#MannKiBaat: An Open Letter to PM Modi

First published here: http://coalscam.org/blog/?p=205

Dear Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

I write to you as a citizen of this country, a consumer of its resources and a benefactor of its largesse. As a citizen, I have what your Environment Minister called a ‘vested interest’ in my own survival- from the quality of air in my city to the quality of water piped into my home, the health of forests that serve as watersheds to  the well-being of Indian farmers who provide for me in times of increasing  distress.

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You could call me a 5-star activist for wanting to talk about things such as the right to a clean environment, freedom of expression, the right to work and the right to Free Prior Informed Consent in the same breath.

I have to admit it took me a while, as a citizen and as a witness confronted with mountains of corruption and subversion of the law, to accept that I had inalienable, defensible human rights, even if there weren’t enough laws to grant them legitimacy.

I strongly believe that my countrymen and women deserve the same dignity and liberties accorded to citizens of any other nation. From my travels across the country and inquiry into social conflicts at the intersection of business and human rights over the last five years, I would argue that the need to guarantee rights is even more acute. For rights assume even more importance where they have been systemically denied, where the risks of fighting for them are far greater, and amongst communities who have seen little to nothing of the economic or social development undertaken in their name.  

We are at a cusp of our nation’s history- economically, politically and socially. While a large portion of us now walk the liberal road of wider economic choices, far greater millions are yet to see evidence of basic development, and are being pushed into wider chasms of inequity.

Almost a year into your term, you stand as a living, elected embodiment of the hopes of millions that change is necessary and so is development. My question to you is, what form will this change take? Who will it take with it? And why do you see rights as inimical to- and not a part of- this process?

Your campaign rode on a clarion call against corruption and crony capitalism. You have said your government has tried to counter this through transparent bidding procedures for natural resources such as mines and coal. However, how truly fair or transparent or accountable are these systems to the millions who stand to be affected?

Transparency is being able to communicate these complex norms to all those who will be affected by them. Fairness is ensuring that all stakeholders are involved in the process, duly informed, given notice of decisions and compensated.  Accountability is involving all stakeholders in decision-making processes through conducting assessments and cost-benefit analyses and arriving at a way forward together. It arises from being able to honestly communicate back to companies these deliberations and what is at stake.

However, by removing safeguards on social impact assessment and acquiring the consent of affected communities’ for a series of different projects, you say that businesses don’t have the time to meaningfully consult with stakeholders, ignoring your obligations to protect citizens from human rights abuses. Especially after the arbitrary allocation of our natural resources that you have sought to confront in your role as a custodian, doesn’t it become even more important to have community and civil society checks and balances for those seeking to acquire these resources? Instead, we have been repeatedly portrayed as obstructionists in the path of our own interests, and told that these are not exercises worth investing in.

Science tells us that it takes millennia of matter under pressure to produce the minerals we seek to extract to propel our growth story. Yet, it has also taken us millennia to arrive at a point where our rights and guarantees are recognized by law, where some have the privilege and means to express ourselves and possibly be heard. The language of our laws, let alone an assumed alphabet of SIAs (Social Impact Assessments) and PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships), has still not trickled down to millions who are yet to have teachers in their schools regularly enough or trainings in their own languages to ensure they know how to exercise their rights.

Your Mann Ki Baats, chai pe charchas and online transparency initiatives are great signs that our government is open to engagement. Then why do away with public hearings, gram sabhas and social impact assessments? Why fear people exercising their right to stand up and be counted, consulted and compensated? Why further silence those whose struggles for accountability are scarcely heard? What could be more in the nation’s interest than to protect the law and the resources of the land? Why thenharass its advocates, and limit avenues for remedy?

