New Orleans In Delhi 250,000 of our slum dwellers have been displaced in order to allow the Delhi Municipal Corporation and India to preen before the dozens of countries coming to the Commonwealth Games being hosted in the country for the first time. Tens of thousands of our bicycle rickshaw pullers and other informal workers are being pushed off the streets in order to allow the city and the country to pretend that the poor are nowhere rather than everywhere, making them not only invisible but also robbing their livelihoods file this farce is played out on the world stage. This disaster led ACORN International to launch the Commonwealth Games Campaign (www.commonwealthgamescampaign.org) to try to win some support and assistance from not only India but to enlist the aid of other countries in making sure that the poor were not run over by the race to the games. With the games hardly two weeks away the piper is now being paid, the chickens are coming to roost, though little of this is giving much comfort or aid to the displaced still.
Luckily I’m writing about all of this, because if I were talking about it, I would probably be incoherent since my tongue is fixed so firmly in my cheek. Yesterday, England, Scotland, and New Zealand all stirred the pot with a roar of complaints as they inspected the athletes’ residences (whose construction affected much of the residential displacement!). The whine to BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/commonwealth_games/delhi_2010/9018515.stm) was unrelenting and included intimations by the New Zealanders that the Games
should be postponed as well as a graphic tale of one delegation finding a couple of dogs sleeping on the duvets in the quarters and using the shower for their personal toilet. If that is the case, it sounds like the quarters are the Taj Mahal compared to the conditions faced by the slum dwellers that were displaced! The secretary-general of the Delhi-based organizing committee put it all down to a difference in taste:
Bhanot explained: “Everyone has different standards about cleanliness. The Westerners have different standards while we have different standards.” But he stressed that workers have been instructed to deliver Western standards of hygiene.
I would instead put it down to bad karma for the committee’s arrogant and destructive disregard for the people who had been living and working in the area before their usurpation.
This morning’s New York Times more painfully told the story of yet more injuries, as we have continued to point out, when a footbridge leading to the stadium venue collapsed injuring 27 people, 4 seriously. In a typically cavalier disdain for the human cost of the games, it was almost as painful to read the government response:
“This will not affect the games,” said Raj Kumar Chauhan, a Delhi minister for development, who spoke at the scene. “We can put the bridge up again, or make a new one.”
It is time for the world and the media to realize that the problem in India is not a question of the ability to put on a party and adhere to construction timelines. The problem is that people have to come first, and until that fact becomes the dominant cultural sensitivity, everything else is just arrogance and artifice.
Help send the message. Please support the poor of Delhi with your signature and contributions for the campaign at www.commonwealthgamescampaign.org.