"Take whatever you're getting, or else we'll send you to Mankhurd," Maharashtra's state authorities and builders say. Mankhurd, a north-eastern suburb of Mumbai, is where the city's 'dregs' are washed to shore - its garbage and its oft-resettled working-class population. Here, activist Simpreet Singh of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGB) narrates the history of Mandala, a slum settlement in Mankhurd. Within a stolid timeline of demolitions carried out by the state in the name of urban development lies a deeply personal account of the protests staged by residents and activists. It exposes the violence that marks perennial displacement and sets forth Mandala's proposal for community-led redevelopment.
Mumbai, the so-called financial capital of the country, has 54 per cent of its population living in slums. As such, the city has been a site of contestation for resources among residents who hail from different economic, regional and religious groups. Contrary to what one may be led to believe, this 'shortage' of resources, in actuality, is an excess that is concentrated in the hands of a few. It is this that is at the core of these contestations.
Historically, Mumbai has been the manufacturing centre of Western India and also a port city. These two activities required a large number of labourers to carry out the associated activities. With a new economic policy in place, Mumbai, in particular, has been witnessing a few fundamental shifts. The Regional Development plans and various other documents spell out the objective of transforming Mumbai from a manufacturing centre into an international city that will serve as a hub for high-end services like finance, information technology, healthcare and media and entertainment. Concomitantly, there has been a shift from an emphasis on creating employment to trade, finance and the service sector.
But the victims of this mad rush to give the city a makeover have been thousands of working-class residents, who are the spokes in this giant wheel of transformation. The blueprint which had been charted out for the city's development had international consultants (McKinsey International) and corporate bodies (Mahindra, Tata, ICICI) as its authors, and was given a participatory touch by formulating a Chief Minister's Task Force, members of which have been glittering on page 3 of many newspapers. (McKinsey International's Report Vision Mumbai 2003
and Chief Minister's Task Force's report Transforming Mumbai into a World-Class City
) Accordingly, to transform Mumbai into a world-class city, it was suggested that Rs. 2,00,000 crore be invested in the next ten years, with more public-private partnerships.
Starting in December 2004, more than 70,000 houses were demolished in a short span of four months. This was unprecedented in scale as well as brutality. It resulted in rendering lakhs without shelter, without any roof over their heads; children were forced to roam on the streets; it led to scores of unnatural deaths and suicides, and the loss of livelihoods and lives. People responded to these illegalities not by suicide but by protesting and raising their voices.
There were street protests, dharnas, rallies, picketing, assemblies, laying siege to Mantralaya, party headquarters'; people raised their voices and exerted their rights. Women who rarely stepped outside their houses were now at the forefront of the struggle against injustice, holding accountable not only ministers but the system, challenging and demanding their rights, raising not only the issues but also proposing and suggesting the way out. The Basti Sabha-led slum development, which is to be carried out without builders, harnessing the locally available resources like human beings, material or community distribution systems, is a case in point. (The Hindu: Build Us Homes, or Let Us Build
and Mandala's community-led redevelopment plan
Towards a brief history of Mankhurd
M-East ward is presently home to at least 1.5 million people-a city in itself. M-East Ward is also an industrial ward, housing a large number of private as well as state-owned industries, two refineries (HPCL & BPCL), a chemical fertilizer company (RCF), and Asia's second-largest slaughterhouse, the Deonar Slaughter House. There is also the Government of India's Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), and Mumbai's two Pepsi plants in Govandi and Mahul. The area is also home to the country's largest dumping ground, which opened in 1906, and continues to receive garbage from all over Mumbai. This has led to low life expectancy and several environmental hazards that must be faced by the residents of Mankhurd.
It is said that in the year 1967, the year in which the Congress party won the national and state elections, Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai had a vision of transforming Mumbai into Paris, which led to large-scale demolitions and shifting of slum dwellers from central parts of the city to Janta Nagar in M Ward, where the BARC currently stands.
It is well-recorded that again in 1976, at the height of the State of Emergency and under the orders of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, 12,000 policemen entered Janata Colony and bulldozed it overnight, leaving 70,000 people homeless. They were shifted four kilometres away to a swampy area, which is now known as Cheeta Camp.This was done to build a housing township for the employees of BARC. At the time of this demolition, the police had set fire to some of the houses in order to scare people and disperse them, since they would run to rescue their children and belongings. It would weaken their resistance and make it easier for the police to bring in their bulldozers. The use of fire was also seen in 2010, when Sathe Nagar, a settlement near Mandala, was demolished.
