Invisible Cities: Part Thirteen: Premnagar : A Mall To Human Suffering

Women who were beaten during a demolition drive at Premnagar at Goregaon, Mumbai, show their injuries.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 14th of November, 2012

Just in the vicinity of Goregaon’s Inorbit mall and Hyper City was a demolition drive of an ‘illegal’ settlement of thousands of homes at Premnagar that had started to exist over the last ten years. The demolitions took place on the 6th of November, without a notice, without allowing people to take their possessions out of their homes, which led to massive losses to small businesses who had their working spaces at home, and to school-going children who lost their report cards, certificates and their school books. Old women were beaten, young children were pushed. Testimonies collected revealed a pattern of brutality and loss and the evidence of violence were clearly visible on women whose bruises have yet to heal.

Rajkumari Kori’s children lost all their school books and their uniforms. Lokesh Jain estimates that he lost 15 lakhs worth of raw materials of his electroplating shop. Prakash Gond who worked as an electrician lost all of his work materials and was beaten by the police trying to save them. Vivek Ramesh Pawar lost his 15 year old bhangaar shop as well, now smouldering in a fire, and now has to sell his house to make up for the loss. Nazrin Ahmed Ansari is eight months pregnant and has trouble keeping her children out of the cold. Ajit Yadav is worried he can’t give his tenth board exams because his certificates are buried in the rubble.

Fourteen year old Nitin says the police only calls them to the chowkie to give money for protection. Behind him a woman says, ‘police pehle bolti hai banao, phir baadme bolti hai todo.’ (first the police says build, then later they come and tell us to break.)

An on-site MHADA officer claimed that it wasn’t necessary to give a notice as these were all illegal slums, while residents claimed that the police kept telling them that their houses were safe until the last minute when they came barging in, beating people who tried to recover their belongings from their homes. To add to that, the MHADA did give a notice the last time there were demolitions over 2 years ago.

Now over the next five days, bulldozers flattened the ground, destroying property worth thousands, and making it impossible to reclaim any belongings. The ground lay littered with thousands of electrical fixtures from numerous electroplating workshops, and small fires were lit over what used to be some people’s living rooms.

According to an on-site MHADA officer, the site is meant for a building complex for the general population.

‘For the lottery system?’

‘Yes.’

‘So if any of the people who lost their homes to this plot win the lottery, they can get a house here?’

The officer laughs: ‘Yes, of course.’

On Sunday morning, across the MHADA sign that indicated ‘This Plot belongs to MHADA, trespassers would be prosecuted’ thousands of residents gathered to sit on a dharna, but by evening the police broke down their makeshift tent.

The dream of Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna had been brought into their slum after the demolition. Jameel Akhtar Sheikh from Ambujwadi in Malad, a veteran activist from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, spoke clearly to assenting residents, ‘We’re not asking for free housing, we’re asking for cheap housing.’

‘This Inorbit mall was built on a dumping ground, it’s government land, it has flouted CRZ norms, and you know Infinity Mall, it was built on a playground.’ Continued Jameel.

‘If the government is going to give land in Powai to the Hiranandanis for 40 paise per acre, we’re ready to give forty rupees.’ He said to the loudest applause of his short speech.

‘You (the government) have empty plots, show us the rate you’re giving them to builders for, and we’re ready to pay for it ourselves.’

A crash of applause reverbeted again through his last words and there is some wonder why.

Vinod Vishwakarma was born in Mumbai, is a worker in Bollywood, and a registered member of the Film Studio Setting Allied Mazdoor Union, chaired by Mithun Chakravorty, who himself had once given the dream of a home to the invisible men who made films. Vinod lived in a rented house for most of his adult life, when his family decided to spend the few lakhs to pay off people in high places so they could construct a room of their own. The same people now ensured that he could not even save his clothes.

‘We have a Shiv Sena corporator Lochana Pawar,’ Said Vinod, ‘When our homes broke down last year we gave her our votes as she used to tell us she was also from a slum, and that she had a chai shop, that she understands the poor and that she will help protect our homes. The last corporator lost because he did nothing after the last demolition drive.’

‘And this woman hasn’t even shown her face to us now for five days.’

Corporator Lochana Chavan, 44 years old, who sold chai and worked with the Shiv Sena for 22 years, says she hasn’t been able to go to Prem Nagar because it’s Diwali and her mother is unwell. She adds that the orders came from the Collector and she could not intervene, and that there was nothing she could do. ‘I am elected to help the people,’ She says, ‘But where there are illegal things, I can’t go.’

Police officer Arun Jadav at Goregaon police station, who most of the residents reviled and blamed for their misfortunes, was not quite forthcoming when he was asked about the events of the day, or whether he ever looked into the ‘extortion’ or protection money that was taken to build the slum. He didn’t. And when asked about who took protection money for the building of the illegal settlement. His response was a terse, ‘Just ask them only.’

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A young girl sweeps the ground where her house used to be in Premnagar, Goregaon, West.

(1) Comment Write a comment

  1. That was a heart wrenching read, which forced me to think about the actual state of these people becoming invisible. I would appreciate the fact that you as a photographer are shedding light on the plight of these people, which is going unnoticed in this “Civilised” crowd. The use of art to showcase the truth and bring about change is the noblest one indeed. Lastly your photography is detailed and has grabbed the plight and pain in the literal sense. As an enthusiast myself, greyscale has always intrigued me. Thank you for the post.

    Cheers and good luck

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