The horrific incident of brutalities unleashed by the Madhya Pradesh police on a Dalit farmer’s family in Guna yesterday did not catch the attention of India’s mainstream media initially and got noticed only when a campaign on twitter started trending seeking chief minister Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan’s resignation. Today, the ‘national’ media too reported the story and as per latest reports, the collector and SP of Guna have been transferred but then these transfer means nothing for those who are fighting life and death at their hospital and whose crop have been completely destroyed by the brutal police.

As was reported Ram Kumar Ahirwar, a dalit farmer used to cultivate a piece of land which was basically government land. It is a fact the most of the poor settle in those areas which are worst off and empty to make a living for themselves. Ram Kumar Ahirwar too was cultivating an area where nogovernment agency reached but as the land look ‘precious’ adjacent to city, the government take it back with intimidation and barbaric police atrocity on the family. The entire crop is destroyed by the shameless officials who don’t feel the pain of the farmer who cultivate a land, even if on paper it might not be his land. Shouldn’t it be considered illegal to destroy crops waiting for harvesting? The problem is that the people are settled by the politicians only and manytime the landless, homeless people get settled on the government land lying vacant. Nobody goes and grab land willfully which are already acquired. Government too knows it well that if a person is living on a place for many years, nobody touches them. Now, governments have become ‘real estate agents’ and hence all those places where homeless and landless people might be living for years, have become ‘encroachers’. The way the police and officials behave look categorical that they come with the idea that all the people who are there are ‘thieves and dacoits’. It is this kind of criminal mindset of the administration filled with deep rooted caste prejudices that work more if the persons belong to Dalits and Adivasis category.  The administration and the police would never have shown the same kind of promptness had they belong to the caste Hindus. The fact is that most of the government land in our villages and cities has been encroached by the dominant castes, part and parcel of the government structure and nothing happen to them. Cases goes on and on in various courts.

Unfortunately, this is not the first incident where police brutalities or government’s hurriedness to go for rampant land grab happened. At the time when the international agencies including United Nations have consistently called for a complete moratorium on eviction and displacement, we are witnessing a serious crisis in our country where the authorities using their brute power to suppress people particularly the poor and if they protest, they are beaten mercilessly in front of their families, and children and cases filed against the victims as in the cases of Raj Kumar and his wife who are struggling for their life but police did not feel ashamed of filing charges against them under  “Section 353 of the IPC (Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty, Section 309 of the IPC (Attempt to suicide) have been added to the FIR[i].

As I mentioned above, legality-illegality does not matter as the administration and the government are the law unto themselves. They care little when the question is the poor particularly the Dalits. We all speak a lot about Corona warriors and PM himself has suggested to respected our frontline workers. The most vulnerable among them belong to Sanitation workers or simply those who belong to manual scavenging communities. We all would have thought that the government would do everything to protect their interest and keep them safe but what happened in Delhi reflect the shamelessness of our political class as a whole. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejariwal who speaks so much of these communities remained conspicuously silent.

Court order misused or misinterpreted in demolishing the Balmiki Basti

More than 289 families belonging to two slums at Kidwai Nagar were supposed to get rehabilitation in April, a battle they fought in the court for 8 years. Delhi High Court, in its order in May 2018 had actually asked Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board and South Delhi Municipal Corporation to do a survey of the slum dwellers and their eligibility for a rehabilitation after the necessary payment which was Rs 1,42,000 for OBC families and 31,000 for the Dalit families. The official process for the resettlement was to be done by November 2019.  The new location would be Dwarka and time scheduled was April 2020 but nothing happened and the families were still living along with the Drain. “This is because of Covid. From December onwards, we could not do anything because of the elections. Then Covid struck. All the staff are now on Covid duty. We have also been handling shelter and food for the displaced. It is not likely that this can be dealt with until the Covid situation is over,” DUSIB member Bipin Rai said, as Indian Express reported.