Bainganwadi in the Shivaji Nagar of today was reclaimed from the Thane creek in the early 1970s by dumping the city's garbage into it, and thousands of families from the central part of the city were settled there since they were displaced by urban renewal and infrastructure projects. During this decade, the Municipal Corporation demolished slum settlements around Churchgate and Mantralaya, and also those around Worli Seaface and Haji Ali. The people living in these slums were rehabilitated in and around Shivaji Nagar. Bainganwadi got established after the closing down of the Bandra slaughterhouse, when all the butchers migrated to this area.
Contrary to popular perception, the Bainganwadi is a planned small township with a layout of roads and other basic infrastructure. The residents are not 'encroachers' as they pay a rent of Rs. 100 every month to the Bombay Municipal Corporation for occupying its land and have been doing so since the 1970s. (See the Municipal Commission's map of M Ward from the '70s. Shivaji Nagar is the area outlined in black.) In the past nine years, the Ward has seen the construction of at least 60,000 Project Affected Person tenements for families who have been displaced from the central parts of the city because of the World Bank-funded Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP) and other projects like Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP), Mithi River Development Project, etc. (GBGB's survey report of these projects is here) More than 100 buildings resembling 'the projects', the urban ghettos in the U.S., have been built around Mankhurd/Shivaji Nagar, and are known as Lallubhai Compound, Gautam Nagar and Indian Oil Nagar. These were built to house more than 35,000 families, which were displaced by these projects. Indian Oil Nagar shot to fame when in 2006 Sonia Gandhi came to Mumbai to 'hand over' the keys of the flats to the slum dwellers.
To conclude, it would not be wrong to say that M-Ward and Mankhurd/Shivaji Nagar in particular, has been unofficially designated as the dumping grounds of Mumbai, both for garbage as well as the working-class population. Even today, whenever people in Mumbai resist eviction drives, they are threatened by state authorities as well as builders: 'Jo mil raha he woh le lo, nahi to Mankhurd bhej denge.' (Take whatever you're getting, or else we'll take you to Mankhurd.) Such words remind one of the British and the Kalapaani (look up Cellular Jail).
And then, there is Mandala
Mandala's slum community lives in two areas, Indira Nagar and Janta Nagar, and constitutes about 3200 families. Most people of the displaced community of Mandala have come to Mumbai from different parts of India like from U.P., Bihar, rural Maharashtra, etc., to look for some kind of work or means of survival. They have been settled here for more than 20 years, moving from one place to other, and have been in Mandala for more than 10 years. They belong to different castes but the majority are from Scheduled Caste communities. They belong to different class strata and religious groups; they are from different regions with different cultures, languages, personalities, skills, backgrounds, etc. For more about the socio-economic profile of Mandala, see this study by the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan.
The timeline below details the history of Mandala, seen from the perspective of settlement, demolition and reconstruction.
- 1995 to 2000
On the backyard of Ekta Nagar and Matang Rishi, people start reclaiming land from the Thane Creek and build what later comes to be known as Indira Nagar and Janta Nagar or New Mandala.
- 2000 to 2004
New Mandala flourishes as the new centre for informal housing and within a short period of 7- 8 years, more than 25,000 people make it their home.
- December 2004
Mandala along with 35 other slums in Mumbai is bulldozed and residents are evicted in the name of transforming Mumbai into Shanghai.
- January 2005-July 2005
Slum-dwellers from across the city come together on one platform, proclaim 'Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao' and protest the illegal and inhuman actions of the State.
- July 26, 2005
Residents of Mandala decide to reclaim the land they were evicted from the year before. (The Hindu: <a href=/documents/AF">Slumdwellers Reclaim Land</a>)
- August 2005 - April 2006
Mandala is again home to more than 3000 families, with residents getting back to life, children starting school and a livelihood centre being set up.
- May 7-9, 2006
Once again, the State brutally demolishes Mandala, setting houses on fire and demolishing them subsequently. (TISS report: Report of a Rapid Enquiry into the Demolition and Fire on the 9th May 2006 at Indiranagar and Jantanagar in Mandala, Mankhurd)
- May 12, 2010
Police arrests 14 slum activists working in Mandala, alleging that 40 of them had attempted to murder security personnel during the eviction drive.
