Their homes razed and livelihoods destroyed, residents of the predominantly Purvanchali settlement — across the road from Mahagun Moderne society — that was demolished on Monday have just one question: ‘Why target us when your problem is with migrants from Bengal?’
After the society witnessed violence over the ‘disappearance’ of a domestic help, RWAs issued diktats vowing to keep ‘Bangladeshis out’. A majority of those who had pelted stones were from a settlement of migrants from Cooch Behar in West Bengal. But while their homes are intact, those in the Purvanchali settlement have been razed — raising tensions between the two communities.
Take, for instance, 35-year-old Shahana, originally from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh. Walking past scattered remains of her vegetable cart, she hurls abuses at two Bengali migrants who pass by: “It’s all their fault. We didn’t do anything and didn’t even participate in last week’s violence. Look at them, they have now gone back to work and we have lost everything.”
She added that Bengalis work at rates far lower than any other community, which has also strained ties. “They will even work at Rs 200-300 a month, while we don’t work for anything less than Rs 600. The reason is that in Bengal, food is a lot cheaper, so they don’t have to send back as much money as us,” she said.
Moinuddin from Cooch Behar, who lives in the ‘Bengali village’ that was at the heart of the Mahagun Moderne violence, said, “The two communities were always united in the fact that we are here to work hard. I pull a rickshaw, somebody else sells vegetables. But now, when we cross each other, they abuse us. Some have even tried attacking us.”
Amid growing demands from residents of Noida’s Sector 78 to remove “illegal encroachments”, Noida authority officials had demolished homes and shops in the area. Noida Authority CEO Amit Mohan Prasad had, however, told The Indian Express that “no settlements” had been “bulldozed”, adding that the demolition was “routine” and unlinked to the violence.
Bablu Yadav, 28, who hails from Gorakhpur, disagreed. “We have been living here for eight years; these buildings came up in front of us. Now we are not being allowed to set up shop here because they think we are an eyesore,” said Yadav, who lives in Barola area of Noida and used to run a small food-vending shop outside the flats. “My rent is due and I earn only Rs 500 every day. How am I supposed to feed my children? I was supposed to get my daughter admitted to school; now I can’t do that.”
Vimlesh Dubey, 33, had no idea about the impending demolition as he sat at his cigarette shop next to his shanty. “Bulldozers came and destroyed everything. Somehow I have managed to make a small shelter. I need to survive, so I am trying to move around with a temporary shop, selling my wares. But this can’t go on.”
Most residents of the now destroyed slum have sent their children to relatives, managing to eke out a living by scraping into their meagre savings, getting food through alms and trying to somehow set up ‘temporary shops’ that can be dismantled the minute police officers are spotted.