Ground Reports

“Sab Tod Gaye, Sab Ujaad Gaye”: The Haunting Cries Of Homeless Villagers In Tughlakabad

By Samriddhi Sakunia, 3 May 2023

Bulldozer turning a 2 story building into dust.

“What will even change now if you visit the site? They turned my years of hard work into dust.”, said Rajesh who lost his house on 30th April after ASI started to raze off houses in and around Tughlaqabad fort.

Approximately 2.5 km ahead of the Bengali camp, the demolition site, the police barricaded the entire area and a heavy police deployment could be seen. While the reporter stood there asking if the demolition work had been completed in the Bengali camp, one of the officers turned around and said, “You can come tomorrow as well, this process will go on for days now”.

On one hand, when 2,50,000 people were about to get homeless, it seemed like that people who lived a few kilometres away from the camp had no idea.

Somewhere deep inside the narrow lanes, mudded ground and lots of potholes was the Bengali camp. The Bengali camp which once used to be home to lakhs of people, acres of land filled with pakka makaans, was now nothing but only and only dust.

As the reporter walked in to find the bulldozers, one of the villagers patted her shoulder and said, “What are you even finding, look back at the road that you walked past are the homes that the bulldozers have razed to dust”. There it was, an ocean of bricks where the only sharks that one could find were the grieving villagers. While losing homes was not enough, these villagers had to survive the unprecedented rain of Delhi without any shelter above their heads.

An old couple making a temporary shelter out of alvester on the same where they used to leave until a day back.

The leftovers.

The two sides of Bengali Camp were the most disturbing part of all; on one side while the villagers cried, begged and some stayed numb while carrying their leftover items, on the other side people in their big buildings stood on their balconies and video recorded the entire demolition.

Kids playing on the bricks which probably were their broken homes and people crying ‘Sab tod ke chale gaye’. Amongst the villagers, were the kabbadi walas who were searching the entire piece of land for homely items to sell and earn like animals hogging over another dead animal.

The demolition and tagging the villagers in and around Tughlaqabad Fort as illegal is not new. Back in the month of January, the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) asked them to vacate their houses and declared that the site belongs to ASI, and hence, any construction of the land will be termed illegal. While the people panicked, protested, and knocked on the gates of the judiciary, the court came to their rescue and announced a hold on the demolition drive.

While the court came to their rescue and gave temporary relief, people slowly forgot about the issue and went back to their daily lives until this April when Delhi HC directed ASI to remove the encroachments in and around Tughlaqabad Fort. On day one more than 50 houses were razed off and close to 1000 were expected to be demolished on the second day of the demolition drive.

“We were given notice on 26th of April and were directed that we will have 4 weeks in hand to vacate the house but not even close to the end of the first week, see what they have done”, said a man picking up the leftovers of his house. He was out for work when he was called and informed about the demolition, he rushed to the site in a hurry just to find his house turned into nothing but rubble.

Fatima sitting on pile of bricks which once used to be her home.

Homeless People of Tughlakabad

Fatima was sitting on a pile of bricks, which a night ago was her house which she and her husband made a few years back after taking a loan from the market. Fatima in her late thirties lived in the house with her three kids and husband, who is a daily wage labourer.

“Why are you even visiting us now?” questioned raging Fatima as he saw the reporter approaching her. Fatima says that during the entire issue, there were close to zero reporters who invited them to report and create some change. Her house was removed on the first day of the demolition drive i.e. 30th April, and since then she has been sitting on the pile of bricks, wrapping a plastic around her.

After comforting her for a few minutes and persuading her to talk to us, she became angry and narrated how throughout the night and even when it was raining they had to sit right there because they had absolutely nowhere to go. Fatima and her husband couldn’t even afford some water or food because the husband didn’t go out to work.

“Sahi Ram Pehelwan had assured us that our houses will not be demolished”, pointed out another resident whose house was being demolished right there in front of his eyes. Sahi Ram represents the Tughlakabad constituency of Delhi and is a member of the Aam Aadmi Party political party.