You of all people know the power of consent, and the reverse of it, when demonstrated electorally. You called out against people using the Land Acquisition bill for their own gains, and this is what communities have been wary of for centuries. Rights are not supposed to come with so many exemptions to the government of the day. The Land Acquisition Act and the Forest Rights Act were born after years of struggle, upheaval and bloodshed that still continue to play out in the country’s margins. India’s environmental laws emerged from the fallout of Bhopal, which we have still not been able to look in the face, assume accountability for and clean up. It’s time for us to acknowledge that the lack of trust goes back centuries, even before the 1894 Land Acquisition Act. While development is an imperative of the day, a one-way Mann ki baat cannot suffice, especially if it means closing other channels of communication and critique.

To not acknowledge or to erode these hard fought gains in the interest of faster investments would take us centuries behind in opening the channels of dialogue- between citizens, civil society, corporates and government. And that is not something we have the time for, as a country that both prides itself as a democracy and an economic power that wants to conduct business on a truly international stage.

To conclude, at the risk of sounding trite, permit me to paraphrase Tagore and project aloud. Of an India where dignity, consent and respect are non-negotiable. Where development is development for all and stems from dialogue. Where there is room and respect for dissent as a sign of how secure and mature we are as a democracy. And where the doors of justice remain open for anyone who seeks remedy.

Into that paradigm of people-centric development, dear Prime Minister, let our country awake.

Sincerely,

Aruna Chandrasekhar

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#MothersDay: Motherhood, Conflict and Growing Up Too Soon in Bastar

For children in the grey zone that is Bastar- where violence, arbitrary detentions and human rights violations are routine in the continuing conflict between the State and the Maoists- growing up too soon is not a choice. On Mother’s Day, I go back to a chance meeting with three extraordinary children who’ve seen this conflict play out up close, through the life of their mother, Soni Sori.

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“You know, this is the first time in almost 3 years that they are all together,” says Soni Sori, gathering her three children around her. “They had to be sent to hostel while I was in jail.” In a house in Dantewada’s Geedum tehsil, I’m introduced to Muskaan, Soni’s eldest daughter, studying hard for her 10th standard exams as her brother Deependra, who’s in the 7th standard, packs his bags for his maths and physics tuitions. While both are now doing well in school, Soni tells me both circumstance and separation have affected the children’s education in the years they’ve been apart. Ashu, the youngest, clings to her mother, refusing to let go.

It’s a rare privilege for me to meet them here- in Bastar, in their home and as a family. Soni- an adivasi schoolteacher who spoke up against human rights violations by both security forces and Maoists- was arrested in October 2011 on false charges of being a courier for the Maoists, besides other cases. Despite undergoing horrific torture while under police custody and being repeatedly acquitted in numerous cases against her, Soni was only released on bail in January 2014. Finally re-united with her children, Soni chose to return to Chhattisgarh, in spite of the odds, stood for elections from Bastar and continues to work for the causes she strongly believes in, with a special focus on women and adivasi undertrials in Chhattisgarh’s prisons.

Soni shows me around her home. “This was the house that my husband lived in. My daughter wants to live here; she does not want to relinquish the memory of her father,” says Soni. Muskaan’s father, Anil Futane, was also arrested on false charges of carrying out a naxal attack on the house of Avdhesh Gautam, a Congress leader in Dantewada. Futane spent nearly three years in prison before he was acquitted of all charges in May 2013. At the time of his release, Futane was paralysed from the waist down, as a result of alleged torture he faced while in jail. “It was Muskaan who received him and returned home to take care of him,” says Soni. Anil passed away a few months after he was released in August 2013, while Soni was still in jail. Soni was denied even temporary release on bail bail to carry out his last rites.

“Muskaan was the one who was taking care of her father when he was sick and was with him till he died. She was the only one who could visit me frequently when I was in prison,” says Soni, as Muskaan takes a breather from her studies to play dress-up. “She would come to talk to me, bring me biscuits. I would cry wondering how she could afford it.” Meanwhile, Ashu grins for the camera while her brother Deepu tries to take our picture. “This little thing- she would fight with the prison guards, telling them that ‘I want to see my mother fully, properly, not through these bars. I want to hold her.’”

