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.

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