“How legal and illegal are we and our lives?”

The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.

17th Century British Rhyme 

8th Oct, 2013

Khaddavasti and Khaddavastiwalas

The 22nd of January, 2009 marked a painfully significant day for the residents of Khaddavasti. This vasti which used to exist opposite the Civil and Criminal courts in Shivajinagar, Pune was uprooted on that day.  Families who were residents of the vasti for long years, in many instances over two decades, were evicted. The demolition and eviction came after COEP (College of Engineering, Pune)  won the land dispute case.

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The vasti was uprooted five years back. Today, the erstwhile Khaddavasti dwellers, who once lived in homes with attached bathrooms are living like destitute. While you enter or exit the Civil and Criminal courts, you can see a number of people sitting on the footpaths-these were not only the residents of Khaddavasti but, also the architects, the builders and the labourers of the houses there. The vasti gets its name from the fact that the vasti was built in a huge khadda (a ditch). It was so huge that people in the past have drowned in the water-filled khadda. They were filling it up with mud, each family filling up their part of the khadda. Now their houses are on the footpaths. They are made of lose structures of bamboo which are covered by huge advertising flexes of MNCs with images of women with zero size waists.  

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They are advertising for luxury houses in elite housing areas. These hoardings are bought in the Wednesday and Sunday market called ‘Juna Bazaar’ for about 1200 to 1500 rupees each. It seems like this is all their house costs, about less than 1/10th the price of a square feet in ‘prominent’ places in Pune. The cost however is much more than this-cost of living on the roads, the vehicles and the anti-encroachment department do not make life any easier for the Khaddavastiwalas.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]‘How legal and illegal are we and our lives?’ Masjid Khureshi, resident[/pullquote]

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Masjid Khureshi, a resident of Khaddavasti owns a ‘chai ka tapri’ (a tea stall) and claims to be a fearless struggler. When asked about how the residents have reacted to the uprooting of the vasti, he simply said, “Why the hell do you want to scratch healed wounds and get them bleeding again? It has taken us quite some time to accept this life, let us be.” However, after a few minutes, he starts recounting every incident-small or big, significant or insignificant-which took place after their houses were uprooted. Two of the most significant incidents have been the protest march outside the Mahanagar Palika Bhavan and the dharna held at the Ghole Road Kshetriya Karyalay (Ward office). During the protest march, there was also some kind of lathi charge and he was one of the men who were hit with the police lathis. ‘I went to ask when I will get my house. That’s it.’

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Now the residents have started living in tents which are periodically and tactfully tied and removed so as to avoid problems with the atikramanwalas (anti-encroachment squad appointed by the PMC). “They come in a huge truck and take away everything we have. If we are making food when they come, they put water into the vessel, so that it doesn’t stay hot anymore and take away even that. The huge plastic flexes which are so expensive are obviously not left.   What is worst is that even paying some money as bribe doesn’t work.” He is interrupted by his daughter, and she says, “They even take away our school bags. But, the school I used to go to was good. They did give us loose papers and a couple of pencils, a sharpener and an eraser to complete our homework.”

The anti-encroachment squad comes suddenly, however, a network does exist which reports the residents when it comes. In emergencies like these, all their possession is put on cycles and then taken away, only until the truck doesn’t go away. Thus, tying the tent in the day is a huge risk. But, if it rains, the tents are tied, or else, it means getting all of their possessions wet. Sunday is a holiday for most ‘legitimate’ citizens who go for 9 to 5 jobs, it is also for the squad and therefore, also for the fear of the Khaddavasti residents.

However, Sunday is just one out of the 7 days of the week. On weekdays, when Kanta Babban Khandagale-a waste picker who resides in the same vasti-goes to work, the possibility of not seeing any of her possessions when she returns back does plague her mind constantly. What is really sad about this is that the same thing happened on the 16th of July-the day allotted for the union meeting of which she is a part-due to which, she couldn’t attend the meeting too.

Food, Water and Housing: How accessible are these basic necessities?

