Sromona Bhattacharyya Bhattacharyya
Hailing from Kolkata and now a resident of Bengaluru, Sromona is a multimedia journalist who has a knack for digging stories that truly deserve attention.
The morning of December 3, started as usual for Jahangir, a resident of a sprawling slum in Kundanahalli, located in Bengaluru’s Mahadevpura constituency. Little did he know that what started out as a normal day would soon turn out to be his worst nightmare in a matter of hours.
Jahangir has been the resident of one of the slums in Thubarahalli for the past 11 years. The 43-year old is a contract labourer in the tech city and is originally from West Bengal’s Nadia district. Like the thousands of others who reside with him in the slum, Jahangir came here to make a better living for him and his family. However, anxiety and fear looms large over the 2000-odd families who reside in the slum. Most people residing in the area are migrants from different parts of West Bengal, informed Jahangir.
Around 150 men clad in ‘khaki’ and three earthmovers, along with a handful of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials, arrived at the dusty bylanes of the cramped slum. Their demand – voluntary eviction of the residents. They warned that failure to voluntarily evict the area will result in bulldozers razing their houses down to the ground.
The BBMP, local BJP MLA Arvind Limbavali and police officials had visited the site on Friday, November 30. They held that the unauthorised slums on private land were giving rise to health concerns. The only logical conclusion for them was to evict the motley crowd from their homes, informed Jahangir while talking to The Logical Indian.
The residents’ struggle to defend their homes started in the form of a peaceful protest on December 3. Helping them in their quest to save their houses were a consortium of 12 to 13 human rights organisations who are also fighting for them in the court of law. Jahangir said, “To stop the JCBs from razing our huts down, all the residents, including women and children formed human chains.”
While their homes were saved that day, the fight to defend it had just begun. Other locals – who work mostly as contractual labourers, garbage collectors or house helps – informed that both water and electricity connections were severed off, forcing them to spend their nights in darkness. The connections are yet to be restored.
Meanwhile, activists from Movements for Social Justice, who have been actively been part of the case have informed that the residents’ woes did not end there. The settlement which has been built on private land has been branded as being an illegal Bangladeshi habitation, a threat to national security.
Local MLA, Arvind Limbavali on November 30 in a two-part Tweet said, “Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are a threat to national security & their number has drastically increased in Bengaluru.”
I would take strict action on any land owners or construction companies in Mahadevapura constituency if found employing these illegal immigrants. Your act will be termed as a threat to national security & shall be punished as per indian penal code.
— Arvind Limbavali (@bjparvind) November 30, 2018
However, refuting claims of these residents being “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”, DCP (Whitefield) Abdul Ahad said, “All the residents had valid residential and most of them are from North-Eastern states,” reported The Times Of India. Even with all the residents possessing valid proof of their Indian citizenship, Jahangir informed that they were vilified as Bangladeshi immigrants posing threat to national security.
Dhiman Sau, an activist, while talking to The Logical Indian said that although no eviction notice was presented, BBMP touted health and garbage concerns as the reason for the removal of the residents.
He said, “People, in fear of eviction have stopped going to their daily work as they feel that in their absence, they will be left with no homes.” He informed that on the day of the peaceful protest, women and men sat with their Aadhaar and voter ID cards in a bid to prove their nationality.
As of now, the Karnataka High Court has granted a week’s stay order on the eviction case. Moynul Hassan told The Logical Indian that on Monday, the organisations gathered 50 signatures from locals on the basis of which the stay order was granted. The case which is to be heard on December 10 next, will need more signatories, he said. Presently efforts are underway to do the same. Moreover, the Mayor’s assurance of visiting the site is what adds a sigh of relief to the thousands of those whose future at this point looks uncertain.
Reportedly, on the same day, some locals and private land-owners were booked for renting out their property to the migrant families. The complainants accused that the occupants have been burning garbage in the area which poses a health hazard. Moreover, lack of toilets and open defecation spread over 20 acres of the shanty town also raised concerns. R Kaleemullah, a member of Movement For Justice while talking to The Logical Indian said that the activists have been in talks with the private landowners who have rented their properties to the settlers.
Urging the authorities to stop the eviction, Kaleemullah said, “Branding Indians as illegal immigrants is something that hurts people’s sentiments immensely.” He informed that the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and senior CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim have been keeping a track of the matter.
The slum-dwellers for the past five days are living with a sense of fear and uncertainty. With no concrete assurances by their side, they are worried about their living situation in the near future. While similar instances of eviction have happened in other such settlements across the city, this is the first time that residents of the Kundanahalli slum have faced a threat of such a magnitude.
These are the people who form the backbone of the tech city, which would otherwise come to a virtual standstill. From looking after children, cleaning houses, constructing metro lines, new roads or even collection and disposal of garbage, these people have been touching people’s lives some way or the other. While health hazards and encroachments continue to remain a concern, authorities should run proper background checks to ascertain their nationality before taking such a drastic step.
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