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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.

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