All the residents of Khaddavasti do not have even close to decent houses. This also means that there is no assigned space for any specific thing. Like a bathroom for having a bath, or a toilet to go and shit. They access some public spaces, for these activities like the street where kids are seen having baths or the little space near the electric transformer which is surrounded by a mesh of steel wire-this enables covering the four sides by saris-to be used by women for bathing. The railway tracks which lay a few hundred meters ahead are used by all residents, early in the morning for defecating. If it is urgent in the day, the little space behind a row of parked taxis, cars and rickshaws is reserved for the same purpose. To think of personal safety, let alone privacy isn’t even possible in the present conditions that they are living in. Infact, only recently, a few cases of sexual harassment of teenage girls have been reported. When the families tried to file FIRs at the Deccan police station, they weren’t received, saying that ‘You are living illegally. Your complaints won’t be taken.’

If there is no permanent house, to think of flowing water taps at home would make us seem idiotically ambitious. But water is a must-from activities of cooking to cleaning, from washing vessels to our bodies-for all of us. The residents have now learnt how to negotiate with this situation. A Sai baba mandir around the corner is their source of water-drinking and cleaning.

Cooking is done on stoves which burn on rock oil, and when the limited rationed rock oil is over, bricks are put together and between them, wood bought at 10 rupees per kilogram from Patil Estate, a nearby vasti is burnt over which food is cooked. One important problem which all the residents share is the problems they have with the ration delivery shop. Pathetic quality, low quantity wheat is sold to the residents. Even the quantity of kerosene distributed per family isn’t as much as they are entitled to. In the black market, rock oil is sold at 80 rupees per liter, as much, if not more than the price of Diesel. This is obviously unaffordable for the residents.

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Atithi Devo Bhava?

“When guests come, where else will they sleep apart from the foot path now? We ourselves feel ashamed when they come here. A couple of chairs have to be arranged for those days for them to spend their day on.” Sharda Raju Jadhav, Resident, Khaddavasti.

When food is less, fuel for making food is low, water has to be filled and brought, and no idea about when all their possessions will again be taken away, the idea of a guest coming itself is scary.

Of births and babies!

Sharda Jadhav, a resident of the vasti gave birth to her daughter and son in the government hospital and after three days, was discharged. She didn’t know where to go and the footpath-her house-seemed the only place. Since birth, both of them have spent every single night on the footpath itself. After the delivery, she didn’t even have enough warm clothes for herself. The squad had come twice even then. In those days she used to have high blood pressure due to the tension, the surrounding environment etc. The dialogues of getting a house have become so common even for the kids to hear, that the story is dramatized as a game now, always ready for any visitor who comes by. These kids have also participated in dharnas and morchas for speaking about their right to a house.

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And as the babies grow into kids, well, the road becomes their playground. The middle class notions of protection and staying in the house are completely absent here. It is probably because the line between the public and the private is completely distorted in the case of any house in Khaddavasti, not actively by a sort of any choice made by residents but forcefully, because that is the only way to live, to use even that which isn’t legally theirs. To know what signifies the house here is so difficult. Is it the bamboo structure and the flex used as covering? Does it include the space one keeps on using constantly? Or is it only the footpath? Or can it be extended to the road too where, vehicles do keep moving constantly. Can the people and the cars co-exist together on the roads, and use it equally? Equally?

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Pallavi, a 6 year old girl of Ankur Vidya Mandir-an inclusive school in the Fergusson college campus, when asked about her school, says, “My school is okay. But, the fee is really high.” This indeed shocked me. When I was 6 years old, I didn’t even know what my school fee was. About life on the streets, she says that there is a lot of space for her to play. “Especially when we play Hide and seek, the number of spaces to hide is enormous. For example, below a piece of cloth in a house, or amongst the plants planted on the dividers for decoration or in the Sai baba temple. But, the best place to hide is between the cars. There are so many of them, the one who is supposed to find everyone doesn’t know between or around which car to hunt.”

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Promises with conditions applied

The residents have after almost 5 years apparently been allotted Warje-Malwadi, as a location for their houses to come under the Slum Rehabilitation.  They were offered a choice between Hadapsar and Warje-Malwadi, of which they chose the latter one. But, like everything in life, this won’t come free. They need to pay 53,000 rupees for getting the houses, as a part of the cost. The files and papers have been forwarded.

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But, another question which stares them in their eyes is, how do they arrange such a huge amount to pay? Yes, there do exist certain projects like the BSUP (Basic service for the Poor) due to the JNNURM through which, they can apply for loans in banks. But, loans will also have to be repaid, where will the money for that come from?

Last but not the least, what about their possessions which have been time and again taken away. Will all of those be returned back? Or will they be sold in auctions?

