Justice 1st in Delhi, Games 2nd

indiaHouston Watching the World Cup in South Africa, reading the stories in the Times from slums outside of Johannesburg, makes me look at the calendar for the countdown to the next huge international sports event:  The Commonwealth Games!  In October teams from all over the former colonies of the British Empire will be parachuting into Delhi to compete for a couple of weeks.  We hope our members working with ACORN International and ACORN India can survive.  Many may not.

Which is why, hardly a week ago, we launched the Commonwealth Games Campaign and asked friends and allies to join with us and sign our petition at www.commonwealthgamescampaign.org with many others and write to your local games organizing committee and the High Commissioner in your country or directly to the Queen.  Thousands of families have been displaced already.  The livelihoods of waste pickers, bicycle rickshaw pullers and many others are threatened.    We need your help!

Quickly we have gotten some support from our friends in labor, especially in Canada.  The British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) with its 60,000+ members was first to endorse a resolution of support followed by the Prince George Labour Council, and now pending in the Victoria Labour Council and the Toronto & York Labour Council.  We are appealing for help everywhere!

Here is a story that ran in Delhi passed on to me by Dharmendra Kumar, our Delhi director, which makes the case painfully well:

Gloomy face of glittering Delhi
By Gaurav Sharma
14 Jun 2010

While the government authorities are spending billions to beautify Delhi for the Commonwealth Games 2010, does any one care for the millions of poor living in pitiable conditions in the Capital’s slums?


Delhi’s poor are forced to live in such terrible conditions
(photo: Gaurav Sharma)

Just a stone’s throw away from Shadipur Metro Station in New Delhi is an elongated slum cluster Kathputli Colony. Whiff of fetid air and stench of stale urine assail your senses the moment you enter the locality. Stray pigs, heaps of garbage, clogged drains, dingy lanes and mosquitoes buzzing all around will accompany you, as you move about in the slums.

There are thousands of slum clusters in Delhi where a mammoth population is living a gruelling life with no basic amenities. Kathputli Colony is, one such slum, riddled with acute water shortage, dilapidated mud huts, abysmal health and education services, corrupt Public Distribution System and a myriad of other problems.

While Delhi has come a long way to boast of its ‘world class’ facilities, dismal infrastructure in the slums is a legacy of decades of neglect.

For a population of over 7000 and an area of 5.22 hectares, the slum has only one hand pump which breathed its last two months ago due to excessive handling forcing the inhabitants to quench their thirst from sources outside the colony. Braving the scorching sun and heat waves, women and children fetch containers filled with water all the way from a community tap installed outside the slum.

It is ironic that everyday gallons of water are showered on the lush green field of Delhi’s several Golf Courses used by ultra-rich but these slum-dwellers yearn for even a single drop of water in this hot torrid summer.

The tragedy of these poor is that in every election politicians promise them better life to get their votes. “The politicians come and go but our problems remain the same. Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit does nothing for poor except uttering platitude. Eight years ago she had promised that every house would have regular water tap but till date there is no water supply let alone water taps”, says Sudha who lives in parched Kathputli colony.

It is ironic that everyday gallons of water are showered on the lush green field of Delhi’s several Golf Courses used by ultra-rich but these slum-dwellers yearn for even a single drop of water in this hot torrid summer.


Children defecate in open in the slum littered with garbage
(photo: Gaurav Sharma)

But what affects the slum residents most is pathetic sanitation services. Chocked drains, children defecating in the open, mud paths strewn with faeces and litter all around make one feel sick within few minutes. To make matters worse, there is no public toilet in the slum forcing women to go outside colony to use a public toilet but that too on payment. Many share makeshift bathrooms within the colonies for bathing and washing clothes.

“Kathputli colony is a virtual hell. I wish I had a better place to live in. Dirty drains lie clogged for weeks, as nobody comes to clean them. Litter and Kathputli colony are inseparable,” rues 24-year-old Harsh.

“It is better to languish in a jail than living in this slum. Every day, I have to spend Rs. 7 for bathing and relieving in Sulabh toilets. Had there been community toilets in the colony, I would not have to spend Rs 200 per month out of a meager monthly earning of Rs 1500,” says 37-year-old widow Lajju who has five dependent children.

While Delhi has witnessed huge budget expenditure on improving civic infrastructure and beautification in the last decade, a tiny portion of that spending on providing sanitation facilities in Delhi’s slums could have spared the women embarrassment of defecating and bathing in open.


