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Homeless and unemployed, they are turning desperate

Protests against displacement of the weaker sections due to forced and often illegal eviction from housing colonies are gaining ground. Bharat Dogra reports

The pandemic has made life even more difficult than it was for the weaker sections. They have suffered very big losses in earnings and employment. What is more, weather conditions are becoming more adverse because of climate change, with heat waves and highly-concentrated rainfall becoming more frequent. In this scenario, there is a very strong case for entirely avoiding eviction of the poor from their homes and livelihoods. It is well-known that housing of weaker sections is often related to livelihoods usually based in the settlement itself or close by.

Despite there being such a strong case against evictions, these have continued in many places. While such activity in Haryana’s Faridabad District attracted a lot of attention, there were several other evictions in Chandigarh, Gurugram, Delhi and other cities as well in recent times. In these circumstances, organisations of weaker sections have been increasingly feeling the need for uniting in protest.

Several organisations of weaker sections, hawkers, domestic workers, women workers, people in hutment colonies and slum dwellers came together to protest under the banner of the Mazdoor Awas Sangharsh Samiti at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on September 6, demanding a halt in evictions A large number of people, including women who were evicted from their homes in slums, jhuggies and resettlement colonies, and informal sector workers who were deprived of  their livelihood without rehabilitation efforts, gathered to raise their voice against what they called the Bulldozer Raj. They said the weaker sections like Dalits and tribals suffered the most in these evictions. An agenda to ‘communalise’ society has added to the eviction efforts, and attempts are also being made to damage the unity of the working class.

The protesters estimated that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic till date, over 600000 people had been evicted from their homes, and more are under threat. On the other hand, not much is being said about rehabilitation. Although housing is available in urban areas, it is not affordable for the poor. While the conditions in Delhi and nearby areas were highlighted at this protest, it was pointed out that the situation in most other parts of the country was not very different.

People from Gyaspur Basti, Khori Gaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Agra, Dhobi Ghat Camp, Kasturba Nagar, Bela Ghat, etc who gathered at the protest meeting had faced eviction and demolition of their homes, despite Stay orders issued by courts in some cases.These demolitions/ evictions were in violation of the many ‘alternative shelter’ provisions that both the executive and judiciary have guaranteed or promised from time to time to the urban poor. The actions were also inconsistent with the rights to life, livelihood and dignity.

While unemployment in India is rising day-by-day, hawkers, street vendors and waste segregation and sanitation workers are being evicted from their places of stay and work, the protesters said. Recently released data shows a high suicide rate among daily wage workers, indicating how desperate their condition has become.

The following demands have been sent to the government by the organisations behind the protest activity:

  • Immediately halt forced displacement
  • No eviction before complete rehabilitation
  • All the jhuggis/ slums should be surveyed and eligible bastis be notified for rehabilitation
  • Make erring officials accountable for unjust and illegal evictions
  • Every state should have a rehabilitation policy
  • Immediately complete the survey of street vendors, hawkers, etc and issue certificates of vending
  • Regulate unorganised workers and provide social protection
  • Reserve 20-30 per cent of urban area for working classes.

October – December 2022