We Own The Land: Slum Dwellers Take Builders to Court

Come the new millennium and the builders and construction companies have picked up where the mafia gangs and goons of yesteryear have left off. The two have merged seamlessly and local goonery is now the purview of the corporate, the moneyed and the respectable. As urban India fights for every inch of valuable square meter, construction companies are not averse to stoop to bullying, threatening, putting the hurt on and making ‘offers’ that you cannot refuse. In today’s video, our correspondent Nirmala from Ranchi, Jharkhand brings to light a family’s prolonged struggle to protect their home against the devious machinations of a local builder.

The Buxla family are the rightful owners of the land in the Kadrubhagat slums in the centre of city of Ranchi since 1956.  Over 5 families share the space. Most of them work as daily wage laborers for the absolute minimum wage. The family elders have seen Ranchi’s development with their own eyes. They have seen slums turn into housing complexes, fallow land turn into malls, the sleepy town turn into a qusi-metropolis. But in spite of the many lucrative offers for redevelopment that came their way over the years, they have chosen to hold on to their land and home.

It was around the end of last year and the beginning of this, that one builder began to show an unhealthy interest in acquiring the land. When the family refused to give in, he resorted first to verbal threatening. When the family remained unmoved, hired goons flashed guns and issued warnings to vacate the land at once. The builder then tried to harass the family by falsely accusing them of trying to rob his car. Then he brought all the land surrounding their land and built a wall entombing the family inside. Every cheap trick in the book was tried. It had become impossible for the family to live in peace.

That was when Community Correspondent Nirmala who works closely with marginalized communities in Ranchi dropped into the Buxla family house. She had come to wish them a Happy Easter.  The granddame of the household, Bharathi Baxla, spoke to Nirmala about the situation with the builder. She asked Nirmala what she could do. “The first thing I did was to take the women to an audience with the Mayor,” says Nirmala who has worked with Ranchi mayor before on similar issues. “The Mayor listened to Bharathi’s tale and she was horrified. She immediately called a hearing and builder was summoned.”

“The Builders are smart. They’re old hands at cheap tricks,” says Nirmala. “There was no way we could trace the threats back to him but we all knew he was lying. I’m sure the Mayor did to.”

Nirmala and a group of activists got involved. They helped the Buxla family file a case against the builder. “No one knows when the final verdict will out,” says Nirmala. “It’s a land issue. It tends to go on over generations. But for now, Bharathi Baxla and her family are living on their land. The threats are over but the fear continues.”

“The builders are a powerful bunch with many contacts going higher up. But if you don’t fight them out of fear, you can be sure that they will crush you.”

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