The last four stories in the series explained all that has happened and is happening with the Ejipura EWS quarters project. This story, the last in the series, will narrate how uncertain the life has been for a family that is living on pavements following the eviction.
Among the two dozen tiny tents pitched on the pavement of Srinivagilu Main Road just next to National Games Village in Ejipura area, is the “home” of Deepa (name changed). Her tent made of bamboos and tarpaulin, though appears vulnerable, has withstood storm and rain in last four and a half years.
“My husband had to put in a lot of effort to build it strong because this is the place we live with our small children,” says Deepa, as she tries to feed lunch to her two kids who were in a playful mood.
“Don’t go on to the street,” she warns them. The fear of fast-moving traffic just a few steps away from her tent is her cause of concern. “I should keep an eye on them every minute,” she tells me.
Deepa was 17, in her seventh month of pregnancy and was eagerly looking forward for the birth of her first child when all hell broke loose in the otherwise peaceful low income group colony in Ejipura near Koramangala.
It was the third week of January 2013. Deepa, like rest of her neighbors, knew what was in store the next morning. Over 900 families were going to be homeless as the city administration and a private builder had decided to vacate the 15 acre land to make way for new EWS quarters and a commercial complex. The court too had given green signal for the eviction and there was no way they could stop whatever was going to happen.
But what they perhaps did not expect was the sheer ruthlessness with which they would be thrown out of their homes. In the words of Deepa, there were bulldozers all over, razing the houses to the ground. It was a terrible sight to behold.
Helplessly embracing the pavements
It has been four and a half years since Deepa became homeless overnight. Of the 900 families who were living in Economic Weaker Section (EWS) quarters as tenants during the time of eviction, most of the families moved to the city outskirts in search of new homes and jobs. But for 22 families including that of Deepa, finding a new home was not affordable.
Nowhere to go, they decided to settle on pavements. They built tents using bamboos and tarpaulin on the pavement of Srinivagilu Main Road in Ejipura, and continued to live there. This pavement where they live is right opposite the EWS project construction site.
Deepa clutches onto her first child Andria who is now little over four years. She is the same child who was in her mother’s womb when her family was mercilessly thrown out of their house to pave way for a new project. But Andria is too young to understand what her family has gone through.
Deepa who has nurtured her child against all odds says she would admit Andria to a school next academic year when she turns six.
Living a turbulent life on the pavements
Recalling how the life has been in the last four and a half years, ever since she became homeless, Deepa says it was extremely difficult during the initial few months, but gradually she has made peace with reality.
“I was seven months pregnant when we were thrown out of our home. I was living with my husband, mother, younger sister and a brother. We had no bathroom and toilet facilities once we were on street. Mosquitoes were a major concern. I was worried what would happen if I catch a disease. I was more worried what would happen to the child in my womb,” she says.
For a few months after the eviction, the family lived in cloth tents which was not strong enough to sustain wind and rain. Gradually, the family built a little stronger tent on the pavement of Ejipura, close to the bus stop. Meanwhile, Deepa gave birth to Andria in a government hospital.
“I would often worry about what would happen to the child as we lived on street in the absence of any basic hygiene and facilities. The house would get flooded during rains and we were surrounded by filth and mosquitoes. To add to my misery, the child would often fall ill. Though she is much healthier now,” Deepa tells.
In the last four and a half years of living on street, Deepa’s life has witnessed several events. She gave birth to two more children, the youngest one being nine months old now. Her husband who was working as an office-boy for a fixed salary lost his job since he missed work during the eviction time.
“He lost his job because he could not go for work for many days as he had to rebuild our shelter and take care of the family. He did not go in search of a new job, but took up the work of beating “tamate” during ceremonies,” she says.
“But then this work does not bring us enough money. We don’t have a steady source of income. On a few days, he earns and rest of the days he doesn’t,” she says. “See, yesterday he had no work, he was sitting idle at home. Today he is out; looks like someone has died and he has gone to beat tamate,” she laughs.
For a brief period Deepa too tried to work and earn for her family. Then her mother died due to tuberculosis, so she had to quit the job.
Life has been uncertain for Deepa. The curious eyes and glimpses of passersby has been the most irritating aspect of living on pavements. “This tent does not have a good door. There are men who would just want to take advantage of this situation. It does not feel good when they unnecessarily peep through our doors or pass lewd comments and cause trouble,” she says.
Lack of toilet facility is yet another major concern for Deepa and other women belonging to evicted families. “We do not have bathrooms and toilets nearby. We are forced to walk for about one kilometre everyday just to reach the public bathroom and toilet. With these kids, it is really difficult,” she says. The fee for using the toilet/bathroom is Rs 5 per person.
A different kind of identity crisis
I ask her why her family didn’t move to a rented house like how most of the evicted families did post-eviction. She says her family does not have enough income to do so. “When I see others houses, when I listen to their conversations, I too feel shifting to a rented house is a good thing. But rented houses are too expensive. Deposits are as high as Rs 50,000 for a small room and the monthly rent ranges from Rs 3,000 to 4,000. My husband does not earn more than Rs 6,000 a month. Then how can we even think of it?” she asks.
While most of the families that were evicted are soon likely to be relocated to Sulikunte EWS quarters where they will be given free houses, Deepa is not lucky enough. About 200 families that do not have the documents as proof of stay in EWS quarters during the demolition were not given biometric cards. Following the demolition, the BBMP had given biometric cards to the families who were entitled to get EWS quarters in Sulikunte upon submission of documents such as voter ID, ration card, certificate from BBMP etc.
A few of the families living on the pavement have got the biometric card and are likely to move to Sulikunte once the Karnataka Slum Development Board hands over the houses. But families like that of Deepa’s are less-privileged. For them owning or even taking a small house on rent seems to be a distant dream. While the authorities are busy talking about affordable housing for marginalised and signing up for huge PPP projects, the lives of those like Deepa are crushed.
“We do not have entitlement papers, hence we will not get a house there. But my sister who lives in a rented house close by, will get a house in Sulikunte,” she says.
Deepa pins her hopes on finding a job once her youngest child grows old enough to be left with neighbours. “May be we will earn more and find a house on rent sometime in future,” she says.