Around 2,000 residents of Princess Park, who have been working as domestic helps in the homes of defence personnel near India Gate, have been asked to leave so that a war museum can be built in the area. Their quarters are set to be demolished by the Defence Ministry in a month.
The Defence Ministry on Tuesday issued an eviction notice to the roughly 209 quarters housing “private domestic helps” and their kin who have been working for officers from the Navy, Army and Air Force in the Princess Park complex since 1947. It was here that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru publicly hoisted the Tricolour for the first time in Independent India on the afternoon of August 15.
“My grandmother, mother and then I have worked for free, sweeping, cleaning and cooking at the homes of these officers, in return for living in these unauthorised quarters for free while our husbands went out to work in the city to earn money. We held on to the job because we at least had a roof over our heads. After so many years, we are suddenly being asked to leave. Where will we go?” said 70-year-old Munni Devi.
The Defence Ministry, in its eviction notice, states that 14.173 acres of Princess Park will be cleared to build a National War Museum and those “illegally encroaching” over 3 acres of the Park have 30 days to move out.
A Defence Ministry spokes-person told The Indian Express, “The war museum project worth Rs 500 crore was approved by the Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2015.” Following the approval, 100 residences were vacated and the officers moved to residences elsewhere in the city, while their helps are being left out in the cold, alleged Devi’s neighbours.
Residents are planning to approach politicians for help. Sheela Rai, another resident at the quarters, said, “We have voter ID cards, ration cards and Aadhaar cards on these addresses, yet they are forcing us out. Successive governments ask for our votes when they need us and then they derecognise and dump us eventually. This is our reality.”