In the book “Rules for Radicals” by American activist Saul Alinsky, for community organisers, the first rule is, “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” These rules are for low-income communities to gain social, political, economic and legal power. Also, radicalism has been described as one of the most potent ways for social intervention, especially in situations of distress.
On July 11, 2017, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) agreed to stop the demolition of slums in Baljeet Nagar after the residents protested in front of the DDA office, Vikas Sadan.
Two hundred homes were demolished by DDA officials and the police on July 5, 2017, which made more than 1000 people homeless and helpless. The police and DDA were particularly insensitive towards women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. The demolition also hampered students’ education. The residents had to live without a roof over their heads for more than a week before they got to know that nearby slums were facing the threat of further demolition on July 12.
The deteriorating condition of the residents and the threat of further destruction led to the coming together of slums to protest the demolitions. They decided to discuss the matter with DDA officials with the help of civil society organisations that came together to study the issue. A petition was filed in Delhi High Court for resettlement and compensation for the demolition, which was done without any advance notice.
On July 11, more than 500 people, along with students from different institutions and members of several civil society organisations came together to protest the demolition in front of the DDA office at Vikas Sadan, INA.
They submitted a memorandum of demands to the Principal Commissioner of the DDA. A delegation was called for the discussion on demands. While the discussion was going on in the office, people on strike shouted slogans like “Sarkari Zameen, Hamaari Zameen” (The public land is our land), “Hum Apna Adhikar Maangte, Nahin Kisi Se Bheekh Maangte” (We are asking for our rights, not begging) and “Ghar Todne Walon Ko Ek Dhakka Aur Do” (Give a push to those who demolish our homes).
They sang protest songs and shared their experiences which were shocking as well as emotional.
The DDA officials agreed in the meeting to not demolish the slums any further. Community representatives were very happy with the meeting but they were also of the view that the fight is only halfway done.
The DDA officials refused to accept that they had to provide advanced notices but the representatives provided them with the appropriate court judgment which showed that they were legally obliged to provide such notices.
On the point of resettlement, they agreed to provide resettlement to people living in the community prior to 2006 and copies of identity proofs have to be submitted to DDA for the same.
A similar incident had happened in the year 2006 when people resisted the demolition and the High Court ordered for a survey of the slums which had not been done till then. Again, a similar order for surveys has been issued. It is to be seen how will things turn out.
But this protest was a successful event. The power of a community is in their unity and in being together. Without being together, they couldn’t have realised their demands in the time of an atrocity. But they stood with each other, thus demonstrating their power and making the DDA listen to their demands.
The people who came together were informal workers and daily wage labourers. They sacrificed their one day of work and wage. Students didn’t go to schools.
The people at the protest claimed that it was them who turned a wasteland into a residential area, that meant that the land was their’s and DDA had no right to claim it. On top of that, it hadn’t provided an advance eviction notice and was just trying to encroach upon the land.
This is the first of many struggles that the people of Baljeet Nagar have won. If not a full victory, it is still a moral victory.