The family has now re-adjusted to its new settings, with the support of those who’d rallied around Soni’s cause. “When I was released, there was nothing here. No one thought that I would come back. This house was in complete disarray, I had to build everything from scratch, which I have managed to do thanks to others who have helped me. Other women under trials have no such luck.” Soni is determined to help other women in similar predicaments return to society and find their footing.

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Soni and Ashu in their new kitchen.

She takes me to her kitchen. “This was a bathroom earlier. It feels good to be able to cook for your children in your own home, especially considering what jail food was like.” It was thanks to Soni’s intervention and hunger strike that women under trials, who were being fed food with worms in it, now have access to clean and better food in the Raipur jail. “This is one of the achievements that I’m most proud of. A woman prisoner came to me recently, with namkeen they had made in jail. I was so happy to eat it.”

I ask Soni how she feels about coming back to Chhattisgarh. “Coming back to Bastar was very important for me. Not only to show that I’ve been released, but to take part in elections, to legitimately participate in the government that once considered me a threat.” Even though she lost by a wide margin, Soni doesn’t consider it a deep setback. “I got an opportunity to interact with my own people, even those who still consider me a Maoist. It was a chance to clear the air and tell people my true story. That people voted for me is a testament of this trust.”

Even so, Soni’s children are getting used to her political life that requires her to be away for long periods of time. “Even now they are ready for anything to happen to me. Such is the political reality of Bastar that my children live with.”

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As Deependra runs out the door for class, I ask him what he’d like to be as a grown-up. “An IAS officer!” What about Ashu, I ask Soni. “This one doesn’t like studying- but she’s a firebrand- she’ll either become a human rights activist or a politician.” I turn to Muskaan, who looks like she’s already made up her mind. “I want to be a lawyer,” she tells me. I ask her why. “So I can fight for and release people like my mother who can be arrested while fighting for the right causes.”

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Soni shows me a shawl hand-embroidered by women undertrials. She plans to help more women who have been released from prison with rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.

Ejipura Diary: 26th January to 9th February

26th January to 9th February

Relief work has since been split into two units- one at Sarjjapur where families have been sleeping in the corridors of the Slum Housing Board colony on Hosa Road, and the footpaths of Ejipura. The former is marginally easier to deal with- fewer people, and while they are miles away from their homes, schools and jobs, they are at least safe and far from police harassment, the rumours, the fear of having their belongings tossed out any minute. Katie, Meera, Mayank, Yateesh, Aditi and others form the Sarjjapur team and work dedicatedly. A school bus for children in private schools is organised and other children are admitted in government schools. Social surveys have been carried out in both locations, courtesy Azim Premji University students at Sarjjapur, and by volunteers at Ejipura. The process of identifying homes, rehabilitation sites, shifting vulnerable members of the community to chowltry halls in the vicinity begins, just as rents shoot up all over the city.

February arrives, bringing with it a shiny new fence that has been decorated in our faces and pronounces the dawn of a proud new PPP. Vijayalakshmi, a resident who stays near the Ganpathi temple, threatens the police with self-immolation when they try to get her to move to complete their dominion.

There is an effort to get all groups involved to work with each other on a common forum. It is offset by meetings with the community to figure out their expectations, directions relief work should take and obtain consent for any advocacy efforts planned. A grandiose protest is planned for the 9th of February.

9th February 2013

The protest is closely followed only by Maverick, the BBMP and the police, and matched in planning and strength. Maverick obtains an injunction that prohibits prohibits picketing, sloganeering and demonstrating anywhere within a 100-metre radius of the EWS land at Ejipura, including public spaces, roads, footpaths, private houses and the National Games Village complex.

Hundreds of lathi-wielding cops swarmed EWS from 9 am onwards in solidarity with the private real estate firm, outnumbering protestors for a good two hours.

Kaveri and Gee, along with Sumathi and Sunil, Vijji, are confronted by over 30 cops, including those who had beaten them, and arrested once again in the middle of relief work, trying to ensure there was no backlash on the community while the protest was in swing. A man who sees that they have been taken away is also thrown in, along with another man who cries out ‘but they were distributing food.”

