For residents of Kariyammana Agrahara, a migrant settlement located in the Bellandur area of Bengaluru, the events of January 19, 2020, are seared into their memory. It was the day when the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) demolished scores of sheds in the settlement over suspicions that some of the residents were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. When the excavators reached the settlement for the demolition, residents held up their identity cards to prove their Indian citizenship, but in vain.
The Karnataka High Court later found that the demolition drive by the state government, where over one hundred families lost their houses, was unauthorised. Eleven months after the incident, the residents are heaving a sigh of relief as the High Court has directed the state government to pay compensation to the families who lost their dwellings.
‚ÄúEven though we were trying to tell them that we are Indians, our houses were demolished,‚ÄĚ Munni Begum, a 21-year-old resident of the migrant settlement, recalled. Her shop, which sold groceries and condiments, was taken down in the demolition drive. Residents in the settlement held Indian identity cards and came from states like Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and even from north Karnataka.
Homes demolished at Kariyammana Agrahara migrant settlement in Bengaluru in January 2019
In a meeting chaired on October 17, the Karnataka government agreed that it would pay Rs 14,100 as compensation and allocate Rs 29,000 each for building a shed for 131 people affected by the demolitions. On November 19, Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty of the High Court issued orders directing the state government to pay Rs 14,100 as compensation amount. The order stated that another order will be passed regarding the cost of building a shed, which is Rs 29,000. Each family is likely to receive a total of Rs 43,100 as compensation.
‚ÄúSo far, an amount of Rs 14100 has been released to 48 families currently and we have received reports from residents that they have received the amount,‚ÄĚ said YJ Rajendra, Karnataka President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said. The human rights organisation had filed a petition in the High Court seeking compensation for families affected by the demolition.
Rajendra said that the state government offered to rehabilitate those affected near Anekal (35 kilometres away from Kariyammana Agrahara) but it was deemed too far for the migrant workers, who are employed in jobs in and around the settlement.
The men in the migrant settlement work ragpickers, housekeeping staff, construction workers, security guards and drivers, in high-rise apartments surrounding their settlement while the women work as domestic workers.
Kariyammana Agrahara migrant settlement
Relief and joy in Kariyammana Agrahara
In Kariyammana Agrahara, news of the High Court directive was met with relief and joy. ‚ÄúMy room, which was attached to the shop, was affected in the demolition. I left that area and moved to a different shed. I worked as a domestic worker for some time before I reopened my shop recently,‚ÄĚ Munni Begum said.
Another resident Mohammed Nazeemuddin said that many families left the migrant settlement after the lockdown period and are yet to return. ‚ÄúPeople were without work throughout the lockdown period and even after the lockdown was lifted, domestic workers were not allowed to return to apartments for work. Those who left during the lockdown have not returned and many rooms here are empty now,‚ÄĚ said Nazeemuddin.
Before the illegal demolitions in January, a video shot from a nearby apartment claimed that Bangladeshi immigrants were illegally staying in Bellandur. The video was also shared by Mahadevapura‚Äôs BJP MLA Arvind Limbavali. A news report by Suvarna News, a popular Kannada news channel, also claimed the presence of Bangladeshi immigrants in the area.
Narayan Swamy, an Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE) in the BBMP's Mahadevapura division, then ordered the demolition. In a letter to the Marathahalli police, the engineer had said that "Bangladeshi nationals have built illegal sheds and the residents here have converted this into a slum area". He confirmed that residents in apartments in Bellandur approached him with complaints about the settlement.
While hearing PUCL‚Äôs plea, the High Court questioned the state government in February, asking whether Bangladeshi nationals can be identified by their faces.
Around the same time in January, Bengaluru police arrested and detained multiple persons on suspicion of being illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. It was a part of the renewed efforts by the police, especially in the city‚Äôs Whitefield division, to crack down on illegal immigrants staying in migrant settlements.
The demolitions also took place when there were protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Bengaluru. "The residents of Kariyammana Agrahara held up their identity cards in an attempt to prove their citizenship. They knew that the demolitions were over fears about their identity but they were powerless to prevent it. It was only later that the state reflected on it and realised that it was wrong, and they have now agreed to pay compensation," Vinay Sreenivasa, an activist based in Bengaluru told TNM.
Earlier this year, a group of activists estimated there are around 15,000 residents in the migrant settlement in Kariyammana Agrahara, mostly from states like West Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. People from north Karnataka were found staying in Devarabeesanahalli, which is located close to Kariyammana Agrahara. Sheds in Devarabeesanahalli were also demolished in January and a few residents from the settlement will now receive compensation along with the residents in Kariyammana Agrahara.