No mother wants to nurture her child in a slum. Families do not live in a slum out of choice; it is a matter of survival.

The growth of slums, especially in India, has its genesis in two issues; both, directly related to the pathetic attitude of those in power, towards the poor of our country.

The wretched stance on the lack of rural development and the complete disregard to the plight of our rural and agrarian brethren are the main reasons, why our people, leave their homes in villages; leave their dignity, roots and generations of tradition and are forced to come to cities; where they are made to live in the most abysmal conditions, very often, not even fit for animals. Poverty, falling prices of agricultural produce, import of food products, debt, declining bank credit for the poor and the brutal web that millions of our poor farmers and craftsmen are entangled into, mainly due to the miserable lack of focus on rural development, virtually forces them to move to the city; not just in search of a livelihood, but in reality, as they have nowhere else to go, to keep body and soul together. Migration, in India, is not out of choice; it is a matter of life and death.

The other reason, for the growth and prevalence of slums, in India, is also due to the non-implementation of area Master Plans.

The Delhi Master Plan is a rather nifty document that has clearly mentioned and suggested a specified percentage of land, for the housing of the Economically Weaker Section (ews) and the Lower Income Group (lig), both good euphemisms, for The Extremely Poor (tep). Integration of the poor with twr (The Wretchedly Rich) too has been advocated. There are provisions, which if followed, would take care to a large extent, the housing issues of the poor; housing issues, that would not have existed, if the poor from the rural areas... farmers, craftsmen, laborers... were not forced to migrate to the city, in search of survival. The Master Plan has also placed great importance to the overall well-being, of those poor families being allotted plots of land. Sanitation, education, health; basic civic amenities, appropriate space and infrastructure, proximity to work, and if not enhancement, then at least, no danger of loss of livelihood, are issues that are stressed upon. The Master Plan is clear about the provision of these issues that are a binding requirement, for the overall well-being of the family.

There is just one hitch with the Master Plan. Its implementation is left to the goodwill, discretion and the sense of moral ethics of those in power; namely the implementing agencies. It's virtually like a shephard, leaving his healthy flock, in the care of wolves and other overtly carnivorous animals. Akin to the Indian Constitution and the various Rights that it is dotted with: Right to Liberty, Right to Livelihood, Right to Shelter, This Right and That Right, but most of these preachy Rights, are not enforceable in the Court of law. A tiger with fancy vocabulary but without teeth.

The growth of slums is inevitable, in a country, where seventy percent of the population lives in rural areas and instead of paying detailed attention to their needs and working out ways to ensure their survival and growth, the powers that be, disregard and disrespect their existence, by outrageous and self defeating objectives and initiatives; and then the general city's populace and governing bodies wonder, as to why every year, millions of poor people, flock to the cities. Till rural development is not made a top priority and till the time housing policies enshrined in the Master Plan, are not implemented, the poor are going to flock to the cities and the slums are going to grow and swell. The authorities, the so called 'save-our-cities-from-this-filthy-onslaught' brigade, the media, the implementing agencies and all the blah-blah gang, can go purple in their face, screaming about slums, mutilation of the city and the dangers of slum dwellers but till the time main issues aren't really addressed and implemented, nothing is going to work. There are glaring holes in the bucket and the blah-blah gang is working on everything but plugging the holes.

Recently, the Supreme Court observed that, "poverty could not be an excuse for living in slums" and that, "nobody forced you to come to Delhi... if you are occupying public land, you have no legal right, what to talk about Fundamental Rights, to stay there a minute longer...". These statements, moronic and heartless, come from the pedestal of Justice, not from some lower or local court, in some small sleepy town, but from the Supreme Court of India, the so called ultimate beacon of hope and justice, for the poor, the weak and the meek. Now the poor and the weak and the meek can also be the damned.

A simple fact remains, that it is the duty of those in power to provide an environment, where a person can work and thrive at his or her original place of dwelling, be it in a village, a small town or a big city; that a person is not forced to leave home and live in a place, not fit for an animal. That it is every citizen's Fundamental Right, to be able to work, reside and live with dignity. What 'democracy' and '21st century nuclear power with world power status' are we, as a nation striving for, when millions and millions of our poor people are actually dying of hunger; dying of extreme cold or heat, just due to lack of shelter; where our people have to live in debt and be exploited by those who have it all, by the very system that actually ought to be protecting them and not throwing the poor to the wolves.

I am well aware and under no illusion, that this book and the documentary film is not going to shake the ground under the feet of the establishment and kick them to proactive action. Most of those in power are too daft and morally bankrupt to even begin to comprehend the plight of the poor and the plight of those who are left with their past, present and future, bulldozed to the ground. I am also not advocating that we should let our cities be turned to one, big, happy slum, but yes, what does perturb and disturb, is the total apathy of those in power, towards those living in slums. For God's sake, the poor living in slums are our own people. They are not animals; they are not from some remote corner of the galaxy; they are not untouchables. They are, what you and I could become, if fate and opportunity were to leave our side, today. Most importantly, every city is based on the foundations that have been laid by these migrant workers. They have slogged under extreme climatic and demanding conditions and helped erect the buildings, the monuments, the flyovers, the hospitals, the shopping malls, the commercial centres, the very homes you and I live in. More importantly, it is because of them, that our quality of life is so greatly enhanced. Our cooks, maids, drivers, peons, clerks, garbage and rag pickers, road sweepers, electricians, plumbers, and so many, from the work force, live in slums or resettlement colonies or inhabit those localities, that are bereft of basic amenities of life and where, most of us, wouldn't survive for a few hours, leave aside the night, without electricity, water, sanitation and health assistance. We have no right, for our convenience, to chew and digest whatever we need out of these poor people and then spit them out, when there is nothing more to left. One important aspect to be considered is that slums don't come up overnight; a cluster of a few thatched huts, yes, but not a thriving township, where thousands of homes and families, live and go about, trying to keep their necks above water. It is inhuman, to let them build their lives around their homes and dwellings; borrow money, go into debt, sell their women's jewellery, to build a proper house and open a small business and then demolish the habitat, twenty-thirty-forty years down the line; when that settlement is more like a township; where there are schools and healthcare centres; a world within a world that thrives. Who allows this to happen? Once again it is those in the loop: the authorities, the vested powers and the land mafia. So, you allow them to thrive, till it once again suits your convenience, and then, with one judgment, decades of hard work and sweat, sacrifice & debt, hope & trust... in prominent leaders, in the Government, in the Judiciary, are all razed to ground, by the cold claws of the bulldozers.

