Jummerat Bazaar road, one of the many congested lanes in Dhoolpet in Old city, sees hundreds of visitors each year, looking for Ganesha and Durga idols of every conceivable size and colour. Over the weekend, however, visitors walking into the lane were greeted by an unusual and alarming sight, as dozens of idol makers morosely moved around collecting cracked and broken pieces of those idols.
On Saturday morning at around 8am, GHMC officials, accompanied by the Hyderabad police, demolished around 50 sheds of the idol makers in Dhoolpet, citing illegal constructions and encroachment of land.
In the aftermath, the land on which the sheds that served as workshops and storehouses were housed, looks like a disaster zone. Parts of idols made of plaster of paris are scattered all over, mixed in with the debris from demolished tin sheds and cement walls.
While some of the larger Ganesha idols are gathered in one corner under a plastic cover, a close look shows that even these have not survived the damage caused by the demolition.
â€śThis cannot be fixed, we have to start again from scratch,â€ť says one of the idol makers pointing towards the damaged idols.
â€śI am the owner of this land, which I gave on rent to these people. They have been putting up tents here for more than 20 years, some even 50 years. Now what will they do? How will they survive? GHMC is saying this land is government land but I have the registration documents for this land,â€ť says Ashok Singh Hazare, the owner of the land where the tents and sheds had been erected.
Ashok claims that his family has been staying on the land for more than 60 years, and they did not receive any notice from the GHMC prior to the demolition.
(Ashok Singh Hazare shows his documents)
â€śMy son showed them the documents of the lands, but they refused to see or talk to any of us,â€ť he added.
Indu Bai, a 45-year-old resident of the area, had around 10 large Ganesha idols and a few half-constructed idols in one of the sheds that was demolished.
She sits, in shock, on the debris of her former workshop.
â€śMa doesnâ€™t know how to react, she has been crying since yesterday. See, she has again gone and sat there. They did not even allow us to take our beds and other belongings kept inside,â€ť says Mahaveer, Induâ€™s son.
More than 1,000 people including Indu, have now lost their means of livelihood. This includes not just male workers, but around 120 full families residing there and making idols for a living. Some of them have been in this profession for generations.
â€śWe are from Uttar Pradesh. We migrated here 20 years ago after crop failure. Each of these sheds costs around Rs 7 lakh (to build, besides rent for the land). Ma had to sell all her jewellery to get this shed and to register the land (the family owns nearby). Now what will we eat, how will we survive?â€ť asks Mahaveer.
While Mahaveerâ€™s family had rented a piece of land from Ashok Singh for the workshop, he says, they had also purchased a plot of land for storing idols in 2013 for Rs 15 lakh. That storehouse was not spared from the demolitions either.
â€śAll this was being done for my education and my sisterâ€™s marriage. We almost managed to save two idols, but they also got damaged during the rush,â€ť adds Mahaveer.
Another resident idol-maker, Meenakshi, alleges that her house was partly demolished despite possessing documents for the land.
â€śI was feeding my one-month-old baby when they entered. The lady constables pulled us out of the house. They broke the kitchen and hall, did not even allow us to move our bike and scooty or take the TV or the bed out. When my husband showed them the documents of the land they simply threw that down and demolished half our house. They also said they will come again on Monday to demolish whatever is left here,â€ť she says.
â€śLet them come! We wonâ€™t move from here. I grew up with these paints and mud. We are not going anywhere,â€ť says Saikat, Meenakshiâ€™s husband.
Another idol maker, Balaji, says that the preparations for festivals in September begin from January. â€śIt takes lot of time to make the idols, specially the huge ones. Shaping everything is not a job of two or three days, it takes months. We have to spend money to prepare the idols (through the year), which we recover only during the festival season. I donâ€™t know how I will recover this loss. Loss of raw material, money and time I donâ€™t know what I will do!â€ť says Balaji.
He also says that most of the people here do not qualify for loans from banks and have to borrow money from money lenders who charge interest rates of 7% to 10% per month.
â€śWhen I think about this loss, I feel itâ€™s easier to die than start from the scratch. Will the government pay for these losses, after destroying everything?â€ť says Shankar, a 56-year-old idol maker.
The locals claim that the GHMC officials did not spare a single shed or storehouse where the idols were kept.
â€śWherever they saw idols of Ganesha and Durga, they demolished that place. As if we are doing something illegal,â€ť Balaji says.