A large number of people live on the margins of society where not only do they struggle to make the two ends meet but also face tremendous hardships in leading a life of dignity. The sudden demolition of settlements in Patna makes it crucial for us to ask questions on human dignity, state priorities and assert the need to rethink urbanization in our times.
Dorothy Fernandes is the Founder of Aashray Abhiyan that works for the right to shelter among the disadvantaged people. He is based in Patna.
PATNA : It was a rainy day. The rains began around 10 in the morning and went on till 10 pm nonstop. Under such a situation any sensitive person would not want to add to the prevalent misery that the rain brings to people who live on the margins. But I began to realize that there are some people in our society and administration who have become inhuman to the extent that they prioritize law over human dignity. This realization became stronger when we witnessed heightened state insensitivity as the JCB trucks bulldozed into the makeshift houses in at Punaichak, Patna. Most of the people (inhabitants of the Punaichak basti) had gone to work when a series of bulldozers destroyed their huts within a few seconds. People stood there in shock, completely drenched and unable to accept this kind of an operation. Violations of all sorts began to happen. Abusive language was being used and disrespectful words were hurled at them by those who had broken their settlement to pieces in a matter of seconds. The administration was making them feel as if they were criminals of some sort and that they had no right to be alive.
The inhabitants of the basti spent the entire day standing in the pouring rain. They were hungry with nothing to eat the whole day and the night was rather frightening. The women asked us: “What will happen to our young girls, do we not have respect? What about the studies of our children. Where will they go?”
In the face of gross violation of human rights, the administration of Bihar has to fall under the scanner of human rights.
Demolition of R block to Digha Railway Line – 11, September
The communities living along the railway line from R Block to Digha have been residing there for decades. The land belonged to the Railways Department. Several local trains that had been running on this route were withdrawn due to the losses incurred on the Railway Department. The process which followed this is both unjust and inhuman.
The government of Bihar, in order to cater to 3 to 10% of the population came up with the idea of converting the land into 6 lanes and making a provision for the metro. Who needs this? There are some 600 or more families living along these tracks. Many individuals were born there and many have died, but what befell these communities after years of residing there is no less than a tragedy.
The operation was to be undertaken on 10th September but due to Bharat bandh the officials met at a five star hotel and decided to begin the operation on 11th September. What we witnessed were a large number of police force, seven JCBs and a large number of lady police personnel. There has been a violation of procedures and it has become a blatant disrespect of the land’s highest court’s decision – no demolition without rehabilitation.
After our demand to issue notices to those who were to be evicted, notices were furnished and the individuals were asked to appear in the office of the SDO and state their cases. We prepared responses with the help of a lawyer and submitted the same to the SDO, who was not present to either receive or hear the grievances of the people.
Procedure wise each person who responded to the notice should have been issued a response, nothing like this happened-the JCBs arrived on 10th September accompanied by the administration and the police force. An immediate announcement was made that if anyone intervened they would be arrested, proving again that democracy was at stake.
When the news began to appear in the local dailies, we met with the administration and tried to bring to their notice that people have to be relocated and proper rehabilitation plans have to be made. There was no hearing of this and an announcement was made referring to the futility of rehabilitating these people. Further the court has brought out orders that if anyone intervenes then they could be arrested and an FIR filed against them – Patna High Court CWJC No. 3923 of 201619) dt. 20.08.2018. The question is what is the essence of democracy when dissent, critical voices against governmental policies and the right to represent the margins is not allowed?
The admiration in the state has become inhuman to the extent that they are completely negating the right to dignity of existence for a large section of the poor. All of a sudden, entire communities are compelled to sleep in the open air without safety or shelter.
I wonder how inhuman we have become that we do not hear the cries, the painful voices and anguish of the less privileged. Are their daughters not important? What about their safety and dignity? What about their children’s education?
What goes on in the minds of children who stand and watch their homes being demolished? What memories will they carry? Who is responsible for this? Demolitions still continue and people live with insecurity and fear in their hearts. When will this madness stop? These are some of the crucial questions that we should ask and seek answers for given the crisis faced by the contemporary times.