June 9, 2023: People running Delhi are now busy preparing the city for a meeting of G20 leaders in September. Presidents, prime ministers, rulers, and diplomats from the world’s richest countries will visit the capital. For two days, they will discuss global economic problems and solutions. As if they can solve all that in two days.
So, Delhi must be dressed up for the big occasion. But what about the poverty we see all across the city? Surely, we don’t want to show our high-profile guests that we are poor! Something must be done quickly to get rid of the unpleasant-looking slums. But what can be done to cover up Delhi’s massive economic mess? It is teeming with lakhs and lakhs of poor people forced to live in slums.
So, for the past few months, Delhi’s authorities have found an easy way out. They’re on a brutal drive to demolish slums across the city, so that when the foreign leaders in shiny suits come here, the poverty will be gone – it will be like magic.
Between 10th February and 1st May, Delhi authorities slapped notices and sent bulldozers and demolition teams to more than six locations. Mostly poor people lived miserable lives in slums in these areas. The targets were Tughlaqabad and Mehrauli in the south. Dhaula Kuan in central Delhi. Kashmiri Gate, Moolchand Basti, and the Yamuna Floodplains in the north. Demolitions were done in a few other areas as well, such as Khori Gaon in the south.
The evictions and demolitions were done only after legal go-ahead. The objective was to control rising encroachment in the city by undocumented migrants.
We learnt from independent sources that more than 2.6 lakh people in Delhi have become homeless due to this beautification drive for the G20 summit. More than 1,500 homes have been decimated. The poor residents living next to the Tughlaqabad Fort took the biggest blow. They are yet to be rehabilitated.
Nirmal Gorana, one of very few activists who spent their life seeking justice for evicted people, says about 4.5 lakh people in 14 slums were displaced last year in Delhi.
Foreign forces vs Delhi’s poor
The irony is, who are we hiding our misery from? From world leaders representing rich countries, right? Now, why is Delhi today swamped with poor people? It’s not difficult to connect the dots. For decades since our independence, some foreign governments have influenced our economic policy. Foreign corporations have minted money in India and taken it away. Foreign MNCs from east to west have dumped their products on us, decimating our domestic industries. And foreign organisations like the IMF and World Bank gave us loans and lectures on how we should handle our economy.
It is precisely because of meddling by forces from these countries that India is so poor today. Our rural economy is completely broken. And villagers are forced to migrate to cities like Delhi in search for work. They end up living in unlivable slums. They are not the problem. The system is the problem. They are just victims of the broken system.
And what are we doing now? Removing those slums from view because leaders from foreign countries will visit Delhi. Let’s look at a few countries from where leaders will come for the G20 summit in September – US, UK, France, Germany, China, Japan, South Korea. Corporations, monarchies, and governments from these countries have historically dictated India.
Real meaning of G20
And what is this G20? Why is it so important for India’s image? The official definition won’t tell you this: G20 is a big club of countries run by a small bunch of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations. From these few wealthy nations, thousands of multinational companies go to poor countries in South Asia, Africa, and South America, make money, and take it back home.
But no, now that high-profile leaders from these countries will come here, we must forget the insult, and host them with a smile. We must not show them the dark reality of urban poverty.
Delhi’s evicted people come from the low-income group. They work in the city as construction workers, wage labourers, domestic help, security guards, cleaners, and so on. It’s a cruel joke that the people who service Delhi and keep it running are the ones being thrown out.
Since the demolitions began, homeless people have been protesting and seeking rehabilitation. They have even been protesting peacefully at Jantar Mantar, Delhi’s iconic protest location. But the mainstream media, which is supposed to report on human rights problems, doesn’t care.
Evictions across India
It’s the same scene across the country. Two years back, the organisation Housing and Land Rights Network revealed in a report that over two lakh people were evicted and more than 36,000 homes were demolished all over India. The report says that between January and July last year, more than 1.24 lakh poor people lost their homes to demolition drives by state governments.
Last year, the watchdog also found that about 24 people are evicted every hour in India. And at least 15 million people or 1.5 crore people are at risk of getting evicted from their homes.
But come September, Delhi must look sanitised and pretty. The misery can be swept under the bed. The world leaders, protected by security guards and drones, are scheduled to go for a heritage walk in Mehrauli, where demolitions forced almost 3,500 people homeless. That walk will be a matter of pride for India, and a matter of shame for Bharat.
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