What is shocking is that while the officials blame the elections and Covid for ‘non implementation’ of the High Court order but the same officials are more than eager to demolish the ‘encroachment’ just to ‘comply’ the Court Order, which itself is a complete deviation and attempt to hide the real issues and facts from the court.  The East Delhi Municipal Corporation demolished 56 houses at the Laxmi Nagar area leaving the helpless families on the road. Most of them were actually Safai karmcharis working with these corporation and some of them actually were home quarantine for being Covid positive. One does not know how can be a ‘compliance’ report complete without rehabilitation of people.  For many of these people actually the battle continue since 2012 along with 180 other residents who got settled elsewhere. It is strange that the officials use ‘technicalities’ to deny people their rights and now use the same thing to harass them even when there should not have been any such eviction. At least, they could have waited and prepared their rehabilitation plan. “My brother was shifted to Bawana with others in 2012. It was promised that we will be shifted too. But we still find ourselves here in conditions worse than ever before,” said a resident.[ii]

Beautification for Donald Trump’s visit

Eviction continued from the beginning. Even when the covid 19 cases started coming in, the Gujarat government was busy to ‘honor’ US President Donald Trump with a grand welcome in Ahmedabad. A half a kilometer long i.e. 1,640 foot brick wall was erected to block the view of a slum area with more than 2000 people. 52 families were served notices by the “Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), asking them to vacate a roadside plot on the Gandhinagar-Visat highway near the Motera stadium, on Wednesday appeared before the local body. They requested that action be deferred till a final decision on their case, which was pending before the municipal commissioner[iii].

One needs to understand the politics behind such notices. How is that notices are given to people to ‘vacate’ the place in two days or on a 24 hour notice. Most of them were basically construction workers and living there for years. Rather than providing people shelter and housing, we turn them criminals and file cases against them without an iota of shame.

The pattern of intimidating people, humiliating them and if they resist criminalise them, remain the same all over the country. So, Mumbai Corporation too got active during the period and served notice to more than 13000 families which it term as ‘illegal occupants’.  “ The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) on the direction of Bombay High Court will be issuing eviction notices to 13,143 illegal occupants residing in 150 structures, which are a permanent alternative accommodation, from March 31 and complete it before monsoon, said a senior official from the authority, who did not wish to be named.” After the notices are served, they will be having 48 hrs to prove their authorisation, failing which they are required to vacate these houses, ” explained the official.[iv]

So notices continue to be served to people in different locations in Mumbai. “Around 280 slum dwellers at Bheemchaya, Vikhroli, were served demolition notices by the Ministry of Forest (mangrove cell) last month.  Residents and citizens have asserted that they have the right to be rehabilitated. The slums, which are located close to a mangrove patch, are slated to be flattened by the end of the month. The notices were served after a Bombay high court verdict that called for the conservation of mangroves.[v]

Again the technicalities whether the people there were residing before January 1st, 2000 as per government resolution passed in 2014, to make them eligible for regularization. The problem is that the authorities don’t accept their own certificates or data and the easiest way for them is to demolish the place without giving people any right to life.

The civic bodies all over the country are finding the Corona period the best one to dislocate people. This is utterly disgraceful when the government itself had asked to the companies not to dismiss any employee and try to pay salary for all. One is not merely surprised but shocked why the same cannot be applicable on not evicting people at this hour of crisis.  In Coimbatore, “ The city corporation demolished 300 houses built encroaching the Muthannan Kulam at Kumarswamy Nagar. The civic body will demolish 1,092 houses that are vacant in the first phase of the eviction drive, a corporation official said. “Power to 592 houses has been disconnected. The eviction drive will continue on Sunday,” he told TOI[vi].

The problem is that most of these localities have Dalits-OBCs-Muslims and Adivasis working on subsistence and daily wages. They have settled in these lands for long and live in utterly humiliating conditions without any facilities. Secondly, whenever the government or any agency provides them a ‘rehabilitation’ plan, it is far away from the places they have been working for over so many years and does not have any basic amenities. The pains of the people who are facing imminent displacement is enormous in the absence of a proper time schedule and rehabilitation plan,  but then government does not bother about it. “ MS Velmurugan, a resident, said, ”It is not fair to move us to housing units on the outskirts, which lack even basic facilities like transportation, educational institutions and hospitals. Most of us are daily wage workers. What would we do without any employment opportunities there? We don’t know why the civic body wants to remove us at a time when the pandemic is spreading,” he said. Muthukrishnan, a resident, said his family had been residing in the locality for five generations. “We will vacate if alternative land is provided within the city limit. Livelihood of those who had moved to the housing units in Malumichampatti was badly hit during the lockdown and several of them returned to Kumarasamy Nagar,” he added”[vii].

