Invisible Cities: Part Twelve: Breaking The Sparrow

Months after the last demolition drive, a court order to construct a boundary wall in Sion Koliwada leads to tension between the police and protesting residents especially after a contractor illegally demolishes a home.

This article appears in two parts in Daily News & Analysis on the 6th of November, 2012. Photos of the day can be viewed here.

Residents of Sion Koliwada showed all the documents to the police officers at Sion Police Station, prima facie evidence of forged signatures on consent forms and proof that a few people who signed, died long before they apparently gave consent to the builder. Instead, the police had to pay heed to a High Court order asking for them to provide protection for the building of a boundary wall across the village and they showed up on Monday, the fifth of November.

This is irrespective of the fact that the protesting residents of Sion Koliwada have a number of cases against the builder in the High Court.

Meanwhile, residents still stayed back from work, and decided to protest against the construction. But ever since their experience with mass arrests last May, the residents made a tactical choice to let the builder construct his wall, provided he does that and nothing else. The case in question was filed by the previous society of Sion Koliwada (who the remaining residents accused of fraud) complaining about slow work against the BMC and the state, without making the protesting residents as a party in the case.

The construction of the walls resumed with one of the first actions of the police to direct the removal of a small tent at Sion Koliwada where most of the residents conduct their meetings, or watch TV, wondering how the few TV Journalists who visited them, documented their lives.

After that, through hurls of abuse, the demolition/construction crew started to break down remnants of homes already demolished, and then moved to the door of the home of 85 year old Rozi Francis Patil whose house was disputed between the BMC and the 85 year old Rozi and her family. While residents loudly protested against the demolition of the door, repeatedly asserting that the police has a high court order that only asks for the building of a wall, the contractors relented and moved away from her home.

However, once the wall was built around Rozi’s home, cutting off her neighbours from view, an overenthusiastic contractor ensured it turned into rubble.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police promised to file a case against him, while builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Developers claims that the disputed building belonged to them as the BMC had sealed it, and handed it over to them.

Short silences in moments of chaos

The Sparrow: Lily Peso left her work today as a stenographer and came to look after her 85 year old mother Rosie’s home in Sion, afraid that it might be levelled for the wall. She sits alone by her door, quietly, watching the labourers build their walls in what used to be her yard.

‘Why are you sitting alone?’ I asked

‘I am like a sparrow. Do you know the story of the sparrow and the tree? Once a tree falls and all the sparrows leave the tree except one. And that sparrow stayed near her broken tree and cried and just refused to move. Then Goddess Indra comes and asks the sparrow what is the matter. The sparrow says that I grew up with this tree, she lived happily here, and ate her fruits, lived in her shade, how can I leave it? And then the Goddess made the tree again and all the sparrows came back.’

‘I am here now alone, just remembering the place where I grew up.’

The labour: More than three dozen labourers were picked up from the Nakas, promised 400 rupees for a days work. Nasirul, who lives in a slum in Mumbai Central says: ‘They lied to us.’

‘They told us we only had to do some fencing work, not that we had to barge into people’s homes to do it.’

‘This is all wrong, we shouldn’t be doing it.’

‘Have you done work for the government before, like this? Even during demolition drives?’

‘Yes, and they never tell you that’s the work they’re taking you for.’

The Sellout: Kalpesh Shivkar, screams at the crowd, at his angry ex-neighbours, at his friends, ‘I just took five lakhs, what have I done? What have you done for me?’

In May of this year 25 people went to jail trying to protect his home from being demolished. They were arrested for rioting when they lay down before the bulldozer that was menacingly crawling to break down his walls.

The journalists:  Journalist A: ‘A white girl got raped in Bandra today, I don’t think anyone will come to report what is happening in Sion now.’

Journalist B: ‘I work for ____ media, owned by the Pawars.’

‘And they will let you write about this?’

‘We already did before.’

There were only two journalists at Sion Koliwada today.

The Detained: Resident of Sion Koliwada, a young professor B. at a prominent college in Mumbai, abused Inspector More, calling him a servant of the builder and he was swiftly taken away and put in a police van.

Police Discourtesy: When things subsided, a group of young boys were gathering when Constable Tely started to scream at them: ‘Are you here to watch a film?’

‘Yes, they are,’ Said Pushpa Shivkar, defending the boys of her village, ‘You have shown them a wonderful film by doing what you did today.’

At this point, Constable Tely started calling Mrs. Shivkar, who is twice her age,

‘madharchod/behenchod.’

Pushpa Shivkar yelled back saying that he should just meet her in civvies and not in his uniform so she could teach him a lesson, and he continued to hurl abuses at her, until another woman took her away.

The Bad Policeman: ‘Are you happy that you don’t have to raise your lathi on anyone today?’ I asked a constable, sweating under his riot gear.

‘Yes.’

‘And how would’ve you felt if you had to?’

‘I would feel nothing.’

‘Ever felt bad for beating up someone?’

‘We usually give warnings, if they don’t listen, then that’s it. And it is my duty.’

The Good Policemen: In the middle of the afternoon, two policemen, one Tukaram Jadhav was more interested in sharing riddles, lively laughter and mathematical wisdom with two happy school-going girls, away from all of the arguments and the abuse that flowed between the residents and the police.

‘If you have to cut a long pipe into 2002 pieces, how many times do you cut it?’

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