[Reader-list] Fear and Loathing in Big Cities

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Mon Apr 7 18:53:35 IST 2008

Dear Fatima, Naeem dear all,

Thanks for your posts on pizza delivery and fear and loathing in big  
cities, and how New York and New Delhi, when it comes to the sharp  
edge of exclusion, can seem like shadows of each other. I recently  
saw something in the Delhi edition of the Indian Express that I think  
would be of interest to the ensuing discussion. Its about a wall. No,  
Its not in Palestine, but in South Delhi. I thought it would echo   
(from a different angle) some of the thoughts being expressed in  
Naeem and Fatima's posts.



Great Wall of Kalkaji
Preeti Jha, Indian Express
Posted online: Saturday , April 05, 2008 at 11:51:20

New Delhi, April 04 Construction of a five-foot wall to divide a slum  
cluster from neighbouring middle-class colonies is wreaking havoc in  
south Delhi’s Kalkaji Extension.

Standing in the remnants of her grocery store, Seema Sagar watches as  
a young boy jumps from one mound of debris to another, before  
precariously balancing on a stray brick. All this to safely cross the  
stream of sewage that now floats outside her house.

On Monday, bulldozers razed down more than 1,000 small shops and  
homes to make way for a wall that will encircle all three camps in  
the slum cluster: Bhumiheen, Nehru and Navjeevan. Four hundred metres  
of the proposed 2-km wall are already in place, under construction by  
the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) since December. “We are acting  
on an order from the High Court,” says DDA’s executive engineer K K  

And the High Court was responding to a petition filed by Arsh Avtaar  
Singh, former president of Kohinoor Apartments’ Resident Welfare  
Association, in May 2005. The petition sought a solution against  
encroachment of roads and services by slum residents.

‘Block them out’
Neighbouring middle-class colonies support Singh’s efforts. A flat- 
owner from nearby Konark Apartments, who does not want to be named,  
says: “All my life savings have been used to purchase this flat. For  
22 years I have lived with the stink from open defecation, and  
constant over-crowding from blocked roads.”

Residents want slum dwellers to be relocated in ‘pukka’ housing. “I  
feel bad for them,” says Singh, whose own domestic help lives in  
Bhumiheen Camp. “They should be given an alternative home immediately.”

But the DDA claims it needs time to relocate the slum dwellers. “The  
wall is a temporary arrangement to offer protection to flat owners,”  
Khanna says.

In the interim, Daliwal thinks the wall should be built higher. “It  
should be at least eight foot high, and built either with bricks, or  
grills and mesh. There should also be fewer outlets.”

‘Livelihood gone’
The camp’s residents, though, are fuming. “We were given no warning,”  
says Sagar. She claims to have bought her grocery shop for Rs 20,000  
rupees 13 years ago. “I make Rs 50 a day, through which I cook for my  
family. We have nothing to eat today without my shop.”

Trying to salvage broken chairs and cutlery from his former  
confectionery store, Izhar Ali asks, “What should I do to earn? Can  
the government give me an alternative?”

As an MCD employee sprays mosquito repellent into stagnant water  
forming pools around the newly homeless, Kamla Ujhain forlornly  
watches her grandchildren eat in what used to be a bathroom. “We knew  
it would close our businesses,” says Maya Devi, peering outside her  
shop, now shrouded by bricks. “And what if there’s a fire?” asks  
another shopkeeper, Naresh Kumar. “It will be much harder to escape  
if we are contained from all sides.”

DDA’s Khanna, meanwhile, insists there will be several entry and exit  
points in the wall. “There are more than 17 gaps in the 400-metre  
stretch built so far,” he says.

DDA has a May 21 deadline for building the wall.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
The Sarai Programme at CSDS
Raqs Media Collective
shuddha at sarai.net

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