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.