Seventeen-year-old Siddalingu wants to join the police service which became a part of the system which evicted him, his family and hundreds of others from their homes in slums in Bengaluru.
"We have no electricity, no water and no sanitation, anything that would qualify as dignified living," says Siddalingu, a resident of a slum in Bheemankuppe, Kengeri, on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
He was one of the dozens of slum dwellers who participating in a public hearing, possibly the first of its kinds, organised by Karnataka Slum Janara Sangatanegala Okkoota on Thursday. People from over 12 slums across Karnataka narrated the stories of how they lost faith in the government.
Siddalingu’s family moved to Bengaluru from Gulbarga district, after the district faced a severe drought. In 2010, they moved to Veerabhadranagar, where people from Gulbarga had already been settled.
"One morning we were thrown out of our huts by police squad and goons without uniforms claiming the area was taken for the NICE road project. They thrashed us. We were asked to move to Bheemankuppe, an area that was worse than Veerabhadranagar,” he said.
When they questioned this, Siddalingu says he and other slum-dwellers were assaulted. In some evictions, houses were set on fire.
Such intimidation and threats often have political sanction. Forty-six-year old Shanti, who lives in a slum next to EWS land in Koramangala alleged that an MLA had sent his lackeys to attack her when there was an eviction drive in 2012.
Children at a demolished slum in Kengeri area, Eswarappa Madivali
Shanti, who lived in Vannarpet area in Bengaluru until her wedding in 1994, moved to EWS land afterwards. It had been reserved by the government for the homeless poor in the early 1990s. They were living in government sanctioned tenements, which were so ill-built that some of them even started falling apart by 2012.
The demand for EWS land which is around Koramangala Gram Panchayat came only after Koramangala became one of the most elite localities in Bengaluru.
During the eviction, over 23 women, including me, were sent to central jail.
“Days after the eviction, a set of gundas attacked me. I had to get 11 stitches on my head. None of us feel secure living here, the gundas are always watching over us,” she said.
Shanti said that in the last seven years she had not met her mother. They fear the gundas who are watching them.
“If the government is saying that they would give us an alternate place so that the corporate company can build a shiny big office, why not get them to develop that place by building their glassy structures?" Shanti asks
Slum demolition, Eswarappa Madivali
“We can even tolerate the snakes and the poisonous creatures that creep into our house, but how can we confront gundas that these corporate companies and MLAs send to attack us?” she adds.
Vijaya, who lives in Pillanganahally, near NICE road in Bengaluru says, “There are people living next to places that are openly used as toilets. Some of us are jobless, and those who go to work, walk long stretches. They travel tens of kilometres to get to work. Living here is worse than you can imagine. If the government is boasting about giving ration, then let me tell them even dogs refuse to eat it, but we do.”
Betrayal by the government
“Buried under cosmopolitan Bengaluru is our dignity, aspirations. Our life has been full of trauma and our woes have been falling into deaf ears,” says Vijaya.
MR Prabhakar of the Karnataka State Slum Nivasigalu Sanghatane Okkutta said that the whole eviction programme reflects how casteist the government is.
“The entire process is skirted by development. A private company alone has forcefully taken 50,000 acres of land where Dalits and poor people have been living for decades,” he alleged.
Prabhakar added: “It goes to show that urban development is designed in such a way that it would serve the greed for profit by taking advantage of commons and natural resources,” Prabhakar said.
Madhu Bhushan, who is a women’s rights activist and who was also a part of the jury at the public hearing said that it is sad that only a handful of reports on slum evictions have been reported by media.
“These kinds of atrocities are bound to go on until we realise that economic growth cannot be justified by putting one section of the people in pain,” she said.