- May 15, 2006
In response to police brutality and false cases against activists, residents decide to camp at Azad Maidan on an indefinite dharna.
- May - August 2006
Mandala residents camp at Azad Maidan for more than 100 days demanding their rights.
- August 17, 2006
The Bombay High Court, acting on a PIL filed by Mumbai Cricket Association, orders the eviction of protesting slum dwellers from Azad Maidan.
- August 22, 2006
Officials from Bombay High Court come to Azad Maidan to serve High Court Order, which activists refuse to accept.
- August 23, 2006
Police forcibly evicts and uses bulldozers to demolish the dharna pandal and arrest 100 slum residents and activists. (The Times of India: Authorities start demolition drive in Mumbai)
- January 2007
Mandala Residents decide to propose that they be rehabilitated under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
- December 26, 2007
Mandala residents submit a cheque to the Chief Minister demanding that the land of Mandala be allocated to them, since land at the cost of 40 paisa per acre has been given to Hiranandani Developers. If it can be given to him then why not to them, that too at a higher cost, to which they are agreeable to.
Project Report for Rehabilitation of Mandala under Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP), Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, submitted to Government of India.
Mandala residents meet Ms. Kumari Selja, Minister for Housing, Govt. of India, to press for their demands.
Govt. of India sends an appraisal team of Housing and Urban Development Corporation Ltd (HUDCO) to visit Mandala for the BSUP proposal.
- August 2010
Mandala residents again meet meet Ms. Kumari Selja, Minister for Housing, Govt of India demanding approval for their proposal, she promises to visit Mumbai at the earliest.
- September 2010
Mandala residents undertake to form themselves into Co-operative Societies to further take ahead their struggle.
On a personal note...
Mandala's reclamation in 2005
On July 24, 2005, at around 5am, I received a phone call from Hafizji, a resident of Mandala. He said that during the night a group of women and children from Mandala had gone to the Patra Basti (Transit Camp) nearby to take shelter from the heavy rains. But police from the Mandala Police Chowky came there and forced them out of the empty rooms. When they resisted the police, some of the women were beaten up and misbehaved with. The women were then taken to the Janta Kendra on the 30 Feet Road in Mandala and were asked to stay there for rest of the night. Janta Kendra was supposed to be a Community Centre built by the earlier MLA but the idea of a community centre never got realised and in its present form, it was being used by street dogs and, during the day, when it rained heavily, by grain traders who had stored their wet gunny bags there. These wet bags, which contained wheat, made the room even more suffocating. After an hour the women realised it was better to get drenched in the rains rather than be suffocated.
When I reached Mandala around 7am, there were around 20-30 people standing near the open ground, and after a brief discussion, it was decided that the brutality of the local police was to be protested in the strongest terms possible. But we were still unable to decide what the future course of action would be. As time passed, more and more people joined in and within an hour, there were around 300 of us. Santosh, Raju and others from the nearby slum, Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, had also joined in. Meanwhile it had started raining and two or three policemen from the police chowky came enquiring about why we were standing there. They had to listen to all the abuses of the people and hence rushed back. Within minutes, a police van came, with eight or ten policemen in it. They came out with umbrellas in their hands asking the same question - what the hell were we doing there in the rains? Again they had to face the abuses of the people - 'Doing what you wanted us to do in the night, getting drenched in the rain!' I looked around and saw that out of some 500 people there, only a few had umbrellas and most of us were standing there, getting drenched. It then occurred to me - why not sit there on the ground, in front of these policemen? Within minutes around 500 of us were sitting on the ground, knee-deep in water and rain was pouring from the sky and there were no umbrellas in between.
We could see the policemen getting impatient and confused about what we were upto. Sensing this, one of us shouted at them, 'This is what you wanted us to face, so here we are...in the water...we'll be here until we have roofs over our heads!' Meanwhile, a group had started with the song 'Hum ko lutan agaye harami log...hum ko lutan agaye...Mandala mein police chowki banaye...chowki mein thanedar ko bithaye...hafta khane ko agaye harami log...' (They've come to loot us, those bastards...they made a police chowky in Mandala...in the police chowky sits an inspector...they've come to take their bribes, those bastards...). Gradually, the water-level increased, our voices soared with it. In some time, Medha Tai also reached and once again we all gheraoed (surrounded) the police vehicles. Meanwhile, the Asst. Commissioner of Police had also arrived and many of us went to him and started questioning him over the behavior of policemen the night before, to which he had no answers, but, in turn, questioned our motive behind assembling there. The answer by the people was, 'Why not? If not us then who else? It's our land and we have every right to be here...'. Suddenly he realised that his jeep was surrounded from all sides by hundreds of people, because of which he got scared and without a thought ordered the driver to start the jeep. This meant that he had decided to retreat from the area and with him went the large contingent of police that was present.
