Having moved to the city two years ago for better prospects, Muhammad Hussain sits outside the skeletal remains of his one-room home in Bellandur, contemplating his future.
On 17 January, he along with several other migrant families living in Kariyammana Agrahara in the eastern Bengaluru, lost their homes to a surprise eviction drive purportedly targeted at weeding out Bangladeshis staying in the country illegally. The residents were given no notice of evacuation and were never informed that the private property on which their huts stood was to be cleared of its ‘encroachments.’
Initially angry at being homeless, Hussain is now in despair. While he can afford to place his wife and their child in another room nearby temporarily, the space is not big enough for all of them. Additionally, he’s also been fired from his job for not turning up for two days.
“I used to work in a company (housekeeping) but for two days I wasn’t able to go because my house got destroyed. That’s why I lost my job, my wife doesn’t have a job either. It’s becoming very difficult. I am weak as I haven’t eaten for 2-3 days.”Mohammad Hussain, migrant from Assam
There are several hundred unorganised settlements dotting the fields around Mantri Espana apartments in Bellandur. Over the last week, residents of these camps say that there has been a systematic attempt to evict them from their homes and flatten the huts. These small-scale operations came to light on Saturday, 18 January, after a JCB tore down over 100 huts, on suspicions that Bangladeshis were staying there illegally.
While the Karnataka high court has stayed all demolition activity for the time-being, for the migrant workers troubles are only just beginning. With a large majority employed as domestic workers, housekeeping staff and daily wagers, their finances and flexibility to shift houses are limited.
Rahim Khan, who used to work as the supervisor of one corner of the settlement, said that only the better off could afford to leave.
“We can't go and stay in a flat, it's too expensive. Here we survive by paying Rs 2,000 rent, now everyone is troubled,” he said, adding that cops evicted them despite gathering identity proof of residents.
‘Sleeping Ten to a Room’
Hussain Ali, working as a house-keeping staffer in a company nearby, said that he had to rely on a friend for shelter.
“We need to find another room, but we don’t have the money to pay such a large deposit. We don’t have the aukat to live in such big, big flats. For now, ten of us are sleeping in a room. It’s not comfortable but we have to adjust. My things are scattered in many places,” he said.
Ali said that the initial deposit to secure a flat would be Rs 10,000, which he cannot afford.
“Here we used to pay Rs 2,000. If we spend everything on rent, how will we eat, how will we live. We are nobodies,” he said.
‘Scared of Losing my Job’
Raheem-ud-din Barbariya from Assam returned from work to find his house demolished and his belongings strewn.
“We will have to go a new room. I work close by, but if I move to another place, I won't get my salary here. Where will a poor man go? See, I have all the documents from Assam, still they say we are from Bangladesh,” he rued.
‘Forced to Sleep in the Open’
Since he can only afford a space big enough just for his wife and kids, Hussain has been forced to sleep in the debris of his former home, under the stars.
“Yesterday I slept here, along with 2-3 others, few of us slept here. I’ve kept my wife in another room, with our kid, but there is no space so I slept here. I don’t know what to do or where to go from here,” he said.
Even after admitting that the ‘eviction drive’ was illegal, authorities have announced neither a compensation package nor a rehabilitation plan for the people who were wrongfully displaced.