Kaur, who lost her father-in-law in the riots, struggles to keep her family of eight well taken care of, given that her husband doesn’t have a job. “He’s always been a heavy drinker and doesn’t earn at all. We are all dependent on my brother-in-law’s paltry salary. How can the government expect us to pay our electricity bills in such a state?” she asks.
Residents here reiterate that the Kejriwal government needs to take a decision on the electricity issue in Tilak Vihar. Seventy percent of the people, they say, are in no position to pay their bills. “We aren’t experiencing any power cuts at present but in 2013, we used to have almost 16 hours without electricity. People here can only manage to pay up to Rs. 200 per month, they are simply not in a position to pay more,” says Labana.
Residents put in their own money – Rs. 600 per house – to install these new electricity meters in a show of good faith once the BSES removed the old meters.
The last repair work done in this area was in 2014 when staircases in all blocks were fixed. Everything else residents have had to do from their personal funds.
A BSES notice to one of the residents warning of a termination of her electricity connection due to non-payment of a cumulative amount of Rs. 18,700.
“My son does woodwork which too isn’t a consistent source of income for us. Not only can we not pay our bills but this has now resulted in ration cards not being issued to us. They keep telling us to first clear our bill and only then will they issue a ration card,” says Gurmeet Kaur, a resident of C-block.