Adivasis face immediate eviction at Polavaram:

There are reports of possible displacement from Polavaram area where the government is planning for the big dam. 34 villages will be completely submerged once the height of dam goes to 41.5 meters[viii]”. While the people are fearing as the cases of Covid 19 are increasing but the government in this rainy season is ‘determined’ to relocate the Adivasis of the area. The minimum estimation of the number of families to be relocated is about 10000 according to a report published by The Hindu[ix]. These figures differ according to time to time. An Indian Express report says that 17,000 Project Displaced families would have to be resettled before the current phase[x]. A few years back when visited the place near Bhadrachalam, the threat of beautiful locations with rich bio diversity was looming large. It was not merely an onslaught to absolutely and stunning green locales of the area apart from cultural annihilation of the thousands of the indigenous people living for centuries.  The number of possible displacement of people because of submergence will actually be in lakhs. Unfortunately, none is bothered about such onslaught on nature and people as ‘developmental’ model being pursued today is not merely anti people but a well-planned strategy to strengthen the status quo favoring the caste supremacists in India.

Urban Poverty aggravating:

Although “ India has witnessed tremendous growth over the last two decades, the proportion of poor below the poverty line has dropped from 45% to 22% between 1994 and 2012. Close to 133 million Indians have been lifted out of poverty”[xi] but this is one side of the story. Since 2014 things have changed and unfortunately, the situation is much difficult at the moment and with Covid 19 poverty is aggravating as with severe lock down and the new figures will be frightening. People have lost employment resulting in heavy migration to native places. “According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 report, the number of undernourished people in the world increased to an estimated 815 million in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015. Data from the report showed that India is home to 190.7 million of them—a 14.5% prevalence of hunger vis-a-vis its total population.”[xii]

The situation in the urban India became more disturbing. “Of the estimated 107 million urban workers, 41 million were self-employed, 16 million were casual workers, and 50 million were salaried employees. The self-employed are losing money and casual workers have no work in this lockdown. Even salaried workers are facing job insecurities. More than half, or 52.8%, are not entitled to paid leave while 72.4% work without written contracts. More than 80% of all urban workers will have reduced incomes during the lockdown. The relaxing of regulations for withdrawals from Employee Provident Fund (EPF) accounts, also a part of the PMGKY package, will benefit only 10.6% of the salaried employees. The other 90% do not have EPF accounts. More than 80% of urban families may suffer significant income losses during this crisis and become garib (poor) at least temporarily. We need a more inclusive PMGKY to also cover these newly impoverished families.[xiii]

A UN report has warned that the promised goal of zero hunger by 2030 might prove to be a dream as things are worsening and if serious action is not taken then things will go out of control. “The latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, published today, estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. The hungry are most numerous in Asia but expanding fastest in Africa. Across the planet, the report forecasts, the COVID-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020. (Flare-ups of acute hunger in the pandemic context may see this number escalate further at times.)”[xiv]

Respect the UN and declare a complete moratorium on Eviction & Displacement

There are no credible figures available at the moment about the status of eviction in India particularly during the pandemic. I tried to trace out reports from various online portals but not much was visible. ‘An analysis by Housing and Land Rights Network says that between March 16th, 2020 to June 16th, 2020, there were 22 incidents of forced eviction and home demolition across India and total number of people got affected might be around 13,500 ( this is a  conservative estimate)’[xv]. The demolition drive continues in our cities and displacement in Polavaram may ultimatel have a massive impact on the Dalit- Adivasi lives too and when globally there is a campaign going on as #Blacklivematters, it is equally important for us to speak and stand up for #dalitlivesmatters and #adivasilivesmatters. A disproportionate responsne san sensitivity towards human lives will only risk more of them and the biggest number of people particularly women and children get affected due to such insensitive acts, are from Dalit and Adivasi communities.  It is also important for all of us to remind our policy makers and the executive that their acts smell of historical prejudices against Dalits, Adivasis and other poor. Not merely this, the acts violate the international law too under the UN conventions and treaties of which India is a signatory and duty-bound to honor.