 

18th Jan, 2015

From Khaddavastiwalas to ex-Khaddavastiwalas, the story of coming and adapting to buildings

It is indeed close to a year and 3 months after which I returned back to the members of Khaddavasti. I had heard and overheard conversations about all Khaddavasti members receiving houses. I started from Swargate and through Sinhagad road it took me over an hour to reach the building in Warje-Malwadi where the residents of Khaddavasti have been allotted houses. Off the main road the buildings can be reached via a kuccha road. You are greeted by a name plate outside the society declaring this as the property of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority. Once inside the gate, you are greeted with women sitting in groups in garages where vehicles are to be parked, rolling balls of tobacco, chatting away the Sunday afternoon. Further ahead, there were children, boys and girls in equal number who played happily.

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The premises of the society have a total of 10 buildings, each of 7 floors with 16 flats of about 270 sq. ft. on each floor. Every house consists of 2 rooms, one to be used as a kitchen of 8 x 8 sq. ft., whereas the other as living space of 17 x 9 sq. ft. and a separate toilet and bathroom respectively. Like every other society, this too has a boundary but, an incomplete one. Right outside the open boundary are open drains, easy spots for small kids to fall in while playing. The buildings were built six years ago, and now, about half of the ‘houses’ have been occupied. The residents have come from three different vastis-Khaddavasti, Rajaram Bridge and Gokhale Nagar.

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Right outside the boundary wall of the society, I spotted Masjid Khureshi sitting behind the counter of a chicken shop he now owns. After a few minutes, I sat along with the ex-Khaddavastiwalas, listening to them and their experiences of rehabilitation.

Sayra Babu Khan, a member of the union says, “Until now, not all those who lived in Khaddavasti have been allotted houses here, even though we have fought for almost 6 years now. About 30 families are yet to get houses out of which 10 have been able to procure loans and will get them in a couple of days. The other 20 have not been able to get loan, nor have they been able to arrange for cash from relatives.”

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Even after a house is sanctioned, 3400 rupees have to be paid towards getting the paperwork done and for a MSEB connection. Not one resident has received a receipt for this money. As a part of the cost of the house, 53900 have to be paid either in cash (after making a Demand Draft) or through a cheque. It has not been easy to manage this money. Sayra Maushi goes on to say, “I had to pawn all  my gold to get the amount. I received 19000 as gold loan and then the rest I have managed from neighbours and relatives. But this money also has to be repaid. Already my sons have started working so that we can get over with repaying this loan as soon as possible.”

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“With our cost of living, our tensions and worries too have gone up.”-Nirmala Raju Mistri, ex-Khaddavastivali and waste picker[/pullquote]

“We feel like we have found temples. It is such a relief to have these houses to live in. By ourselves we would have never been able to build a house like this”, said Raju Mohanlal Mistri, ex-resident of Khaddavasti. Masjid Khureshi immediately got back saying, “No, we were better off over there in Khaddavasti. Bringing up four children while we live over here has become extremely difficult. There is not much work around. Near Khaddavasti, I atleast had a chai-tapri to earn some money. Here, I do not find much work. Should I eat the nice looking tiles or should I satisfy my hunger by gazing at the toilets and bathrooms in the house? Apart from work, our children could go and study in schools nearby, we had ration shops to buy ration from, travelling to any place was easy as we at least were connected via bus routes. The closest bus stop for us here is more than 3 kms away in Warje. Here we really have nothing apart from the house. This is no less than a cremation ground for us.”

Others sitting around agree to Masjid Bhai, nodding their head in approval. Rehabilitating to these buildings from Khaddavasti has definitely meant an increase in their cost of daily living. Raju himself goes on to say, “वहा पर छत के लिए आसमान थाए जमीन के लिए फूटपाथए हगने के लिए रेल की पटरीए सोने के लिए फुकट में बिस्तरण् सब कुछ फुकट में मिलता था.” (For a roof we had the sky, for the ground we had the footpath, for shitting we had the railway tracks and for sleeping we got free mattresses.) Today, each resident has to pay a maintenance cost for the society which includes the electricity bills for the lights in common areas in the society which amounts to about 2500 to 3000 rupees and for the water pump which amounts to 15000 to 16000 rupees per month. At present each house has to pay about 300 rupees per month as maintenance (while the elevator is purposefully kept switched off). To cut down on maintenance costs, the residents have started luring the children into cleaning the common areas in society by paying them 10 rupees each. To only make matters worse, the water tank is built on one end of the society. For each building there happens to be a separate motor for the water to reach the terrace where it is stored and then, it flows down into the taps. This has also meant that for those who live on the other end of the society, the bill for the motor is going to rise, thus making the electricity consumption and bill to rise too. Unfortunately, it is the ex-Khaddavastiwalas who live in the B and F building, both far away from the constructed water tank.

