Homeless fight for their rights in India's Mumbai - Al Jazeera English

Homeless fight for their rights in India's Mumbai

Police resort to violence against slum dwellers who demand return to their homes demolished by authorities a decade ago.

Javed Iqbal | | Politics, Human Rights, India, Asia

Mumbai, India On June 30, police evicted residents of a settlement called Mandala on the outskirts of India’s financial capital, Mumbai. When the residents of this slum protested calling for the right to affordable housing, they were met with violent police action.

The authorities then proceeded to break down their makeshift structures in Mankhurd on the premise that they needed to protect the mangroves that border the settlement. However, a day after the eviction it was reported that the land was being handed over to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority to build a Metro Rail yard.

Two years ago, the Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, had promised the residents of Mandala affordable housing via a pilot project sponsored by a federal government scheme called the Awas Yojana. 

In 2004-2005, over 80,000 homes were demolished in a city-wide campaign, including parts of Mandala. It was then that the residents of numerous settlements across Mumbai and a handful of middle class activists formed a movement for the right to a home in the city called the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement [Save Housing, Build housing].

In the end of May, thousands of people from Mandala and supporters from other slums of Mumbai under the banner of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement gathered and collectively occupied the land that has been lying vacant since the demolition nearly a decade ago.

They built temporary structures on spaces where their homes used to be and marched into every government office that dealt with their demands, but were told that their matter was under consideration.

The residents and activists repeatedly apprised Forest Department Officials during their meetings about encroachment that was destroying mangroves, but their complaints went unheard, and they themselves are blamed for the loss of mangrove cover.

A situation that repeated itself in another part of the city, when the authorities went ahead with another demolition drive on June 6 in in Malvani, Malad, where hundreds of homes were demolished. Authorities claim they were merely following the law to protect the city’s mangroves.

Mankhurd also houses the waste dumping grounds of Mumbai as well as a number of rehabilitation colonies. It is a part of Ward M or Chembur East, which according to a government report from 2009, is home to the highest number of resettlement colonies in the city with over 77 percent of the population (as per the 2001 census) that lives in slums.

It has the highest illiteracy rate in the city, as well as a child mortality rate with a life expectancy rate of 39.30 years.

According to a Human Development Report prepared by the United Nations Development Programme for the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, "the relevant dimension is that the area, they [slums] together occupy is just six per cent of all land in Mumbai explaining the horrific levels of congestion". Delhi has 18.9 percent people living in slums, the report said.

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