Violence continues against EWS residents, say activists

On Saturday, February 9th, as a group of people from vastly different sections of society came together to lead a march from Austin Town to the Ejipura EWS demolition site, with an intent to express solidarity with the displaced, they came up against the indifference of the state and the brutality of the police.

It has been close to a month now since the day that 5000 people from over 1200 dwellings lost their shelters, livelihoods and any semblance of stability in their lives that they might have had.

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Over this time, there have been protests, online petitions, solidarity meets and efforts by a group of committed volunteers, not just to raise funds and organize attempts towards rehabilitation, but also to provide the affected people with food, clothing and other support. But at the end of it all, they continue to stare at complete uncertainty over the future and another constancy: the indifference of the state and the brutality of the police.

To provide a quick context, residents of quarters meant for the Economically Weaker Sections in the Ejipura area of Koramangala found themselves homeless after a BBMP demolition drive in January this year. In a matter of hours, their homes and belongings had been literally razed to the ground under orders, on the back of a ‘public-private-partnership’ between the government and Maverick Holdings Pvt. Ltd. for development of that land.

Maverick is to use half of the acquired land to build new homes for the poor while the remaining will be used for yet another grand shopping mall. However, the eviction and demolition meant to facilitate this PPP was executed without any clarity on where the displaced would go in the meantime. There have been various protests and rallies by citizens and activists, and Saturday’s gathering was perhaps one of the largest and most diverse to date.

The march started from Austin town. Freedom fighter, H S Doraiswamy flagged off the protest by garlanding the Ambedkar statue and urged people to continue the struggle till the displaced residents get their land back. Slogans, songs and drum beats tried to keep hopes and spirits afloat. From Austin town, the crowd, nearly 1500-strong, marched through Maya Bazaar, Vannarpet and Vivek Nagar towards Ejipura EWS quarters. At the entrance to Ejipura, they were stopped by hundreds of police.

As journalist Reema Moudgil writes in her blog, "The police presence is beyond all belief. Entering Ejipura grounds seems impossible so we watch the muscle flexing of the law. Vans, barricades, uniforms…protecting evacuated land from some peaceful protesters!"

It transpired that a court injunction which Maverick has obtained prohibits picketing, sloganeering and demonstrating anywhere within a 100-metre radius of the EWS land at Ejipura. Incidentally, this 100-metre radius of the land includes public spaces, roads, footpaths, private houses and the National Games Village complex.

Hundreds of policemen with lathis and water cannons were deployed to enforce this injunction. Close to 200 activists and volunteers – some of them who have a long history of fighting for the rights of the people from the EWS quarters – were rounded up and arrested during the day.

One of the activists, Sumathi Murthy brings out the mindlessness and brutality of police action in one of her posts written later: "We just stood there with the residents and the police started taking our photos, along with Viji a friend and EWS resident (now resident on footpath)."

She then goes on to narrate how she and her friends Kaveri R Indira, Sunil Mohan, Gee Ameena Suleiman were hounded. Another resident Rajanna who had started calling out to them got picked up. A drunk man who tried to tell the police that volunteers were only distributing food was also pushed inside the van along with the rest. Viji was seriously hurt, having been kicked by the police badly.

The ‘Forum Against EWS Land Grab’ – a coalition* of welfare organizations and political parties rallying for the cause of the EWS residents – also accused the police of detaining relief workers and even some residents using brute force. The police reportedly kicked, pushed and shoved some of the residents resulting in injuries to some of them.

Even bystanders who wanted to capture the goings-on were threatened. Narrating one such instance, Reema Moudgil writes,

"We take out our phones to click some pictures of the police bandobast and three men in plain clothes charge towards us. They do not talk to me but take on Anu (a volunteer from an NGO). Does she know Kannada? She must not provoke some retaliatory action by clicking pictures! She must leave! Anu talks back gently and they threaten her once more and leave. ‘They are trying to provoke…’ she says to me and adds, ‘Look at those police women..they may just come over too.’"

However, Ejipura residents and their good samaritans seem used to this by now. Threats and physical violence have greeted them ever since the crisis unfolded. Sumathi goes back to the day when they had first been picked up by the police for demonstrating against the eviction (January 19th). Recounting how Viji could not even walk by the end of the day when they were released, she writes, "Shabana was injured the same way last time when they were arrested on 19th Jan 2013."

Verbal threats have, of course, been even more unrelenting. Reports (The Hindu, DNA) revealed that over the first few days after the dwellers had been evicted and were spending nights out in the open in the adjoining pavements, police came almost every hour to intimidate and build pressure on them to leave. Threats to beat up the residents if they dared to join any protests or demonstrations were also common.

MLA N A Haris at EWS Ejipura. Pic: Manjusha Gandham, IIJNM

Even volunteers who were merely trying to provide humanitarian relief were questioned, admonished and asked to leave by the powers-that-be. In an earlier article for Citizen Matters, Karthik Ranganathan, who has been documenting the tragedy at Ejipura, brought out this reality: "I also witnessed first-hand the brusqueness and intimidation that our politicians are famed for, as the local Congress MLA N A Haris and his entourage refused to answer any questions regarding the status of the proposed project in Sulikunte, even as they questioned my right to be on the site."

For the single mother who has lost her job along with her shelter, or for the pregnant woman due to deliver in two weeks’ time, such continuing, ruthless oppression by state players only intensifies the nightmare.

Forum Against EWS Land Grab comprises:

Samatha Sainika Dala, PUCL-K, Aam Aadmi Party, Dalitha Sangharsha Samithi (Bheemavada), Bridge Network, Bangalore Slum Janara Sangatane, Bangalore Slum Janara Kriyaa Vedike, Students for Change, Maraa, Vimochana, APSA, Dalita Samara Sene, Karnataka Tamil Peoples’ Movement (R), Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), Students Federation of India (SFI), Dalita Sangharsha Samithi (Ambedkarvada), Dalit & Minorities Land Protection Forum, Slum Aandolana – Karnataka, Savithri Bhai Phule Slum Mahilayara Sangatane, Bahujan Samaja Party, Social Democratic Party of India, Karnataka Tamil Federation, Karnataka Raajya Raytha Sanga, EQUATIONS, Swaraj Network and Free Software Movement (Karnataka)

 

About Satarupa Sen Bhattacharya 5 Articles
Satarupa is Consulting Editor at Oorvani Media and an eternal seeker of good stories from anywhere!

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