250 people rendered homeless for Deen Dayal Upadhyay memorial in PM Modi’s constituency

Around 50 shanties, which were less than 150 metres away from the statue, were bulldozed just two days before the inauguration of the statue by the Prime Minister

Photo courtesy: Saurabh Singh, Innervoice Foundation
Photo courtesy: Saurabh Singh, Innervoice Foundation
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Ashlin Mathew

Homes of 250 people were demolished six months ago in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi just before his visit there to unveil the statue of Deen Dayal Upadhyay in February. Several letters and complaints were filed by those affected, but there has been no response. The families are worried because in winter the temperature drops to below 10°C.

Around 50 shanties, which were less than 150 metres away from the statue, were bulldozed by the administration just two days before the inauguration of the statue by the Prime Minister. The hutments were considered to be an ‘eye-sore’ as they were visible from near the memorial. The families had been living there for more than 60 years. The 63-feet tall statue is near the Rajghat bridge, which has been built over river Ganga.

“The state officials brought two excavators to raze down the entire colony. We were told that we could return and rebuild our homes in three days. While it was not much, we had been living there for years and have not known another home. The local administration did not even bother to offer us other accommodation,” said 60-year-old Ram Das, who used to live in the colony. He was forced to shift to a nearby temple. Whenever he tries to get back to the locality every few days, the local authorities drive him away.

Photo courtesy: Saurabh Singh, Innervoice Foundation
Photo courtesy: Saurabh Singh, Innervoice Foundation
Photo courtesy: Saurabh Singh, Innervoice Foundation
Photo courtesy: Saurabh Singh, Innervoice Foundation

Since then, they have been living on footpaths and temples around the area in the hope of returning. All through the monsoon, they had no proper shelter. “We would use plastic sheets and boards to protect ourselves. We have hardly any place to cook meals either. Our lives are completely dependent on the mercy of others. Now, winter is just around the corner. We are worried what will happen to us,” added Das. Earlier, they would make products out of bamboo and the earning from it would help them survive. Now, they have almost stopped making those products as there are no buyers.

It’s even more difficult for the women who have to trek more than a kilometre to go to a public toilet to take a bath or to relieve themselves. The duties of bringing water also fall on the women. “We cannot defecate in the open like the men. We cannot take a bath as it’s not safe. We have tried to go back many times, but the authorities are now saying that we cannot stay there as it is government land. Our ration cards, Aadhaar cards have the Sujabad address. At that time, the authorities did not think that we were encroaching? We had electricity connection. How is all that possible? Now, they just want us out as we are poor,” underscored 26-year-old Sunita, who has a seven-year-old daughter.

The area where their hutments used to exist has been taken over by truckers and local traders. “They have deposited sand all over. They load and unload their vehicles there now. The government is okay with them using the land but don’t want us to have a roof above our heads. Is it too much to ask for a house? Our children have been falling ill and now during winter, it will worsen,” said 50-year-old Tara Devi.

A few of the families had gone to meet the ‘Pradhan’ of the area, but he also had refused to help them. “We were told that it has become a VIP area, so we can’t stay there. Where will we go? Would the government have razed anyone else’s homes like this?” asked Sunita.

“It is true that they have been staying there for years, but now the Deen Dayal Upadhyay memorial has been built close to that area. VIPs will be visiting. There can’t be slums close by as the area is being developed. The administration will not help,” said Banarasi Lal, the village headman. Lal contended that several of the slum dwellers had got alternate accommodation, but they have denied this claim.

During the lockdown most of them could not get the ration either. They were helped by Innervoice Foundation which, in addition to providing them ration for these months, lodged several complaints on Prime Minister Modi’s grievance portal. “Saurabh and I sent a letter to the PM on October 6 through the portal as it his constituency. On checking the portal on October 13, we found the status of the grievance marked as 'Case Closed' with an unclear remark and no communication or follow-up with us,” pointed out Athira Murali, who has been helping Innervoice Foundation. On October 4, they had written a complaint letter to the district magistrate too, but the administration did not bother to respond.

“There are at least 250 persons who have been rendered homeless. They continue to sleep in the open and cover themselves with plastic sheets whenever it rains. Small kids frequently get drenched and catch fever. Girls and elderly are facing inhuman living conditions. They have Aadhar and voter cards with the Sujabad address, but they belong to nowhere,” said Saurabh Singh, chief functionary of Innervoice Foundation.

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