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.