Updated: May 15, 2022 7:52:42 pm
Yah makan bikau hai (This house is for sale.)
In blue ink, this is scrawled on the wall of the single-storey house at Towerwali Gali at Sanjay Nagar in Khargone. The house, built under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana-Urban, belongs to Leela Bai Chhagan Lal, 60, who works as a labourer and lives here with close relatives. If Hasina Fakhroo’s PMAY house was demolished by the administration April 11, Leela Bai’s was vandalised and damaged by a mob a day earlier.
In violence that erupted during Ram Navami procession, at least 10 houses of her neighbours were set ablaze. Her main door’s a gaping hole, so is the window; a lifetime’s assets, including a gas stove, cylinder, water motor pump, fan and television, all gone.
Government schemes aim to flatten differences of identity — a labharthi (beneficiary) is a labharthi irrespective of caste or faith — but this tale of two PM Awas houses frames the plight of an urban neighbourhood where communal fault-lines have hardened and where even an asset obtained in a flagship scheme offers little protection.
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An investigation by The Indian Express Friday showed how Hasina’s house had been geotagged five times, all her payments came on time, the last instalment a week before the bulldozers rolled in, and yet, her house was declared illegal and a notice was sent to her four days before the demolition.
For Leela Bai, it was the violent mob that robbed her of her house.
“I had worked as a labourer at a government farm and as a domestic help to feed my family since my husband died 16 years ago. We built this house in four attempts — first, we had a plastic roof, then we had wood (kelu), then we had tiles, finally a pucca roof. We saw many ups and downs but we kept improving this house,” Leela Bai told The Indian Express.
Today, below the sale notice, the house has a stamp of the PMAY-U showing it was constructed – similar to Hasina’s — under the Beneficiary Led Construction component of the scheme with a cost of Rs 2.5 lakh during 2017-18.
A district administration official said that Rs 76,602 has been provided to Leela Bai’s family for damage during the riots.
Recounting the evening of April 10, Leela Bai said: “We had gone to see the procession. I left home at 4 pm, clashes broke out at 5-6 pm. There was no light…. electricity was disconnected… houses were burning…we returned to our house three to four days later as the curfew was clamped soon after the clashes broke out. Then we went to the police station.”
Leela Bai’s son, Pawan Kale, who works as a labourer at a shop, moved out of the locality to what he calls a “safer” place after communal riots in 2015. “Dar ho gaya tha dang ke bad, isliye idhar aa gaye (We were frightened so we moved here),” said Kale, who now lives in the Kale Khet locality in the city, about 1 km from his mother.
Next to Leela Bai, lives Sangita Jadhav. She works as a labourer at a bakery and her husband Ramesh Jadhav is a driver. Sangita’s single-storey house was burnt down in the April 10 riots. Pointing to the charred debris, Sangita broke down: “hamne bade man se ye ghar banaya tha. (We had built this house enthusiastically.)”
Next to Sangita’s house, lives Laxmi Muchhal whose marriage was scheduled for April 14, four days after the violence. “The rioters took away all my brother had purchased for my marriage. They also looted the rations, gas cylinder, sofa and TV. I don’t know how we will organise the wedding now, we don’t have any resources,” Laxmi told The Indian Express.
Laxmi’s family said they are so fearful they have boarded tin sheets outside their doors and windows to protect themselves from stone-pelting and arson. In the same lane as Laxmi, The Indian Express counted at least eight other houses and shops that bear the marks of arson. Seven of them have put a notice for sale: yah makan bikau hai.
These include a kirana shop and atta chakki operated by Santosh Mohan Singh Kumawat who said his shop was burnt down. Parwati Natthu, whose family is dependent on agriculture, has a bullock cart. Natthu alleged the attackers killed the oxen and looted things from his place.
These houses are not far away from the spot where Superintendent of Police (SP) Siddharth Choudhary was shot at below the knee. Speaking to The Indian Express, Choudhary, who joined duty last week, said that 180 people have been arrested in connection to the violence.
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