This is makeshift bathroom for women living in the slum
(photo: Gaurav Sharma)

“It is better to languish in a jail than living in this slum. Every day, I have to spend Rs. 7 for bathing and relieving in Sulabh toilets. Had there been community toilets in the colony, I would not have to spend Rs 200 per month out of a meager monthly earning of Rs 1500.”

Delhi’s comfort obsessed middle class may find it difficult to stomach but a number of these slum dwellers are forced to skip their meals due to soaring food prices and inefficient Public Distribution System (PDS). The gross irregularities and rampant corruption in PDS have taken a massive toll on the well being of these poor people.

Prabhu, one of the Pradhans (Community Heads) of this slum, says that as many as 1,500 inhabitants are without ration cards, making it impossible for them to access PDS outlets for cheaper ration. In 2007, 1550 people had applied for the renewal of ration cards which were due to expire the same year. But only 25-30 people have received their respective ration cards till now, he told d-sector.

Rummaging around his torn and tattered bag, 60-year-old Harsukhiya fishes out a receipt issued by the ration office for his new (ration) card. Recently, he discovered much to his horror, that his application for a new ration card has been cancelled.

What is worth mentioning here that many residents are facing the threat of eviction as a real estate firm Raheja Developers (owner of a prominent English weekly) has been given the contract to develop 2,800 flats for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in Kathputli colony. The catch is that the ration cards of many old residents haven’t been renewed and if they fail to produce it to the concerned authorities they will lose the right to rehabilitation and their entitlement to these flats.


60-year-old Harsukhiya is too old to work. He does not have a ration card either.
(photo: Gaurav Sharma)

“Why do these ladies who come on TV regularly only talk about the rights and plight of tribals of distant regions? Why don’t they take up our cause? They should come and spend a night in Kathputli Colony.”

Their eviction may not spring surprise as in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games (CWG), the Delhi government led by Sheila Dikshit, in its obsession to beautify the city state, has rendered many poor homeless. Independent experts estimate that nearly 3 million people are likely to be rendered homeless in Delhi by the end of CWG.

Like other basic amenities, health services are also in doldrums. No dweller wants to go to government hospitals until there is a serious illness. People say doctors and staff in government hospitals do not treat them properly. They feel it is better to have speedy, though costlier, private treatment than doing several rounds of government hospitals.

Despite such odds, the slum residents dream of a better life for their children but lack of proper education facilities disappoint them. Most children in this locality are victims of shoddy education standards of municipal schools. Either they play truant or stop going to schools. They can easily be sighted playing cards in the open.

“Who doesn’t want to go school? We can only afford government schools where teachers never pay attention to children from slums. I flunked twice in 7th standard and finally quit education. My mother could not afford my useless education,” rues teenager Mukesh, who has now started helping her mother in street-vending.

When d-sector tried to contact Mrs Vidya Devi, Municipal Councillor of the area, she was not available for a comment. Despite several attempts by this reporter to call on her official number mentioned in the MCD’s directory, she could not be reached. Every time, her husband Lala Ram received the phone and offered to answer all queries on behalf of his wife.

“You can ask me whatever questions you have. I am looking after the problems of entire area including Kathputli colony.” Lala Ram told d-sector over phone.

Certainly, empowerment of women through reservation of seats in elected bodies is still a distant dream. If husband of a municipal councillor runs the show in India’s capital, we can well imagine the conditions in far away villages.

“Sheila Dikshit is doing everything to spruce up the city for Commonwealth Games but is least concerned about the plight of poor like us. I was born and brought up in Kathputli colony. I am now father of three children. Nothing has changed from the time since I was born. The government has spent thousands of crores on this city but, this colony has not seen even a single rupee,” laments 30-year-old Lallu.

With the Commonwealth Games around the corner, New Delhi is all decked up to showcase its overhauled infrastructure, the metamorphosis of which cost billions of rupees. While sprawling stadia, serpentine flyovers, manicured gardens, and spacious parking lots have come to symbolise the galloping growth of India, government officials cannot resist the temptation to blow the trumpet of creating a “world class” city.

However, behind this new-found glitter lies a gloom which reveals the dark side of Delhi’s development. The government may have decided to erect bamboo screens to hide the slums in Delhi but the horrendous living conditions in slums cannot be glossed over.

As this reporter was about to leave Kathputli Colony, a shriveled old man asked: “Why do these ladies (social activists) who come on TV regularly only talk about the rights and plight of tribals of distant regions? Why don’t they take up our cause? They should come and spend a night in Kathputli Colony.”

Little did he know that for our celebrity activists living in a slum for a day would be much more difficult than spending a week in a jungle!

Gaurav Sharma  |  gaurav@d-sector.org

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