February 16, 2005

Men like you. Report them

When we reach Moragaon at the end of Juhu, I see - I can get used to this - piles of rubble, clumps of people, palm and banana trees. And, sitting idly in the middle of what once were over 200 houses, a small group of security guards.

Hell, I think. I've come to this place of desolation and anger with a well-known activist, a well-known film-maker, the ex-wife of a Bollywood actor and director, several journalists, and - yes - a chess-champion-turned-editor. That's a motley enough crew that a bunch of guards should not seem that incongruous. But here, they do.

Moragaon is on the edge of a large slum area called Ruia Nagar. I haven't quite understood why my Municipality picked out these particular 200 houses for demolition, leaving the rest of Ruia Nagar intact. But there it is. These were solid houses, if the remnants of thick walls that lie around, and the smooth concrete plinths everywhere, are any indication. Those who lived in these solid houses are still here, sleeping in the open on the rubble. (Oh yes, I'm getting used to this). They are Marathi-speaking Koli fishermen, the people always referred to as Bombay's original inhabitants. Many of them claim they have been here since well before 1995.

"In any case," a young man called Rajesh gets up and says quietly, but clearly and firmly, "we are the original people here! What are they talking of, 1995?"

Also in any case, the Municipality's bulldozers turned up here on January 21 and took out these homes. No amount of pleading, letters, permissions, presence of local MLA, whatever, helped. And ever since then, this small posse of guards - six skinny men plus a skinnier supervisor - from Dora Enterprises (Security Consultants) are stationed here. I stroll over to have a chat. The supervisor, Balbir Rana, proffers a tattered letter from the District Collector's office to Dora, asking in Marathi for guards to do duty at Moragaon at a payment of Rs 85 per day per man.

"But what are you guarding?" I ask. "What do you have to do here?"

Rana says his men watch the locals, and report to his superiors if they try to rebuild their homes. This happens at least once a day. Almost on cue, three different families near me start erecting bamboo poles and spreading fraying tarpaulins over them. From one site, large chunks of rubble come flying indiscriminately out, sending us scurrying for cover. It's the man inside, clearing away the debris.

"You see?" says Rana, pointing to the three ongoing efforts. "Excuse me, now I have to go make this call." Off he goes, joking as he does with the very people whose activities he is reporting.

Behind us, Rajesh is speaking again to his assembled neighbours. "We have never struggled," he says. "But now we better understand one thing: we will have to struggle for our rights." The gathering erupts into a series of slogans. "Ghar aamcha hakka-cha, nahi koni bappa-cha!" (Poor translation: "Homes are our right, not handouts from somebody's father!")

Half an hour later, I stop by for another chat with the guards. Where do you live, I ask Rana and one of his men, Datta Ghulye. "Where else, sir?" replies Rana, his small smile telling me he is hardly ignorant of the irony. "In Versova, in huts like these."

And Ghulye tells me: "Mine was demolished two years ago. Just like here."

Huts there, just like here. Demolished there, just like here. Men from there, instructed to watch the men from here.

When we leave Moragaon, we walk through Ruia Nagar and out to a narrow road that leads to the rest of Juhu. On the edge of the road, across from where we emerge, five or six little girls squat in late-evening defecation. Behind them is a low wall, about chest-level for me. Immediately beyond the wall are a dozen or so people.

They are playing tennis. Damn! Should have brought my racket.


I'm a little puzzled at the lack of takers for my offer from a few days ago, for those who approve of the slum demolitions to visit some of these destroyed slum areas. It remains open.

1 comment:

Anand said...

Dilip - Why don't you suggest a date, and a place to meet. Those who are interested can come there, and all of us can go together. Any weekend is okay with me.