Scenes From Mumbai’s Class War: Builders Vs. People

The fabled city of dreams is splitting its seams and giving away to a nightmare town. In the last few months, the slums of Mumbai, home to more than half of city’s teeming millions, are being torn apart by builders who have their eyes set on the prime property on which they are located. Local goons in the employ of the builder bribe and bully the rightful owners into submission. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority turns a blind eye to the violations. The State police provides the manpower for the atrocity, sending in armed foot soldiers to silence and lathi the dissenters. And the mainstream media says that it is under orders from the top to ‘not report on builders’.

Zulekha Sayyed is a 25 year old community media journalist. She is an inhabitant of the Vikhroli Park Site slums in Mumbai. Her powerful video on the slum ‘redevelopment’ gives an eye witnesses account of the human rights travesty occurring everyday in the slums of Mumbai. Armed police guarding the builder’s workers as they demolish houses. People being dragged out of their homes kicking and screaming. People like you and me breaking down in tears of anguish and anger as they lose everything that they have worked for all their lives. There is no ‘spirit’ to the city and the songs of bonhomie have long died. If one is to judge the ground through Zulekha’s video, it is apparent that there is a unheard and unreported war being waged in the streets and neighborhoods of Mumbai.

“There is a neighborhood not far from my house where the demolitions have already begun,” says Zulekha. “Every week people are losing their houses and are being left at the mercy of the  streets. My family is living in a paranoid limbo. We can never say when our house will be taken away.”

Zulekha has closely witnessed the crooked methods that the builder ‘mafia’ use to cheat the people of their land. “They keep an eye out for anyone who dares speak against them.  First they try to bribe them. If you don’t bend, they’ll send in goons to threaten you. If you continue to resist, they will make your lives a living hell. You may be accused on being a terrorist. You will find yourself in jail. You may even have a really bad accident.”

The people in Zulekha’s neighborhood are more or less agreeable to the idea of redevelopment but the horror stories that they have head about the system makes them anxious. “They dump your community wholesale in a resettlement site and then forget about you. I know of people who have been living in these hellish camps for the last decade. They have lost all hopes of rehabilitation.”

The Chief Minister ofMaharashtrahas recently declared a plan for a slum free Mumbai in the next five years. The project envisages the relocation of 14 lakh families living in slum communities. But there is nothing in history or policy of slum redevelopment in the city that inspires any confidence in this vision. Zulekha is tentative about the future and maintains a hard-line that the community’s every demand has to be met before the processes are initiated. It remains to be seen if the state is continue to toe the builder’s line or is prepared to meet its people halfway. Just this week, communities were out in the streets crying for reform and change. Mumbai’s class war is far from over. It has just begun.

They say that the city never sleeps. Perhaps it is the possibility of a nightmare that keeps it awake. But surely, it can’t afford to dream.

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