It was around noon and more than 1500 people had assembled and very few policemen were around. In front of us was the land of Mandala, lying vacant, and only a few policemen and private security men to protect it and keep it away from us. Within minutes it was decided that this 50 acres of land was to be reclaimed from the State, which was working more as an agent of real estate than a custodian of the rights of the people; the land on which over 3000 homes stood until they were demolished along with more than 70,000 houses across Mumbai for the acclaimed purpose of transforming Mumbai into Shanghai. Immediately people ran towards the land, like a child runs towards the little thing it has been craving for. A handful of security men with bamboo sticks could not act as deterrents and within minutes, they were seen running for their own lives.
Someone amongst us realised that if people were to reclaim the land just like that, it might lead to trouble later: How can one ensure that one is occupying the same piece of land which he or she was evicted from eight months ago? So a meeting of all the activists was immediately called in a nearby Masjid, the only place where we could have a roof over our heads. In the last demolition they wanted to demolish the Masjid but it was saved when people pelted stones at the demolition squad. In the meeting at the Masjid, it was decided that the whole slum will be divided into small parts by trusted activists, who would oversee the reclamation. It was also decided that all the rooms will be 10'x 15'. Some who had bigger rooms earlier didn't seem too happy, but then the collective decision called for rooms of more or less the same size. Some of us who were good at drawing used sheets of paper that were later put together to make a big map of Mandala. How it would look was in front of us. The map was made by putting together A4-sized sheets and was given to a group of 5 or 6 people who would overlook the rebuilding of the houses and make sure it was in accordance with the plans drawn on the sheets. It looked like the layout plan of a town with small boxes depicting houses, parallel lanes, open spaces for community functions, Mandir/Masjid, a school for children, toilet blocks and so on. The reconstruction seemed quite ambitious but most of it was accomplished within a fortnight.
The following video shows present-day Mandala, whose residents not only live under the constant threat of state demolition, but also seasonal floods.
...and demolition, once again, in May 2006
It was the evening of July 6, 2006. A resident from Mandala saw 2 or 3 officials from the Collector's office pasting a notice on the walls of what is known as 'peela bangla' (yellow bungalow). Before they could ask about it, the officials went away. Immediately, the news of the notice being put up spread across the slum and within minutes around 200 people assembled, and it became clear that it was an eviction notice. Residents were being asked to vacate the land within 12 hours; otherwise, they would be forcibly evicted. Right then, it was decided that everyone in the slum should know about this, and so we took out a mashal yatra (march with torches). Within half-an-hour everything was ready and around 500 of us went around the slum telling residents that such a notice had been put up , which meant that we should be ready to protest the next morning.
The next day, around ten in the morning, we got to know that a demolition squad consisting of around 250 policemen and 10 bulldozers from the Shivaji Nagar Police Station had started moving towards Mandala. We all assembled on the approach road with the aim of obstructing the demolition squad. Within half hour the demolition squad reached the site where we had assembled - the approach road. Before their arrival, we had started singing our songs and chanting our slogans, and the police announced on the megaphone that our assembly was unlawful and that if we did not move away, they would arrest us. All these warnings did not faze us as we were about 2000 in number and they seemed less than 500. The scene resembled a battlefield - the two warring forces facing each other. On one side, there were policemen with sticks and guns in their hands, standing out because of their combat uniforms and on the other side, it was mostly women, the majority of them empty-handed, some with their young children.
For over an hour, we were able to resist and restrict the entry of the demolition squad into the slum. Around 12 in the afternoon, one of us noticed a streak of smoke coming out from the slums behind us. Someone came running to us shouting, 'Are aag laga diya, basti mein angaar lag gaya' (They've set fire to the slums!) A few of us ran to see what had happened. Taking this opportunity, the police started lathi-charging those of us who were sitting on the road. There was utter chaos and within half a hour they were able to break our 'blockade' and then the bulldozers dashed in as had the fire engulfed more than 500 houses. A woman was screaming that she unable to locate her five-year-old daughter. Just then, a few of us tried to ensure that the houses that were on fire had no children or senior citizens trapped in them. This gave the demolition squad a chance to march into the slum area, and while they were bulldozing the huts, we were trying to save people and their belongings.