I get there just as Sumathi is being pushed into a van. Gee waves from inside and before I can ask my rickshawallah to follow them, they are gone. Vijji is beaten badly and jeered at by the police while in the station for threatening immolation. It feels like a bad repeat of the 19th. Gopika, Geeta, Anu and others are also threatened with arrest when they try to go in or leave the Ganpathi temple lane.

I try to speak to the ACP of Adugodi Police Station and ask them where they’ve been taken, to which I receive no certain answer. “Why are these people protesting?” he asks me with mounting frustration. “They just have to get out and we will construct beautiful apartments for them.” I ask him why there are so many vans. “Because we will arrest now, we will arrest in the afternoon, we will arrest in the evening and we will keep arresting.”

The protest finally gets under way and around 1500-2000 people from varied groups and EWS residents make their way from the Ambedkar statue at Austin.  Water cannons and 3 large police vans arrive to welcome them at the turning from Viveknagar to Ejipura.

The protestors are stalled and not allowed to enter the colony. A sit-down ensues in the middle of the road for over two hours. Volunteers who have been trying to ensure that nothing happens to the community are threatened with arrest. Over 150 protestors court arrest and are taken to the Adugodi police station.

Ejipura Diary: Republic Day, 2013

26th January 2013

The day of our republic. Breakfast arrives as it should, logistics worked out smoothly between Ejipura and Sarjapura. Sandhya and Sweta are on duty at EWS. There’s a collective sigh of relief as the Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar is quoted on the front page of The Hindu, assuring everyone that people will indeed be allowed to stay on at least till the end of the academic year and temporary structures will be built for them.

At half past noon, all hell breaks loose. Garuda mall, police and BBMP officials beginning forcing people into vans, give them a voucher for Rs. 5000 and get them off the land. The 5000 dwindles down to 2000, as push turns into shove.

By 4 pm, the last of the structures are demolished and every single resident who has not already fled is now on the footpath. We run around like headless chicken trying to reach out to television media on a national holiday. Sweta and I try calling individual channels, including the network I once worked for, but there is no response except from a local Kannada channel, Suvarna TV that makes its way from a flag hoisting.

Many volunteers have tried to confront the police, stop them from throwing out people, but they are advised them to back down and avoid getting arrested, because we might not be able to afford both bail and relief. At the back of our heads, we know that it might just help turn up the noise.

Eventually, it turns out there is nothing we can do in the face of hundreds of police on duty for the protection of private builder who just happens to be the son of Karnataka’s former Director General of Police. I am shaking. I speak to Javed who has been consistently covering the demolitions in Mumbai that received close to zero press coverage, who tells me that if the cameras haven’t been here in the past week, they will never come and that I shouldn’t waste my energies but instead focus on what the community wants. That we should not try to hijack the resistance or make it about our shame and our outrage and our long-term solutions. I try to tell him that that unlike the Ghar Bachao Andolan, locals in Ejipura believe that their own leaders have betrayed them, that they have been through and are up against too much to resist now, and it will take time to build confidence, expect them to lead their own struggle. I catch myself mid-sentence, knowing that I am wrong.

Rage and helplessness and anger arrive in waves, but there is no time to grieve. There is dinner to be arranged for and 85 families who have been too afraid to eat, waiting in line. I swallow my pointless sense of defeat for later and start making the calls.

The republic continues to be carved in front of our eyes.

Ejipura Diary: 23, 24 and 25 January, 2013

23rd January 2013

The word has spread: offers of food, clothes and blankets pour in from across the city for the next 24 hrs, non-stop. I am back in my sustainable, gated, ivory tower, glued to my hands-free while Sumathi, Sunil and Vinay are on the ground, helping with food, guiding volunteers, negotiating with police, taking the elderly to shelters and trying to keep the bulldozers at bay. Gee and Kaveri plunge back into relief work, despite their bail conditions being easy to misconstrue by any of the police around.

