Mohammad Khan lived in an informal slum near Bellandur lakebed, making a living collecting and segregating waste. When Citizen Matters covered his story five years ago, we found many families who lived off waste, playing a necessary role in the waste management ecosystem. They traversed the neighbourhoods of Sarjapur Road, HSR Layout and Jakkasandra with bicycles stacked with recyclable waste from across the area.
Informal squatter settlements with the ubiquitous blue tent dwellings are often at risk of eviction. Recently, about 5000 migrant labourers living in makeshift sheds in Thubarahalli were threatened by the police and asked to vacate, after local residents complained of garbage burning in the slums.
While BBMP did not issue a direct eviction order, a few Health Department officials visited the place with police on November 30, 2018, asking them to vacate the place in two days. On December 1, BESCOM cut the electricity supply to the slum.
The New Indian Express reported that an exodus of these workers began since a posse of police started patrolling the place round the clock. While some families have left for their hometown, many are on the lookout for a new shelter in other parts of the city.
Shariful Sheikh, a school bus driver hailing from Nadia district in West Bengal has been living in this slum for a decade now. “I have no money to go anywhere. I rented 40 hutments in this place and earned a rent of Rs 30,000 from all of them. A part of this sum would go to the original land owner as well. On the other hand, both my boys study in a private school here and have examinations soon. If I change house, their studies will be affected too and I don’t know if I will get a job easily,” he says.
Issue of ‘us’ versus ‘them’
Vinay Sreenivasa of Alternate Law Forum and an activist says: “State has the obligation under the Constitution Article 243 (w) that ULBs must upgrade the living of people in slums and provide basic amenities. There is clear class angle in this eviction. Residents who have complained about garbage incineration have not paid attention that these slum dwellers living amidst heaps of waste dumped from nearby,” he adds. Now ALF and other parties have obtained a stay in the court and the hearings are being held regularly.
Eviction of the urban poor sheltered in ‘unauthorised’ tenements always churns up the single point argument — whether the urban elite or well-to-dos respect the former as humans or not. And evictions have proved that they definitely don’t get the respect that other citizens do. However, a few are citizen groups supported the migrant workers by helping them clean the area and supporting them in court-related issues.
Who are these slum dwellers who are wiped out now and then, like they were dark patch of the city scape? They are our domestic helps, masons, pourakarmikas, security guards, drivers, plumbers, cooks, nannies, delivery boys, sales employees in malls and hypermarkets, etc. They live in clusters called slums that have no basic amenities, because the city and its administration do not care enough.
Mallesha, 19, a resident of Hospet Taluk who has recently moved to the city bemoans his predicament. “What sort of a life is this? Can’t make a living in the village, and living amidst filth here!” His most prized possession from the village is his pet pigeon that he rears in a little coup outside his shack. “He is my only source of happiness. I let him go free, but he chooses to come back to live here every night.” (Src: Living amidst filth, they clean Bengaluru)
Geeta Menon, secretary of Stree Jagriti Samithi, calls it a “culture of development that captures power, plays with land ownership and thinks that those who really build the city are just necessary labourers and should have not have houses or own land.”
‘Illegal immigrant’ tag haunts the slum dwellers
A majority of the slum dwellers from Thubarahalli say they are from West Bengal who have lived here for a decade now. But the origin of people living in slums has been a contentious issue. A lot of migrant crowd from Bihar and West Bengal living in Southern and Eastern parts of Bengaluru has been accused of being illegal immigrants.
There was even an incident where a FIR was filed against a non-government organisation working with waste pickers by providing them identity cards and improving their lives.
The Member of Legislative Assembly from Mahadevapura Assembly, Aravind Limbavali was also instrumental in getting the migrant workers in Thubarahalli evicted. The reason, as per his Twitter post, was this:
Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are a threat to national security & their number has drastically increased in Bengaluru. I have met honourable Home Minister of India Rajnath Singh in the past. Deportation cePicnter in this regards will be setup by Govt at Sondekoppa, Bangalore.
I would take strict action on any land owners or construction companies in Mahadevapura constituency if found employing these illegal immigrants. Your act will be termed as a threat to national security & shall be punished as per indian penal code.
There have been other similar instances. In August, about 400 sheds near Bellandur Lake were bulldozed after residents of upscale apartment complexes complained about open defecation and nuisance in the area.
This eviction had another angle. Occupying the lake bed area is a crime according to the orders by National Green Tribunal which makes it illegal to build and temporary or permanent structure within 75 meters of a lake. The migrants and homeless labourers in Bengaluru are forced to occupy lake beds and private lands, which always comes at a price. In Thubarahalli, people were staying in a private land and were paying monthly rental to the land owner.
Problem with mindset and power structures
Geeta says, “The problem is with the mindset which looks down upon urban poor. Whom do we consider citizens of this country? This is exactly what is happening with Assam and its people, who are suddenly thought to be illegal Bangladeshis.”
Another reason for disdain towards them is them getting voter identity cards. Vinay says that there is a political agenda behind such claims. “If these people go away, who will do their work?” he asks.
Geetha says that this is about the political economy fostering a development that serves the purpose of power brokers, coupled with control on land. “People who actually build the city with their hands are not considered to be at par with those who live in skyscrapers. Thus they don’t have the rights to own a land or a house. It is the capitalist framework of mind where we want them to do our odd jobs but question their legality of citizenship whenever it suits the needs of the power brokers,” she analyses.
Migrants are seen as a burden in the well-to-do in cities. Are they contributing to the economies of cities? If yes, how? We will explore it in the next story in this series.
Note: Shree D N contributed to this story.