Run Jhola Run

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… 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.

10 thoughts on “Run Jhola Run

  1. Calcutta is and always will be under the umbrella of the CPM , it dances to its tunes – literally. I agree with you that the slum dwellers shouldnt be living on property that they dont own simply because its illegal. But the CPM dadas still dont think so.

  2. so do you always back up socio-political discussions by personal “land-losing” experiences and jabs at the hypocrisy of activists? that seems to be a trend in all your discussions.

    you seem to think that if shabana azmi is to have the right to speak up at all, it is only after she has given her last rupee away out of love. that is a schoolboy’s view of idealism. schoolboys generally have high-falutin critiques of how everybody is hypocritical, but they also go to bed early.

    if you temper the whole issue of destitute people living out on the streets with how lumpens grabbed your land to play cricket, that leaves you clutching at hollow emotions to sustain yourself.

    i’ve heard all kinds of arguments for razing shanties to the ground. my cpim friend told me that the hawkers of 1995 had thriving businesses back in their villages- provided by the party- and were making a few extra bucks on the streets of gariahat. hence they could be dislodged. i’ve heard people come out all the way and say that they give a flyin 747 fuck for the homeless- just clear them away. i’ve heard people make the claim that sweeping the shanties away from the cities will improve india’s image of an emerging financial power, which will lead to india’s uplift, which in turn will feed the people so that there are no more shanties!

    but this is the first time i’ve heard anybody simply making an appeal to the LAW.


  3. Dear Quickdraw,

    Yes it is—being ripped off by the CPIM is a personal experience and if my opinion reflects that personal experience,then there is nothing wrong with that. A rape victim’s opinion will always be tainted by his/her experience —only a “schoolboy” like you would not be able to get that.

    Maybe you as a schoolboy went to bed early and that’s why at this age you spend so much time on a site like myhotboard making up for some lost time.

    In any case, there is something called “practice what you preach” or “putting your money where your mouth is”—something that real men/women do.

    Shabana Azmi and people like you should treat government land the same way as you treat your own home and hearth. If its ok for beggars to encroach there its ok for them to sleep in your bed. So let them.

    And another thing—using the word “fuck” does not make you an intellectual… makes you sound like a schoolboy who has been newly exposed to the whole world of swear words and who believes that pretending to be a liberal makes him an intellectual.

    That’s my last reply to you on this blog….

  4. wow that certainly got you going didn’t it! i was simply looking for a debate- the schoolboy analogy that you seem to be so offended by was another way of saying that your arguments are too personal to hold water. no offence there.

    certainly, people’s opinions are shaped by their experiences- but my point was that the CPIM does not represent the homeless, just as the lumpens who grabbed your land do not discredit the whole use of activism.
    many activists do indeed open up their homes to people, and go down to their last rupee fighting. i’m sure your anger isn’t directed at them- so why lump everything together in a fit of frenzy?

    i’m neither an activist nor an “intellectual”, but i do value credible arguments. you just didn’t have any. the use of the word “fuck” wasn’t directed at you- don’t know why you would get worked up on that. don’t even know why you suspect that using swear words is the mark of an “intellectual”!

    as for “a site like hotboard”, certainly, i like masala, and certainly, i like entertainment online. your own blogging habits actually make you an ideal member out there, whether you like it or not.

    since you’ve decided to not reply further, in a sense this post is futile. even then, i’d like to remind you that i made no personal attacks at all and wasn’t trolling- simply disagreed with your completely vacuous statements in the spirit of debate. i’m game for more, and hope you are too. keep writing!

  5. Um, actually the government does have an obligation to provide housing to all its citizens, even migrants from villages to the cities, see the Supreme Court’s decision in Olga Tellis v BMC(1985). And a bloody good thing too.