In the course of a few days, I speak to other people who I will begin to rely on more than family in the weeks to come for the first time. Mayank and Yateesh offer to raise money to buy 400 blankets, Lavanya, Gayatri and Prabha help provide home-cooked dinner and breakfast for the next couple of days and put me in touch with doctors and fellow volunteers. Dr. Sylvia is on site every other day. Ashlin, Abhishek, Siddharth, Eli and Dorji dedicatedly serve food at every shift. Musheer from Shalimar Hotel, Akshay Patra, Kevin and Mr. Mannivannan become food sources to count on. Then there are familiar names of people I’ve known of but never really knew. JP, a writer friend of my husband’s is there every morning at 9 to help with the breakfast shift. Geeta, mother of a friend and colleague, organises food from hotel banquets. I find out that the woman volunteering for the lunch shift is set to marry my uncle later this week.

We set up a Facebook page and start getting help from the very first day.

In between calls, the mind strays to whether this is all a hair too late; that the worst had been done, and here we were, handing out food packets and mineral water. I question my own motives, of whether this was a wave not of sympathy, but guilt that this was done for the discerning dollar of world-class citizens like myself. I swallow the thought and keep the gratitude as it keeps coming.

Slowly, the press is interested in the wave of humanitarian relief that was making its way to the site, just as we we wonder why no one but The Hindu or Citizen Matters would report it for the tragedy it is.

24th January 2013

Just as 500 blankets reached the site the previous evening, news trickled in that an elderly woman had died out in the cold. The seriousness of what we were trying to do versus what they were faced with hit home harder than ever before. More blankets, more water, more volunteers, more logistical nightmares and hidden blessings arrived through the day, just as the police constantly kept threatening to throw out residents’ belongings.

Every time this would happen, we’d send a message out to our volunteers and friends in the media and when they got there, the threats would stop. Many of them started to believe that we were hysterical activists, crying wolf. But if it weren’t for the few who showed up consistently, demolitions would have finished in 2 days flat.

Every time there were no core volunteers on shift, when activists and lawyers were out lobbying for temporary shelters and stopping demolitions, getting verbal assurances from everyone from the Chief Secretary, the CM,  the Mayor, the BBMP Commissioner and the Home Minister, houses were simultaneously being razed down at EWS. Barricades were put up on the main road, forcing volunteers to haul food and water for hundreds of people on foot. An exodus had already begun and many people fled to find shelter in a Slum Board housing project in Sarjapura, only to find themselves without a house, sleeping in the corridors in the cold, with no water, food or help for miles in sight, their children miles away from school and their jobs left behind. The only succor was that they were finally at a distance away from the constant intimidation and harassment and noise and horror and panic that had turned those in Ejipura to nervous wrecks.

In the afternoon, we receive word that the police were threatening to kick out all people by 4 pm, once and for all. Violent confrontation seemed imminent and we sent word out to all the volunteers to get there as soon as they could. Volunteers themselves were constantly being threatened to stop relief work. One of the locals who was helping serve food was beaten up by the police and taken to the station. The police build up grew; we continued to fear the worst as night unfolded, largely without incident. We count and thank our stars.

25th January 2013

A protest had taken place that morning outside the CM’s residence, but was stalled by the police who jeered at activists and students who joined the residents. “The lady policewomen were laughing at us, saying why are you joining them, do you think it will make any difference? Don’t waste your time in this heat and go back home,” said a student from St. Joseph’s.

For the rest of us, it was a day of relative peace. Blankets, clothes, medicines and doctors arrive at the scene, as we decided to schedule a volunteer meeting to address many different concerns- from whether we needed to be giving out money for advances, whether we could possibly work together with all the different groups in place, but most importantly, how many people were left and what did they have to show to qualify for either government rehabilitation (if it ever materialised) or the advances being offered by other parties involved in relief. Trust was at an all-time low with relief money coming in and we had no new information- many people didn’t have even basic documentation to qualify for help, while others, despite having a full deck of cards, had not received any compensation or proof of any alternative accommodation.

