A broken pink walker for a toddler, an orange sharpener, a red pocket comb, a green doll house made of cardboard — the colours fade away in the dust, as these things lie on the ground on a hot May afternoon. From a distance, their owners too seem carelessly thrown together — covered in dust, sweat and dry tears — at Tikona Kabristan, opposite the Oberoi Hotel, and near Delhi’s Nizamuddin basti.
Eighteen families sit on dusty carpets, charpoys and mattresses that they could salvage from a demolition drive which began four days ago.
“This began on May 16. They came with bulldozers and asked us to leave. Five generations have lived here, some 150 people at least, and suddenly they ask us to go away. But where do we go? This is home,” said a 36-year-old woman.
Five bulldozers and dozens of policemen and women occupy the premises that also encloses a dargah. There are no toilets for men, women and children to use. Some wait for sunset so they can go behind the bushes, while others walk up to homes of familiar people in the basti nearby.
“Namaaz tak nahi padh paaye hai kyunki chaar din se nahaye nahi hai (We haven’t been able to pray as we haven’t had a bath in four days),” said a 40-year-old man, who has been cleaning the dargah for years now.
Some also claimed that the dargah’s wall was damaged during the demolition. “They are fixing it now. See, the labourers are putting cement and bricks,” said one of the men standing nearby. On being asked about this, a police officer at the spot said, “The labourers are just cleaning it, the wall hasn’t been broken.”
While residents claimed they have been here for 80 years, a DDA official said, “There is no truth in this claim, they are encroachers and bad social elements. The court order came through last year but this is a sensitive matter — this place has a religious status — so we took time. This is government land and they do not come under the rehabilitation scheme.” The official added that demolition has been stopped after the “court sent a status quo notice”.
In one corner, a young mother feeds her three-month-old baby whose face is covered with mosquito bites. On another charpoy, a class IX student shouts at her mother. “I can’t go to school, my uniform is in that dumpyard, under layers of dust, My teachers will be so angry with me,” she cries.
Residents of the basti come by around 2 pm and ask how they can help. “We gave them our phones to charge… they let us heat water and milk in their homes. We don’t even have our utensil,” says a 45-year-old man.