Every year, when tanks roll down Rajpath and jets fly past Raisina Hill on January 26, there is a heightened state of collective anxiety in the national capital over security. Are the Very Important Persons safe, have the city’s borders been sealed, will there be another attack on the people? And for those who get goosebumps watching men marching and machines trained at enemies, real or imaginary, no threat can deter their annual pilgrimage of patriotism. I hope all of them are safe—all those who are forced by pride and profession to brave the cold. But I can’t say so about the Republic’s invisible people whose security is nobody’s concern; rather their very existence remains within the realm of deniability. Just a few miles from Rajpath or the Supreme Court or Parliament and a few hundred metres from the nearest police station, women and children are sold in the open for half an hour or more. Swati Maliwal, who chairs the Delhi Commission for Women, tells us that it is a Rs 1,200-crore business and it is primarily run by two senior Delhi politicians (see page 22). She won’t name them, but insists that they are aided and abetted by civil and criminal law-enforcing authorities.
Whenever Delhi’s civic bodies have wanted, they have demolished slums. In fact, in the last two decades I have seen the city transform into something completely different. Some slumlords contest the demolition, but most slum-dwellers leave quietly, staring at the metal claws and jaws of Joseph Cyril Bamford excavators. Not many urban slums remain. The dhobi ghat near the New Delhi Railway Station is a new colony for government officials. One of the biggest slums on the Yamuna bank has transformed into layers of bitumen and concrete—linking roads, flyovers and bridges—and now there is no trace of the one behind the Safdarjung hospital.