  6. Well, I am back again, but this time, surprisingly, I am on your side. As I had written in my very first comment, I am not a bleeding heart liberal, in fact my economic views are right wing to the core. Therefore, I do not believe in the right to a livelihood, only the right to pursue one to the best of one’s abilites. I do not believe that it’s my moral duty to give, that “profit” is a dirty word, etc. etc. Just one question though, and you could say this is purely a point of semantics. A government which defines itself as a socialistic pattern of democracy does have an obligation to provide the basic necessitis to all its citizens, isn’t it?

  7. Prithvi— No I dont think it is a bloody good judgement. I am no legal eagle but from what I read it is a hopelessly muddled judgement delivered on a technicality.

    I am stumped about something—where is it written that the government has the duty to provide housing ?

    The Olga Tellis judgement was about “right to work”—now I wonder what would happen if I applied the dubious logic of the judgement to this scenario.

    I have a new job in College Park, MD flipping burgers. I dont have a car—let’s assume I am too poor to buy one. So I construct a shack on vacant land on the I495 and when the cops come to haul my ass tell them that they are violating my right to livelihood—if I dont stay here I will never be able to reach my job on time…….

    The cops of the free-est country in the world would say “Hard Luck” And bloody right they would be too.

    The same logic applies to the Indian context.

    Incidentally the same judgement says this in its final verdict.

    “To summarise, we hold that no person has the right to encroach, by erecting a structure or otherwise, on footpaths, pavements or any other place reserved or ear-marked for a public purpose like, for example, a garden or a playground”

    Muddled—you bet !
    Quickdraw–sure let’s keep debating..:-) Hope to see you back.
    Kaashepeya: Good to have you on my side for once ! A government that defines itself as socialism is different from communism where the right to housing would be fundamental. Socialism means “providing assistance”—

    As Bush Sr would say–subsidized housing yes. Land grabbing no.

    Of course the counter logic is that the government has failed to provide these people with any assistance hence they are forced to grab whatever they can get.

    If this logic be accepted, then if I feel I have not been given due justice in a court of law I am free to take the law into my own hands——-needless to say such vigilantism is a recipe for anarchy.

  8. So this is how the right to being provided shelter emerges from Olga Tellis – the court held that the eviction of a person from a slum dwelling (chosen for its proximity to the place of work) would violate the right to livelihood under the constitution. The court also treated it as self-evident that any slum dwelling would be chosen for its proximity to the dweller’s workplace. Hence, any eviction of a slumdweller would result in the deprivation of the right to livelihood.

    At the same time, the State has a right to see that public land is not misused by slum dwellers in the exercise of their right to livelihood. As the impugned statute was furthering this objective, it was imposing a reasonable restriction by procedure of law on the right to livelihood. However, in spite of this, the court cast an obligation upon the government to find housing in its housing schemes for those who were originally censused as slum dwellers. In doing so, the court recognises implicitly the right of everyone to shelter, which also flows from the right to livelihood under the constitution.

    Why do you say the court’s reasoning is “muddled”? And what “technicality” do you think the decision is resolved on? I would imagine that the judgment reflects a complex balancing act between the right to shelter and the right to unrestricted enjoyment of public spaces, and manages to do the best possible for both the slum dwellers and the public.

    Now for a slightly more political bit. You criticise those who encroach on the land of others for no choice of their own, but look at this way. The government has set up, on paper, enough housing for all the slum dwellers in our metros. The fact that almost none of this has gone to our slum dwellers means that the rights of the dwellers have been encroached upon, whether as a result of misgovernance, malice or corruption. Why is it wrong for slumdwellers to encroach upon the land of others, but not wrong for their right to land to be encroached upon?

  9. See also the court’s rulings in Shantistar Builders v. Narayan K. Totame, Chameli Singh v. State of UP and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan where they expanded upon their decision in Olga Tellis to hold that the right to shelter is part of the right to life (and more interestingly, the right to free movement) under the Indian constitution. By virtue of the law making power conferred upon the Indian constitution, this is now the law of the land and hence the State is required to provide shelter to all.

  10. But NOT on other people’s land because the State recognizes private ownership of land .

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