In April this year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate Housing Leilani Faraha , presented a Covid 10 Guidance note which completely prohibit evictions. She said that over 150 million people around the world are homeless or living either in shelter homes or pavements. Her report published on April 28th, 2020 categorically say that forced evictions are a violation of International human rights law including right to housing as forced eviction results in homelessness[xvi].

The most important part of the Covid 19 guiding note by the Special Rapporteur is that statement on the issue of forced eviction. “Declare an end to all evictions of anyone, anywhere and for any reason until the end of the pandemic and for a reasonable period of time thereafter. It also call to declare an end to the forced eviction or displacement of informal settlements. Ensure that necessary resources are available to ensure implement this order effectively including resources to monitor and prevent extrajudicial evictions.”[xvii]

Unfortunately, the civic bodies in our country don’t seem to worry about the international laws. It is time, they must be made ‘educated’ in all these important international treaties and covenants that India is a signatory and need to implement them in our country.

It is not just because an international agency is saying this but in the greater interest of humanity and the human values that our own Constitution ask us to behave in such a way, to respect human rights of others, we need to a complete moratorium on evictions and displacement. The Prime minister himself made an appeal to the industries not to deduct salary or dismiss employees during lockdown due to Covid-19. The home ministry too gave directives related to this though Industries challenged this in the court of law. The government also gave various other ‘stimulus’ to the industries and poor but it needed to add the biggest directive to all that no poor will be displaced or evicted at the moment and any displacement or eviction cannot be done without a complete and honorable rehabilitation. It is time for the central government and state government to respect the UN mandate prohibiting eviction and displacement during Covid and in its aftermath. It is time for the government to act and show its commitment by honoring this Covid 19 guideline of the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate Housing for a complete prohibition on Eviction for the time being and work on a comprehensive policy for their rehabilitation afterwards.

References

[i] https://www.thequint.com/news/india/dalit-farmers-consume-poison-madhya-pradesh-guna-land-eviction

[ii] https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/delhi-slum-dwellers-supposed-to-get-flats-bear-covid-brunt-6501382/

[iii] https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/ahmedabad-slum-amc-motera-stadium-6276587/

[iv] https://www.freepressjournal.in/mumbai/mumbai-sra-to-issue-eviction-notices-to-13000-illegal-occupants-from-march-31

[v] https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/after-receiving-demolition-notice-slum-dwellers-in-mumbai-claim-they-have-right-to-rehabilitation/story-npjatZ40QsH4EB7BZkdewM.html

[vi] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/300-illegal-encroachments-demolished/articleshow/76239635.cms

[vii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/300-illegal-encroachments-demolished/articleshow/76239635.cms

[viii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vijayawada/polavaram-project-15-villages-to-be-evacuated-by-july-end/articleshow/76803229.cms

[ix] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/more-than-10000-polavaram-displaced-families-to-be-shifted-to-rehab-colonies/article32016335.ece

[x] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/andhra-pradesh/2020/feb/29/ensure-polavaram-project-is-done-by-june-2021-andhra-cm-jagan-2110092.html

[xi] https://in.one.un.org/poverty-and-urbanisation/#:~:text=India%20has%20witnessed%20tremendous%20growth,been%20lifted%20out%20of%20poverty.&text=By%202030%2C%20more%20than%20400,living%20in%20cities%20in%20India.

Xi https://www.livemint.com/Politics/8BBA9K4GHvpSvXR0ps602O/India-home-to-234-of-worlds-hungry-51-women-are-anemic.html

[xiii] https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/the-coronavirus-lockdown-and-indias-urban-vulnerables/1915316/

[xiv] who.int/news-room/detail/13-07-2020-as-more-go-hungry-and-malnutrition-persists-achieving-zero-hunger-by-2030-in-doubt-un-report-warns

[xv] hlrn.org.in/documents/Press_Release_Evictions_COVID19_June_2020.pdf

[xvi] ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Housing/SR_housing_COVID-19_guidance_evictions.pdf

[xvii] ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Housing/SR_housing_COVID-19_guidance_evictions.pdf

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist


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