February 14, 2005

Letter to India's Prime Minister re Slum demolitions in Mumbai (Ammu Abraham)

To: Shree Manmohan Singh, The Prime Minister of India


Shreemati Sonia Gandhi, The UPA Chairperson and President, Congress Party,

Mumbai, 14-02-2005

Dear Sir / Madam,

As you know, the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai, with the support of the BMC and the Govt of Maharashtra, have been on a spree of slum demolitions, of allegedly post-1995 habitations. Until now, the people who lived in these habitations have not been given any shelter, however temporary; their children cannot sit for exams, they cannot cook food and eat. They sit around all day long under the sun, hoping for something. Most of them are working people and they have been unable to go to work as they are sitting around guarding their belongings.

There is a conviction among the middle class in Mumbai that these people are a great strain on the infrastucture of the city. This is far from true. Thousands of acres of mill lands coming free and being sold in the old textile area of Parel etc are going to have huge high rises on 80 to 90% of it. That is going to put a great strain on the infrastructure and bare necessities of life in Mumbai, especially water. The slums cannot rise very high, and as such are not that much of a strain on infrastructure.

As for the 1995 cut off date, we are told that many people who lost their dwellings and whole bustees were there before 1995, some for a very long time. The Congress made a pre-election promise that the cut-off date will be moved to 2000; many slum dwellers who would have voted for a certain other party, voted for the Congress in the last Assembly elections on that promise. That is how the Congress has made such a come- back in Mumbai. By the sleight of hand of changing the Chief Minister, promises solemnly made should not be broken.

And irrespective of all this, these are citizens and citizenesses of India; they are being callously disenfranchized, struck off the electoral rolls. Soon they will not exist, for all legal purposes. Even illegal migrants, or even animals or any living thing should not be treated in this manner.

Apparently, all this is being done in furtherance of the "Shanghai-Mumbai" plan. But India is not China, and Mumbai is not Shanghai. It is not even Delhi, which has already been cleansed by chasing all the poor out. Mumbai has been the mother of all the displaced of India who are capable of working, but without a livelihood elsewhere.

We are not saying that people should be allowed to build habitations over crucial water pipes and so on; but that the demolitions should not be so indiscriminate, and that going ahead with this get rich scheme of builders in Mumbai will spell the end of Mumbai one of these days.

On Saturday, just 2 days ago, Medha Patkar of NBA, Prakash Reddy of CPI and a number of others have been also arrested, and incarcerated, in relation to a protest near Rafiq Nagar bustee, which had been demolished last December. 1000 families had been rendered homeless at one stroke. The women and children have been sleeping in a cemetery nearby since then. These are people who had homes, who had work, whose children were going to school. The government of Maharashtra and the Mumbai Municipal Corporation increased the number of homeless, jobless and school dropouts by 1000 families at one stroke. And we go begging every other day to the World Bank and ADB and IMF, for loans for development, especially of Mumbai. Where is all this money going? A lot of it was supposed to improve life for the suburban commuters of Mumbai, the miserable suburban population, spending an average of 4 hours packed into mind numbing misery daily. A whole lot of people squatting on railway lands have got new places; but has the commuters’ life improved? Not a jot. The bridges are higher; making physical exertion greater than ever, even for the ageing, the sick and the disabled; but the promise of one more line to separate out the outstation trains so that the commuters do not have to run up the stairs and down when locals are shifted to other platforms – even that has not been done; never mind Shree Govinda, Congress M.P. from Mumbai referring to his mother, taking a much advertized train ride pre-elections and challenging Shree Ram Naik of the BJP (quite rightly) etc.

If you cannot build for the people, alleviate their misery, at least do not demolish what they have already built, so heartlessly.

Stop the demolitions immediately.
Release all arrested persons immediately and call them for discussions about the demolitions and resettlement.
Put up some permanent camps in Mumbai for temporary shelters for the displaced, in every zone; do not leave people/children out on the streets.
Remove all the security guards - paid for by the builders’ lobby , from the demolished areas.
Compensate those whose homes have been illegally demolished.
Pay attention to the school-going children and make arrangements for them to continue to attend school
Make arrangements for the elderly and the sick; do a survey on how many are already dead due to the demolitions
Conduct an enquiry into how women are managing and arrange for counselling for those who are greatly distressed.
We are all crying for the Tsunami-hit people, calling for the establishment of democracy in Nepal.

These demolitions are violating several fundmental rights of the victimized people, according to the Constitution of India. What is the point of having a Constitution, if the most fundamental rights of the citizenry is violated, and the poor can be thrown out and not only their labour, but even their meagre possessions can be misappropriated any time by agencies of the state? Has some ledger been kept somewhere about what the belongings of each of these men, women and children are? Did someone keep track of how many notebooks, pencils, erasers of every child student in the demolished bustees were? If not, how can they even be compensated for personal property destroyed? Are they not human beings and are their dreams not as worthy as those of any of your children?

Please stop the demolitions immediately, and start taking stock of the destruction.

Yours truly,

Ammu Abraham for the Women’s Centre, Bombay.