The slum-children, their education and their days ahead

Unlike at Khaddavasti, there are no public schools close by. Clubbed with the lack of any transportation facility like a bus stop, it only makes situations worse. It has been somewhere between three to six months since the families have moved to Warje-Malwadi and not a single child from Khaddavasti at present is admitted in a school. Yes, there are schools about a kilometer or two away but, they all happen to be private schools who ask for about 2,500 rupees per year. Enrolling their children in these private schools will only mean that they would have to work harder to find work and then even harder to earn and then even harder to save. How hard will they work?

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Even though their parents may not all be happy about the houses and the way their lives have changed due to relocating, the children did say a few things which signalled otherwise.

Pallavi, a child who was along with so many others a Khaddavasti resident, said, “Now no one comes and takes away our belongings like they used to. It also feels safer than before.”

Broken houses to build ‘concrete’ dreams

Geeta Kundalik More, a member of the union has been as asked contacting one Mr. Rathod over an issue of a broken kitchen platform since three months and until now, he has not bothered to replace the platform. All he says is that she would have to wait until a spare one is available.  There are many others who have reported of damaged taps and pipes which once exchanged will not be repaired again. However, the frequent problems with repaired taps does raise a  questions over the quality of the taps that were installed initially.

Waste pickers and their lives in the new homes

Of the many waste pickers who have shifted from Khaddavasti to the buildings in Warje-Malwadi, only one has managed to find some work in a building. The area also does not have many roadside dust bins, a source of dry waste for waste pickers which they can sell and earn a living.  Usha Sanjay Londhe, a waste picker along with her husband works in a society right next to the one she lives in. Both of them have to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and all they get paid is 8000 rupees for the both of them.

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For the others, their options are too scary-either spend 50 rupees a day for a return trip to go all the way to Shivaji Nagar, the workings of the area familiar to them, or just sit at home. When enquired, I was shocked to see that some waste pickers had actually done that. Geetabai, Sayrabai, Chandu Londhe-all of them since about a month and a half have been staying at home as even in Shivaji Nagar access to the waste in the bins has not been easy the past few days with problems in the Uruli depot.

In general, for all residents, situations with work are not too good. Raju bhau says, “We do not even have the papers for our house now. Until we repay our loans, we can not even get another loan as we have nothing left to keep as security. If there is any way for us to procure a loan, we can start some small business nearby.”

On listening to business, Masjid Khureshi who owns a chaitapri opposite the Shivaji Nagar High court says, “Yes, we also do not have a single ration shop closeby. Our ration cards still come under shops in the Shivaji Nagar area. The ration dealer in Shivaji Nagar has told us that next month onwards we will not get our rations there. If a licence is sanctioned to me, I can start a ration shop near this building. There are enough houses for one ration shop to run in this society.”

Mix and match

Residents of Khaddavasti live in buildings B and F with the residents of Rajaram bridge. The families which lived together for more than two decades, who fought in unity when their houses were crushed, who were a network when the anti-encroachment squad came have now been separated. They live in nearby buildings, yes, but living in the same building would have been nice. As Nirmala says, “We would have then had company to fight like we did in the vasti. Now, the ones who live next to us are all strangers.”

And then 

After the residents were thrown out of Khaddvasti, their lives shaped while living on the roads. They gave births, slept along the footpath, cooked food on the roadside and played on the streets hiding amongst, in between and behind cars. A few years, a joint struggle and with help from the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) union, most of them have managed to get houses for themselves.

 

(The author is immensely thankful to the waste-pickers who were the respondents and to the union Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP). Also, thanks to Nidhin Shobana for editing.)

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Shrenik Mutha Written by:

Shrenik Mutha, born and brought up in Pune, studied sociology as a graduate student. He started working with KKPKP, a trade union of waste pickers in Pune as a volunteer after which he worked with the MKSS in rural Rajasthan. He came back to Pune and resumed work with KKPKP. Now, he studies law in ILS, Pune.

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