Tensions had already been created between original allottees and renters, and rents in nearby parts of the city had started skyrocketing. We decided that the most important thing to be done was a social survey- and that all parties needed to come together to clear any confusion on each other’s parts and work together. The biggest question that still remains is this- does helping with rehabilitation mean letting those responsible for their condition completely off the hook?

Ejipura Diary: 21 and 22 January, 2013

21st January 2013

I finally decide to leave my comfort zone and head to the site with Andrea and Stephie, taking Karthik’s videos with me.

I brace myself and search my head for the only memory I have of this place to compare it with what I am going to see now, despite having lived in Koramangala for 2 years. It is one of puttering through thigh-level sewage  in the rains inside an auto, water gushing through the tin roofs on to the street and people stranded outside their homes.

Even that does not prepare me for what I am going to see. It is a warzone. Mounds of rubble, fires burning from last night, 5000 people’s belongings lie strewn and buried. Only narrow frames of houses remain, police crawling in and out and all over the site. People are torn between going to work or keeping an eye on their belongings that the cops have threatened to start throwing out. Every single pipe has been occupied. Men and women alike burst out in grief. No one has slept for nights for the fear of being homeless the next. There has been no water or power for four days now. No one has been able to bathe and everyone has to resort to open defecation at night.

Eyes follow us everywhere as we try to talk to people who take a break between carting away the tin sheets that the BBMP hasn’t yet touched and extracting their possessions from heaps- plastic buckets, schoolbooks, utensils, house papers, pictures of gods stick out from under. I am suddenly acutely conscious of everything I own. Everything that can fit in half a tempo or be piled up on a bicycle is stowed away.

Those who talk to us are convinced that they will be picked up the very same evening. They show us their certificates of demolition and biometric cards, while the majority complain that they have not received any.  I promise to return, head to a thinly attended press conference where I try to push pictures and videos on to the handful gathered, again believing in the non-partisan power of the press, when except for The Hindu, I have only seen otherwise. We go back to Karthik’s to try and upload more videos, when Gee calls- they have to be in court the next morning and somebody needs to be at site at the break of dawn in case the bulldozers arrive again. We set our alarms for 5 am and fall asleep at 3.

22nd January 2013

It’s 6 am when we get there. We’re each wearing three jackets and a shawl but shards of cold still wriggle their way in. A JCB is parked outside the colony, its operators asleep in the shadow of its jaws. I try to take a picture, but I’m interrupted by a man who wants to know why I want to take a picture of the men who broke his home. He doesn’t think it is possible that they were just following orders.



We start walking to the closest fire, only to stop at each pipe along the road where someone is keeping watch while his/her family tries to sleep. Each tells us their story, of biometric cards and demolition letters that never came and scraps of paper they’ve been collecting to deserve a spot in a mythical rehabilitation colony in Sarjapura.

 Karthik heads off to buy milk and coffee and biscuits and buns, as the colony slowly rises. We go from lane to lane and home to home, handing out one packet each or half a bun. We are thanked and we are shamed. Even still, we run out every 15 minutes and six trips are made just for breakfast. Along the way, we hear stories- of carpenters, of electricians, of single mothers, of hand embroiderers with university educated daughters, of proud parents whose children work night-shifts at call-centres and attend college during the day and have yet to come home to see their homes like this. Others beg us to take their 10th standard children and admit them in hostels.


We finish serving breakfast only at 11, breaking in the middle to get the women to court on time. A police van arrives and scores of cops get out. We walk to the police chief from the Crime Branch, tell him that activists have been invited by the BBMP Commissioner at 10:30 and try to get an assurance that demolitions won’t begin again until they receive word from after the meeting.

We are told that the police is only there for the BBMP’s protection; right after we meet the women who were battered two days ago, one sustaining a fractured leg in the lathicharge.