This is what doesn't make sense and shouldn't be allowed. Each city has its limitations. True. If you feel the city cannot take in any more, enforce the law, then and there. But of course, also enforce and implement what the Master Plan has kept aside for our poor families belonging to our country. First, give the poor their rights and then ensure you don't encourage future slums to grow and thrive. Accommodate and then consolidate.

One of the major fallacies regarding slum dwellers is that, if you give them a plot of land, on lease, they shall sell their Rights and once again come back to their original place of dwelling and build another thatched home. Believe me, no family wants to trade permanent accommodation in a territory, like Delhi, to go back and live in a slum. The reason is once again very basic: the need to keep body and soul together. While interviewing slum dwellers, who had been 'relocated' to the outskirts of the city, I realized something that was glaringly obvious. The poor, live in a slum because they cannot afford the high real estate prices or the fancy rents and also because of easy accessibility to their jobs and livelihood. In fact, it is their livelihood that determines their dwelling. Those great buggers in power, demolish homes of the poor and then throw them to a remote place, where there's no scope of earning a livelihood and there are no appropriate schools or medical facilities; no proper emphasis on sanitation; and transport facilities are either non-existent or not practical. What do you expect the poor families to do? Nail each other and their families, to that licensed plot of land and await resurrection? The poor family has no option. They have been relocated to a barren piece of land, where forget about the basic civic amenities, even earning a livelihood is not just possible. Many families have no other choice and are forced to return to the hub of the main city, forgoing their chance to have stability of tenure, just in order to survive. So, a few of them sell their land lease and are back on the streets and return to the same area from where they were uprooted. Nobody wants to live in a slum but if the slum is close by to their source of livelihood and allows them to earn their bread and feed their families, as well as educate their children, then these folks have little option but to go back to their former place of dwelling.

This book, tells a short story of one of the biggest and oldest slums in Delhi and in India, called Yamuna Pushta. A slum that gave shelter to 1,50,000 people and which nurtured more than 40,000 homes. A world within a world existed in Yamuna Pushta. Schools, medical and healthcare centres, self-help groups, shops, restaurants, crches, small businesses and various social organizations, worked closely with the community, bringing about immense positive change in the lives of the residents. This massive township was demolished in a few weeks. 40,000 homes were razed to the ground and more than 1,20,000 people were left to the mercy of the cruel streets. Just twenty percent of the families whose homes were demolished, were in the guise of resettlement, shoved forty kilometres away from the main city and civilization, onto a barren piece of land in Bawana, where there was no proper sanitation, no medical facility, pathetic water supply, no electricity, and worst of all, no scope of earning one's livelihood. All this and more in the middle of peak summer.

The reasons cited by the Courts for the demolition of Yamuna Pushta settlement were encroachment on the river bed and pollution of river Yamuna. Construction on the river bed has major environmental as well as safety issues. So, if Yamuna Pushta settlement was demolished on the grounds of river bed encroachment, then the Delhi Metro, the Delhi Secretariat, the Akshardham Temple, the Metro Rail Headquarters, the Commonwealth Games Village and many more known structures on the river bed should also have been demolished.

The second reason for demolishing 40,000 homes in Yamuna Pushta was that slum dwellers were polluting the river Yamuna. Research has proved that less than one percent of the river's pollution came from Yamuna Pushta slum dwellers. Where the hell did the Court think, the sixteen odd drains of Delhi vomit all their content? Where goes all the industrial waste, the crap, and the wastewater generated by Delhi - amounting to around 3,400 to 3,600 million litres per day? Where else, but into the sacred Yamuna!

I intended to work solely on a documentary film, but in the thick of it, decided to produce this book as well, to highlight the pain, the agony, the helplessness and the courage of the poor as also the total lack of respect and profound apathy with which the authorities treat the poor and the helpless of our country.

I am no environmentalist, town planner, activist, or sociologist. Thus, don't expect anything very erudite or path breaking. Yes, as the director of the documentary, I interviewed competent and dedicated professionals, who are engaged with issues of the environment, town planning, sociology, social work, politics, law, and those engaged with issues pertaining to the welfare of children and the homeless. Their interviews carried in this book reflect serious ideas and opinions on these issues. I have referred to various books, scores of press clippings, scanned the web, but most important of all, I have spent time with the slum dwellers. I have been with them before the demolitions; was with them when their homes were razed to the ground and also journeyed with them to their place of transition. As an author and a filmmaker, I can just hold the mirror, hoping the image that is seen, helps to bring about some change, in the minds of the readers and viewers and thus propel some positive change in the lives of thousands of our poor people, who work and toil for our comfort and are treated in so undignified a manner. Hope this journey, through the book, changes your life, as it has changed mine.

Keep the faith and GOD bless,

Ruzbeh. N. Bharucha


From the book "Yamuna Gently Weeps" by Ruzbeh N. Bharucha