[Reader-list] Fw: Sarai Research Fellowhip: Photo documentation of Bhatti Mines Community

ravi ravig at del6.vsnl.net.in
Tue Dec 24 14:47:11 IST 2002

 Marginalizing Communities: People, Environment and Urban Space - The Relocation of People living at Bhatti Mines, Delhi 
The Bhatti Mines community in Delhi is facing eviction from their current home for over 25 years. The relocation has been ordered since their settlement falls under the notified Reserve Forest of the Delhi Ridge since 1995. Ravi Agarwal and Anita Soni will photographically  explore and narrate the story of the Bhatti mines people, both as see from within the community, as well as their linkages to the city. 

The proposal is to research and document photographically the people, their environment, livelihoods, struggle, the process of their relocation, the site of their shifting, their relationship with the forest within a context of the ongoing related political and judicial dynamics. The document will also emerge with events.

Backgound: History of Protection of the Delhi Ridge: The Delhi Ridge Forest found various degrees of legal protection in Independent India since 1989, even though the Moguls and the British had earlier passed various laws to protect it. The attempt, mainly by environmental NGOs, was to wrench it out of the clutches of various land development agencies in order to protect the ancient, 15 million year old forest. Amongst the most significant of these was the decision to declare the Asola Bhatti Mines area in southeast Delhi, bordering Haryana, as a sanctuary (almost 6200 ha) in 1991 and later to declare four separate sections of the Ridge forest, totaling 7777 ha, including the Asola Sanctuary as Reserve Forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. 

Unfortunately, the boundaries of the area in Asola also included a post - independence settlement of communities who had migrated from across the border, being mostly Oudhs and Kumhars. The notification made on the basis of the land boundaries presented by the Delhi Development Agency did not exclude these people. In 1996, when the Supreme Court of India was seized of the matter, it directed that the 10,000 odd citizens here be relocated into non-Ridge areas, on the basis of Government affidavits, which termed the settlement as a "slum" and not a village. 

The Communities Within: Both traditional communities, Oudhs and Kumhars, were hereditary mud workers. The Oudhs were nomadic, specializing in earthen masonry including for making rural rain harvesting systems. The Kumhars were an artisan caste of clay molders. Their skills were utilized in the now closed Bhatti 'badarpur' mines, which provided employment through their mud working expertise, and gave them life as well as livelihood. With a deep respect for nature they planted trees amongst their abodes and compounds, (some of which have now grown to be large and shady), built temples, and as per their tradition buried their dead. 

 Subsequently, as part of vote-bank politics, various politicians paid lip service to them and had their colonies named Sanjay Nagar, Indira Nagar and Balbir Nagar. They were issued ration cards, presented with a primary health center and even government run primary and secondary schools, which today educate over 700 local children.

 Over the decades, the original community and traditional livelihoods underwent a change. Their traditional mud houses were infiltrated with pucca housing, hand pumps and even a few garbage dumps. It is this condition, and not their tradition, which the State presented in Court when classifying them as a 'slum' and not an urban village. Village life still exists amongst them, as they struggle to cope with their encounters with modern influences, and the impact of the huge cosmopolis they constitute the southeast boundary of. Today, at least the core part of the settlement has all the settings of a small village. Work includes weaving rope baskets for carrying mud on donkeys, pottery - even though with shrinking markets- local shops, as well a keeping livestock. Their livelihoods are increasingly dependent on manual daily wage work nearby, breaking stones, digging trenches or even selling their wares.

 Displacement and Relocation: The threat to all this being destroyed is real, even as the people pray and hope, unbelieving of the notices being served to them by the Delhi Slum department. The house walls on the main streets are replete with slogans like " we will die but not leave our homes," and " why are farmhouses not part of the Ridge, while our village is?"  The Supreme Court is holding hearings on a regular basis to  take the government to task for not keeping to the relocation schedules since 1998.The site of their relocation itself has been a bane of contention. In 1997, the slum department of the Delhi Govt spent over Rs 27 crores at a site nearby, Jaunapur, but abandoned it evidently under pressure from farmhouse owners. Instead a distant site, 40 km away has now been chosen. The 12 sq. meters of undeveloped land slotted for the entire family, relocated from their current open green spaces, will ring a virtual death knell for the community.

 The Environment and People Divide: This is a community, which in all probability will cease to exist as one, in a few months from now. Questions of "whose city," "whose urban space," "whose forest," and "whose environment,' come to the fore. The historic framing of the issue, in terms of environment vs. people, leads to conflict instead of resolution. The State, with its understanding of the forest based on laws with imperial roots, has no provision to examine the issue from the perspective of the Rights of the communities themselves. The debate, being played out at various levels nationally, at the grassroots as well as at policy, has led to deep nation-wide divisions between conservationists and human right proponents. It is increasingly agreed upon now that there needs to be a consensus on a conceptual framework of approach, which examines the actual interface of the communities with the forest. In this particular case the issue at hand is about urban land use and the nature of participation by affected people in city planning.  It is our understanding that there is an urgent need to project this and such cases into the larger public sphere to be able to influence understandings of people as well as policy. 


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