The atmosphere is manic and paranoid- we can neither leave the police buildup, in case BBMP chief engineer BT Ramesh comes and authorizes demolition, while at the same time, the Akshay Patra van rolls in for lunch and there are more than we-don’t-know-how-many thousand people who haven’t eaten in days.

Food runs out in half an hour, barely feeding 200 people. I have the hardest fucking time saying no to children who come back or have been sent to get seconds for the rest of the family. I find myself looking for traces of dal in plates to see if they’ve eaten before and ask young Nikat who befriended me if she can point out who’s already been served.

We get on Karthik’s bike to go fetch drinking water, beginning with 2 cans per lane, trying to reassure residents who haven’t had water to drink for a while that there’s more coming. On the ethernet, mails go out and word begins to spread and the phone calls begin. The first volunteer we see there is Dr. Sylvia, followed by BSW students from St. Joseph’s with their professor who dragged them out of class, followed by Pushpa, who helps us delegate work. We hand out 2k a head and send them to get more food from the closest restaurant. Others are sent to get more cans of water and yet another batch is put on a social survey to see if they can come close to a headcount so we know how much food to order. An informal meeting is called for on relief strategy. Since my number has gone out on a lot of mails, I now find myself  responsible for coordinating relief, volunteers and food.

I return to the main street, only to see that the MLA Harris has arrived to personally insult every volunteer or outsider he can find; some of the girls are in tears, others use this as a chance to ask him pressing questions about the relocation site in Sarjapur to which he has no answers. More help arrives despite it, and the day is consumed in trying to keep it together.

Ejipura Diary: 20th January, 2013

20th January 2013:

None of us have been able to sleep. Karthik came by yesterday evening from EWS and stays over. We go over and over the videos that he’s taken, trying to transcribe what we can, digest what we cannot. Exhaustion beats exasperation and we finally turn in.

Every half hour, we call back to get updates from the ground. At 11, a small and varied group of people- some individuals, some representing their organisations, gathered at the entrance of EWS to protest against the demolitions and the police brutality. They were joined by the residents, and two police vans, with more khaki droves in sight.

“Attempts by three JCBs to roll in were thwarted by the crowds that blocked their entry into the EWS colony,” said Arati of PUCL. The protesters were joined by the residents of the EWS and shouted slogans condemning yesterday’s brutality and the actions of BBMP which was destroying homes to help build a mall. They  walked through the colony carrying placards and dispersed after an assurance that there would be no more demolitions. It looked like the high tension was done for the day, and so the outsiders dispersed at noon, just as we were heaving sighs of relief that all the women and Kaveri and Gee had been released.

The JCBs returned at 15:30 and resumed demolition on a scale unseen before. The maximum number of houses were demolished that day and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.

Mirno Pasquali, an American photographer who had been taking pictures in the area for over two weeks, was arrested when he tried to photograph a child who had sustained injuries from the demolitions. He had also been threatened by a senior cop on the 19th: “If you don’t leave this area, I’ll arrest you for obstructing me in doing my duty.” Mirno was taken to the station to be questioned, offered chai by the inspector and let off a few hours later with a warning. Residents who were roughed up and detained on petty charges were offered no such luxuries; Shabana returned home with a broken leg that still hasn’t healed.

That night felt like the coldest night of the year. The women, up till then the most vocal, returned with bruises to broken homes and their children not to be found. Hundreds of people tried to take shelter in large pipes with their belongings, while many slept out in the biting cold, trying to burn whatever would ignite- wood scraps, plastic, and eventually, clothes, mattresses and blankets. On the ground, Sumathi and Sunil distributed whatever food and water they could afford from their own pockets; similar efforts were on at the Masjid, but none of it was enough.

This was a humanitarian crisis in the heart of Bangalore that nobody wanted to look at and every television camera had missed. Company goons prowled the colony at night, sexually harassing women  when they were not looting what little was left of people’s life savings, the police threatening anyone who dared to speak to reporters or camerapeople.

I tossed in my double bed, miles away from the scene, unable to do anything but post and call and tweet and plead with strangers. As if words or videos could keep anyone safe or warm.