Yesterday morning, the small slum opposite to Phoenix Mills, in Lower Parel, was razed by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
Slum demolition follows a horrible, regimented protocol. The bulldozers and loaders arrive on site, unannounced. Scores of lathi-swinging policemen swarm in to inform the residents that they have an hour to evacuate belongings before their homes are torn down. The combination of surprise, force, and urgency stifles resistance. There is a resigned powerlessness that has been bread into the manual labor class, and it is as heart-rending to witness as tear-fill despair might have been.
Most of the slum-dwellers are able to gather their things before their houses are destroyed. For others, many of their possessions must be excavated from the rubble.
Lower Parel is now a high-rent district. Once home to Bombay’s cotton mills, the area has been redeveloped in recent years to house corporate office buildings and a fancy mall. Many of the people who pass the slum demolition are well-dressed business people and shoppers. They generally approve the police action, since it is “cleaning up” a streetscape they regularly traverse.
To me, the slum evictions are ineffably sad. These families provided the labor to build the office buildings and the mall. They erected their homes on this patch of ground — with the approval, if not legal permission, of all concerned — so that their under-paid toil could transform the neighborhood and fill the bank accounts of the developers and corrupt politicians. Having outlived their usefulness, they are uprooted from homes they have occupied for years (this tiny slum was more than a dozen years old) without warning.
The slum-dwellers are advised that they will be relocated to the north of the city. Perhaps there will be new jobs there, since Bombay continues to expand in that direction. In the meanwhile, their lives are uprooted. Those with so little to fall back on will have to start from scratch once more.
I am sorry I did not have a decent camera with me to do justice to the images. Justice, it seems, was in short supply all around.