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Demolition Diary: 'If I Am Illiterate Today, It Is Fault Of The Government'

A 15-year-old Mumbai slum-dweller describes life after his house was razed during a demolition drive

Illustration: Saahil

Machine Grunt

“If I am illiterate today, it is the fault of the government. I could not go to school bec­a­u­se of the government, because of all that they did to poor people like me and my family. They demolished our homes, left us without food, wat­er and sanitation. We woke up happy one morning, only for our lives to get shattered by afternoon. My parents lost their jobs as the place where we rebuilt our home with tin sheets was far away from their place of work. Now my father is a full-time alcoholic and my mother works in multiple houses as a dom­estic help. Verbal fights between my parents are very common. Until some years ago, my father would beat my mother mercilessly. Now I beat him up if he touches my mother.

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My sister works as a cook at an old-age home. Though the money is not much, she is happy helping senior citizens. Since I’m 15 and still a minor, I can’t get a permanent job anywhere. I wash cars and earn Rs 8,000 a month. Sometimes I work in a bar. My mot­her and sister work very hard. They do not get a single holiday. Our hardships started after our pucca house was demolished and we started living in slums, where displaced people end up.

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Squashed Dreams

I was five years old when I first saw a bulldozer. It was yellow in colour and huge. Every time it passed by on the road, children in our lane would run after it and scream loudly. We did not know then how a bulldozer would later change our lives. I think it was around 9-10 years ago when we were rendered homeless. There was some holiday, because my parents were at home. Our chawl was located on the road, from which, our home was only a short distance.

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We, the children, were running around in the chawl. We stopped playing when we saw policemen emerge from a van. They had lat­his in their hands and stood on the road looking at our houses. After some time, those yel­­low bulldozers we used to run after, arri­ved and stopped near our chawl. We saw our parents touching the feet of the policemen and crying. The cops pushed aside the adults­—­some were beaten. The bulldozers started breaking down our houses. We could not understand the reason for this wanton destruction. Several hours later, the bulldozers and cops left. Their job was done—there were no houses left. People were crying and running around picking up their things.

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From that day till this day, all we have been doing is trying to pick up the pieces of our lives that we lost in the debris of our homes, which had been demolished to clear land for a six-lane road. They had told my parents and others that they would give us houses after the surrounding area was redeveloped. This is unlikely to happen in my parents’ lifetime. In fact, I don’t see any redevelopment taking place in my lifetime as well. They just demolished our houses and left us homeless, without livelihoods. I have often asked mys­elf how my life would have shaped up had our house not been demolished that day.

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Ekalavya’s Burden

My sister and I would have been educated, my mother would still be working in the garment factory and getting her weekly off-day, my father would not have been an alcoholic because he too would still be employed at his former workplace. I know there is no point in such thoughts. Sab kismat ka khel hai (It’s all part of the cruel games that fate plays).

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In our daily struggles we, the poor, forget our dreams. It is as if the poor have no right to dream. In summer months, it is impossible to sit inside our house with its tin walls and roof. The heat is so much that cooked food gets spoilt. It has to be eaten as soon as it is cooked. I am waiting to turn 18 so that I can get a permanent job. But with no education, I fear I’ll end up with odd jobs. I want to study, learn to write and sign my name. Muj­he angootha chhap nahi rehena hai (I do not want to remain illiterate). They say God list­ens to everyone. Then why does he not listen to my dreams?

(This appeared in the print edition as "Demolition Diary")


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Abhishek Dhale (is a 15-year-old slum dweller in Mumbai)