"After giving us ration cards and election cards, the government wants to demolish our home as we’re illegal inhabitants..." This is what a livid Baby Devi said as she marched to Azad Maidan with a group of about 4,000 slum dwellers. "Does this city have no place for the poor?" The protesters were at the Maidan till late Wednesday evening waiting for their demands to be heard.
The angry voice of this Malvani resident, whose home has been bull-dozed six times, found an echo in several others who had hit the streets on the second day of a rally for urban poor on Wednesday. The protesters, who wanted an end to the "builder-state nexus that encouraged land grab", raised slogans, asking the government to "wake up from slumber".
The protest march organised by two organisations – Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan and National Alliance of People’s Movements – was led by activist Medha Patkar, demanding justice for slum dwellers. While the plan was to march to the state secretariat, the police prevented them from going to Mantralaya, forcing protesters to reach Azad Maidan.
The protesters chorused in unison, pressing for implementation of Rajeev Awas Yojana, a housing welfare scheme floated by the Centre.
Another protester, Manoj Kumar Jaiswal who has been living in a slum in Malad for 10 years, said politicians were to blame. "Before elections, they visit our slums with folded hands... The next time, we’ll drive them out," he said.
Another woman protester from Malad said her son has been admitted to a municipal hospital since 21 days due to mosquito bites. "Poor sanitation is to blame, but the authorities have failed us. Even for something as basic as water, I spend Rs40 a day... All I want is a home so that my kids can get educated. "
Patkar, who has accused builders and the state of being involved in land-grabbing, has demanded implementation of the Rajiv Awas Yojana. She was scheduled to meet the chief minister in the evening. "We will not give up till the government does something for slum dwellers’ welfare," said Patkar.