In, what is famously known as, the ‘divine’ city of Dharamsala in Himachal, toddlers, infants and school going children of a 30-year-old slum settlement in have been rendered homeless and living on the roads since the past 3 days facing the rains without a shelter, due to the callousness of the local district administration and Municipal authorities.
The Dharamsala Municipal Corporation and administration on 17th June demolished the slum at Charaan khad, in the city, evicting 300 families, mostly migrant workers. The families, belonging mostly to the Scheduled Castes from Rajasthan and Maharashtra had been residing in this settlement for over 30 years. Working mostly as daily wage labourers on construction sites, as rag pickers and street side vendors, these people now have nowhere to go.
While the MCD has sited that the administration was “following High Court orders”, no such order has been made public yet. The residents at the settlement have not been provided any rehabilitation and were evicted with a 10 day written notice. The process of planning the demolition started three months ago and the MCD had shown them alternate sites at villages Gamru, Passu and Sarra. “The corporation just showed us the sites with absolutely nothing there – no housing, sanitation, water facility. When we went to these villages, we were kicked out by the local people. They made it very clear that we would not be spared if we set up our homes there”, said Raju bai, one of the displaced residents. Raju came to Dharamsala when she was 16 years old. She got married to another migrant worker. She brought up her children here, all of whom went to school and now work in the city. She is almost 50 today and cannot believe that she has lost her only home.
Surprisingly despite knowing that the resettlement near the proposed sites would face local opposition the Municipal corporation did not attempt any sort of mediation, nor was any effort made to look for alternate sites. Despite the advent of the monsoon, hundreds of families were thrown on the streets to fend for themselves. Close to 115 children from the slum were studying at the government schools and many others in local community schools run in the slum itself which are now demolished. It is appalling that the district authorities have unleashed police power on the evacuees. The police is intimidating not just the displaced community but any independent person attempting to talk to them or provide support. “While we tried to talk to the local people the police harassed us and threatened to detain us if we tried to talk to the people. We were asked to leave the site without any explanation”, said local activists based in Palampur who visited the demolished site today on 20th June
It is unclear as to why the administration is now interested in clearing out the slum, which has existed for so many years. Dharamsala, which has provided refuge to many a people has suddenly turned its back on its poorest residents who have put their blood and sweat to build the city, its roads and homes. Dharamsala, was recently short listed as a ‘Smart City’ after much lobbying from various quarters in the political establishment. In its bid to become a smart city, it appears that Dharamsala may have to lose some of its soul and humanity.
For more information
Manshi Asher and Sumit Mahar, Himdhara Collective 8988275737