Fatima’s three children are currently living with a neighbour in the Bengali camp. However, Fatima isn’t really comfortable with what lies ahead of her, she believes that within no time, the neighbours too will close the door of help on her face.

“Where will my kids go then? It’s just temporary help, nobody will keep them for forever”

Agreeing with Fatima’s question and claims, another lady, Rekha who is a domestic helper and earns 4000 a month, held alabaster over her head as it rained and cursed the government, ASI & the police officials.

“These are the same people who took heavy bribes from us on a monthly basis while we were making our houses. For years we paid them and all was well but now suddenly we are illegal,” said Rekha.

She couldn’t go to work for two days because of the demolition drive and now fears that if this continues, she might lose her only source of income.

Right behind the mountains of bricks is a jungle which is currently a temporary settlement of all these villagers. While some have taken shelter in rented rooms, the majority of the villagers who can not afford even a time’s meal are currently living in the jungle.

While some villagers picked up their leftover items and walked to the opposite of the entire landscape of dust and rumble with no reaction on their faces, some were seen crying and beating the ground for the house they lost. The people’s sense of helplessness was evident in the quiet.

What the Law says

According to the Delhi Slum and Jhuggi Jhopri Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015, slums built before 2006 can not be razed without the construction of replacement homes. A slum that qualifies for rehabilitation also cannot be demolished without a court order.

The Supreme Court of India recognized that affected individuals have the right to a dignified relocation before being forcibly removed in its landmark judgement in Sudama Singh and Others vs Government of Delhi (2010).

The court emphasised that each member of a family living in a jhuggi loses a “bundle” of rights when they are forcibly removed, including the right to a living wage, housing, healthcare, education, access to public utilities and transportation, and most crucially, the ability to live with dignity.

Children’s human rights are violated when they are evicted without receiving adequate rehabilitation, according to the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. Anurag Kundu, chair of the DCPCR, made this comment and remarked back in the month of January that they will keep an eye on the situation.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to halt the effort to demolish encroachment in South Delhi’s Tughlakabad neighbourhood.

The Court noted that given the amount of compensation necessary, it would be challenging to acquire such a large quantity of land under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013.

“It might be impossible to give so much land, amount of compensation under the 2013 Act… very difficult to acquire so much,” the Bench quipped.

"Kill us too" cried Rubina as she sat their looking at her turning into nothing but dust.

Many Questions And No Answer

“Madam, please don’t sit here, the wall will fall on you”, requested an officer on duty to Rubina* as she stood there numb and pale seeing her 2-floor building getting demolished.

Rubina, wearing a yellow kurta, stood from the ground, turned around and fell to the ground crying and abusing the officers on site.

“Will you not even let me look at my house getting razed to dust? Like my house, kill me as well”, shouted Rubina.

Rubina stays with her husband and three daughters who work at malls and shopping centres. She kept on shouting and asking the group of officials who were overseeing the work, where will the thousands of people whose houses are being demolished.

“I took out a loan for this house. I even take away the bonus that my daughters bring just so that we pay the interest amount on time but see what they do with our lives,” cried Rubina.

Rubina and the people around her said that there’s in no way contest the claim that they don’t have proper documentation of the land, but they do have a problem with how they are being called illegal.

“These people took bribes from us, we paid to make these houses, we are paying electricity bills, the politicians come to ask for votes from us; then how and why on earth are these officials waking from their graves now, after years of us being settled here?” shouted another woman from the ground.

“If we are illegal and have been settled here illegally, how come we have an aadhar card of this address, how do politicians come here yearly to ask for votes?” shouted another.

Thousands of people have thousands of questions, but no official or politicians to answer.

As if demolition & unwarranted rain was not enough, the sudden hike in the rent of the house in and around the Bengali camp has added to the misery of these homeless villagers.

“Majboori ka fayda utha rahe hain bas (they are just capitalising on our pains),” said Shyam who went out to look for a room for his family. The rooms that used to cost not more than 2000, are now suddenly for 4000 and all in advance with the added condition of ‘only 3 people allowed’.

“Why don’t they kill us with the same bulldozer? Why even vacate the house, when after demolishing this house, we will die of hunger and no home?”