Gone with a whimper
Saturday, Nov 25, 2006

Ruzbeh Bharucha raises a voice for the slum dwellers who are being increasingly dispossessed by a nexus of politicians, land mafia and an indifferent media.

His unadulterated angst as everyman — more so as a media man — against the mall-ification of cities, reckless urbanisation, relentless migration, voiceless slum dwellers who rarely make it to a newspaper's front page as against a polo-watching actress, form the poignant premise of Ruzbeh N. Bharucha's book Yamuna Gently Weeps.

URBAN CONCERNS Kiran Bedi's son-in-law Ruzbeh N. Bharucha's book,
Yamuna Weeps Gently, records the demolition of one of Delhi's oldest slums.

Journalist, author and filmmaker Ruzbeh Bharucha was shocked to witness the overnight demolition in 2004 of Yamuna Pushta, a cluster of 22 slums in Delhi housing 40,000 families. Considered one of the oldest in India, the slum had been in existence for decades. The High Court had directed its demolition stating it was polluting the Yamuna and that it was an illegal encroachment on a riverbank.

Bharucha's book takes the reader through moving images, interviews and stories of the slum dwellers, town planners, politicians, environmentalists, activists and others who, along with him, were witness to the distressing weeks leading to the demolition and after.

Bharucha also previewed an eponymous film, already screened at various international film fests. Supercop Kiran Bedi, who also happens to be his mother-in-law, was with him during the recent book launch.

Poor policies

"Slums are a result of poor rural development policies in the country. But slums are inevitably going to grow. People are going to migrate. There's no other option. A city's master plan has provisions for land and housing for the poor... they must be implemented," said Bharucha. "With the mall-ification of cities, we have started converting cities into a commercial hub only for the rich, with no place for the poor."

Tracing the pattern across ever-burgeoning metros such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, Bharucha spoke of how most of the slum dwellers are people involved in construction of those very indices of growth — malls, flyovers, hospitals, apartment complexes. And once the work is done, how these people are simply dislodged from the land on which they have lived. "Mumbai, with its 24 million population, now is already crumbling. Delhi is in chaos. The land ceilings and demolitions are just the tip of the iceberg."

As he painted a bleak picture of a future where over the next 25 years every third person in India will be living in a slum, what also came out was his frustration that the judiciary, the media and the citizens of the country were not doing anything about it. "I say it with regret that I no longer feel proud to say I'm from the media.

There was no coverage for the slum's demolition. There were six or seven lines tucked inside Page Six the next morning. If the media had done a campaign on the Yamuna Pushta, there would have been pressure.

If the building of a fashion designer is demolished, it makes it to Page One. That's what worries me."

The media campaign for Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo were only recent and inspired by a film like Rang De Basanti. "It made people more vocal and it made the media more vocal because of the TRP ratings. But public pressure does work. We need a mass movement. There is an agenda to remove the poor. Period. The land mafia along with politicians and city municipalities are all a part of it. Land is gold now."

Today, two years after the demolition, most of the Yamuna Pushta is rubble. While the Akshardham temple and government secretariat buildings still stand tall on the same riverbed, a Commonwealth Games Village is also being built there, says Bharucha.

He also detailed how farcically nearly 18 per cent of the slum dwellers have been "relocated and rehabilitated" on a barren piece of land called Bawana, 40 km from the city, with no civic amenities and no source of livelihood.


Copyright 2014 Ruzbeh N. Bharucha.