The following slide show of images, taken by GBGB activists, documents (in roughly chronological order) the demolition of Mandala in 2006.
Mandala demolition 2006
Mandala's story replayed in Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar?
In May 2010, Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, a slum named after the people's poet Anna Bhau Sathe, faced a demolition. Anna Bhau Nagar and Mandala are in close proximity. It houses more than 3,000 families and was last demolished in the year 2005 but was immediately reclaimed by the people's struggle. On May 12, 2010, a contingent of police personnel from Mankhurd Police Station along with the Deputy Collector Shri Dhananjay Savalkar came with the aim of demolishing the hutments.
Hundreds of us had already assembled at the gate of the Soap Factory, the only access point for the bulldozers to come in. Blocking the access road, hundreds of us sat on the road, shouting slogans and singing songs. Facing stiff resistance, they had no option but to turn back but they left after threatening to return the following day. The next morning, more than 2000 of us had assembled at the same spot with the aim of blocking the bulldozers once again. This time, they came with over 500 policemen and 6 bulldozers. We were able to block the way for two or three hours and by afternoon, some of us heard that the policemen were marching in the bylanes of the slum and were arresting residents. Some of us ran towards the hutments and in this melee, they managed to push through the blockade and started arresting us. There was a mild lathi charge; the bulldozers entered the slum and began bulldozing the hutments.
Suddenly, there was an outbreak of fire near a masjid which, in a few minutes, spread to nearby houses. Everyone started running to save their belongings and small children. By evening they had demolished and burnt down about 500 houses. And that, they left.
At night, it was decided to give stiff opposition and resistance to the demolition squad even if it meant courting arrest. Meanwhile, news arrived that Medha Patkar would also be joining us the next day. In the morning the demolition squad came with more policemen and bulldozers but because of stiff resistance from us, they decided to halt the demolition of the rest of the hutments. For the next 12 days, we sat in satyagraha and slowly rebuilt all the houses that had been burnt down. The struggle of the residents forced the local Member of Parliament and Member of the Legislative Assembly to visit the satyagraha site and express their solidarity with the struggle.
Later, we got to know that the slum had been demolished in order to hand over the 22 acres of land on which it stood to some private builder, who wanted to develop a township there. Till then, the land had been leased to a private company, namely the Bombay Soap Factory, since 1978 at the rent of Rs 1,900 per year, for the purpose of starting a soap factory. But the factory never began its manufacturing even though the lease agreement mentions that if work did not begin within 3 years, the lease agreement would stand cancelled.
The breakout of fire once again exposed the dirty strategy of the police and the officials. They used it to break people's resistance just like they had four years ago in Mandala. Though the people have rightfully reclaimed the land, how long we will be able to hold on to it remains to be seen. Or the story of repeated demolitions and reconstructions in Mandala will be replayed in Sathe Nagar.
The following videos, recorded by GBGB activists, document the demolition of Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar in 2010.
Stills from the Sathe Nagar demolition in 2010
Footage of Sathe Nagar demolition in 2010
GBGB ARCHIVE ON PAD.MA
Pad.ma 2009: Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao (GBGB) Andolan
Medha Patkar's speech against the Mumbai Metrorail
Arrest of activists protesting the SRA: April 25, 2009
Peace demo against attacks on migrants in in Mumbai
Lists:National Strategy Meet on Metro ProjectFirst Convention at Azad MaidanGBGB: Dadar AGM - Speeches and Committee ElectionsGBGB: Stills from the people's movement
A journey through the GBGB Archive
Songs of protest
Chor Cheater Baithe Hai Bhai...
Bharat Apni Mahaan Bhumi...
Hille le Jagjor Duniya...
Moments, voices, opinions
Housing: A Constitutional Right
Scam of Lease Lands
Urban Planning and Poor
Mithi River Flooding and Bandra-Kurla Complex
Slum dwellers' right to education
Decentralised Urban Planning and Development
Alternative Housing Plan
Simpreet Singh, who is based in Mumbai, has been a part of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGB) since 2005. He is also an activist with the National Alliance of People's Movements. He obtained his Masters in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Of lease, licence and leeway
GBGB meets Niranjan Hiranandani in pad.ma