Saisuresh Sivaswamy rues the death of activism in Mumbai in his column in Rediff. His point: Mumbai could not care less for the procession led by firebrand Medha Patkar in support of slum-dwellers whose dwellings had been raised to the ground. In previous decades under the stewardship of Shabana Azmi and a host of other luminaries, Mumbai would have been brought to a halt by the sheer weight of passionate numbers. Now there is no more sound and fury. He wonder why.
Maybe the answer lies in the question itself.
“They (Shabana Azmi and her ilk) made waving the jhola a fashion statement”
Could it because the new generation sees the “jhola” for what it is—-a symbol of hypocrisy, of lawlessness, of nation unbuilding and of stagnation ? Could it be because they may have seen Calcutta and taken note of how such activism has killed one of India’s most vibrant cities? Maybe they don’t want Mumbai to go down that street. And rightfully so. India can ill-afford Mumbai to become another Calcitta.
Slum dwellers live illegally on government/private land. And the government’s job is to uphold the law. Is that clear enough Mr Sivaswamy?
They were not seeking to live in one of those high-tech townships that builders are planning all over the city. They lived in shanties before the bulldozers came roaring down, and they would be perfectly happy to live in shanties again. But the prettification of Mumbai perforce demands that those who do the city’s dirty jobs should not be visible. Ideally they should not even be living within the city limits.
No sir. It was because they were illegal. Which part of “illegal” don’t you understand ? The government, as you very well know, is under no obligation to provide housing to all its citizens. Hence the encroachers and the slum dwellers are not asserting their rights, they are doing a criminal act. It is only because of self-seeking politicians (who know that slums are votebanks )that they have been allowed to blot the cityscape for so long. Now that the administration is “doing the right thing”, albeit belatedly and possibly sporadically, why do bleeding hearts like you exhort people to take to the streets in support of criminals?
I know I am sounding hard-hearted. Old people, babies and poor people are losing the roof above their heads and here I am calling them criminals. But that’s just the way things are—you stay in a place which you don’t have the title to…..you are breaking the law. If homeless people are given the right to encroach illegally, then hungry people should be given the right to steal. It’s that simple.
I remember when I was in school there was a huge uproar when the CPIM government (of all people) bulldozed the illegal shops dotting the footpaths of Calcutta making it impossible for pedestrians to use them. Again all the sympathy was for the “poor people with the illegal shops” and not for the pedestrians whose legal right it was to use the footpath and who were being forced to walk on the streets and risk getting run over.
So Mr Saisuresh, if you so rue the cold-heartedness of modern Mumbai why don’t you show us the way? Not by stopping traffic or organizing a padayatra or delivering a speech or two—those, after all, are for self-promotion rather than to find a solution. Instead install a few of these poor souls in your own house and in passing, relocate a few to the posh palatial residence of Shabana Azmi. Because if , by your argument, they have the right to live on government land, by that same token, they have every right to walk into your living room and make their bed there .
Doesnt sound like much of a good idea does it ?
Excuse me for taking this a bit personally. My father, an university professor, put his lifelong savings with the dream of building a house. He paid his taxes….did everything by the book…bought a piece of land. And then “poor people” moved in on his land….encroaching on it. It seemed that my dad’s plot was where they had always played football for many years and hence despite the fact that my father was the legal owner of the land, he had no right to build his house there. The CPIM, or the government of “goons”, provided no support—their logic was “these poor boys need room to play”.
Was that fair ? Did any of you guys came out on the streets in support of my father ?No you did not.
All your sympathies lie with these “poor people” who , by dint of their sheer numbers and muscle power, grab things that are not theirs. And to add insult to injury, get the moral support of people like you to keep on doing such acts while the real victims—law abiding citizens like my father languish.
Maybe the people of Mumbai have seen through your game Mr Saisuresh. Maybe it is time for you to move to Calcutta.
I can guarantee that the red lungis will greet you with open arms.