On the Edge
I live in a 200 sq ft house with so many others. Ours is a joint family. My husband has four brothers and all of us live together. There are children, men and women—all living together in that one room. We are a happy family because we have seen so much misery together. But it is not a peaceful life because the threat of demolition hangs above our heads. Our houses have been razed many times. We have no other place to go, so we keep rebuilding it in the same place.
We never get to know when the demolition people are coming. They bring their bull dozers and bring to the ground all that we have painstakingly gathered since the last time they demolished our homes. When the demolition people come, we try to gather as much as we can and try to save them. But so many of our things are lost when demolitions begin. They always come in the monsoon or the winter season. They are so heartless. We spend our days and nights with our children on the streets. The men go looking for bamboo sticks and plastic sheets to hold up the temporary shelters that we put up.
In the Absence of Kindness
The government must be kind to the poor. Instead, they harass poor people more. Though we pay for water supply and electricity, our houses are demolished. None of us is prepared for our houses to be demolished. My neighbour had a small child sleeping when they came to demolish our houses. She picked up her sleeping child who started crying at being so rudely woken up, and ran out of her house, even as the bulldozer was demolishing her house.
We sit on the roads in the open and cook food for the family. Every woman whose house is demolished cooks in the open on makeshift chulhas. Wooden doors that are destroyed and broken by the bulldozers become firewood. The demolition squad makes sure that the house is destroyed to the maximum. They make sure that we suffer for wanting to live in the city. It becomes very difficult to live on the streets. Belongings are stolen and there is the huge issue about the physical safety of the women and children. We are scared that our children will get kidnapped if they sleep in the open. We keep hearing stories of children being kidnapped.
When our houses are demolished, there is no one who comes forward and helps us out. We spend days on end in makeshift homes pitched on the rubble of our demolished homes. We cannot leave the place and go to another as someone else will occupy that place then. So, we live close to the demolished houses. After the demolition squad leaves the place, we start rebuilding our houses in the same place. The poor people put all the money they have and even take loans from the sahukar (moneylender) to build a house. As we get money, we add facilities to our homes. When they demolish our houses, all that money goes down the drain. To rebuild a house, we go through the same process. There is always debt in the lives of the poor due to these demolitions.
The toughest part is getting access to the sanitation facilities. Since our area has public washrooms, we use them. But bathing is the issue. We use saris and bamboo sticks to build makeshift bathrooms. It is difficult to bathe behind the transparent wall of the sari, but there is no other option. The poor do not have the luxury of feeling shame, it is an emotion for those living in big buildings. Everyone thinks that women like us who are poor, do not have any feelings as we continue to do the work we did inside our houses after they are demolished.
The Death of Dreams
You begin your life with a dream and then that dream goes away. It does not fade away. It just goes away. When my house was demolished the first time, I held on to my dream of a pucca house. But when my house was demolished so many times, that dream died. Rebuilding a demolished house takes years. You have to get the money to begin. No one gives the poor—loans they think that we will cheat them and walk away with their money. When you are poor, your fate is sealed.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Eviction Diary")
As told to Haima Deshpande
Manda Krishna Thorat Home-maker, resident of Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Mankhurd, Mumbai