Video Editor: Vishal Kumar
Two days after their homes were razed in a demolition drive conducted by the city corporation and local cops, residents of Kariyammana Agrahara in south-west Bengaluru sit outside with all their identification in their hands. Many spent the night under the stars, taking shelter under trees.
In a surprise operation on Saturday, 18 January, that continued the next day, about 100-odd homes were razed on suspicions that the residents were ‘illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’. There are over 1,000 such huts or rooms located locked here, right beside Mantri Espana apartments in Bellandur, where several of the residents are employed as domestic workers and security guards.
“They said we are all Bangladeshis, but we are from Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand, Bengal and many other places. I have a Voter ID, PAN card, Aadhaar card, and my name is on the NRC final list. Is there a poster on my back saying I am Bangladeshi? Why are they kicking a poor man in the stomach?”Samsul Haque, 31 years old
Authorities said they were acting on a letter sent on Saturday by an assistant executive engineer of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) that claimed: “Bangladeshi nationals have built illegal sheds and the residents here have converted this into a slum area,”. On 12 January, Mahadevpura MLA Aravind Limbavali had tweeted a video showing ‘illegally constructed sheds’.
Residents of the settlement, however, told The Quint that none of their documents were checked by officials, and they that had not received any notice of eviction either. Calling the demolition ‘unauthorised’, BBMP chief Anil Kumar said that the erring official had been ‘suspended’ and ‘charges were being framed against him.’
‘They Demolished My Home When My Kids Were Alone’
Munni Begum, employed as a domestic worker, said she was at work when she got calls about her house being torn down.
“I have my documents but they did not check. I have all my documents from Assam but still they call us Bangladeshis. Are we animals or what? Do we not have any rights? They never told us they were going to demolish our homes. We would have prepared. I was at work when they broke down my home and everything in it. I lost so much ration and vegetables,” she said.
The average rent of a room in Kariyammana Agrahara is approximately Rs 2,000, and several were able to show rent agreements for their accommodations. They said that they lived here in order to save money and send it back home.
The presence of lawyers and mediapersons on Sunday prevented the demolitions from continuing for long. The ensuing chaos caused the police team and BBMP officials to leave within two hours on Sunday afternoon while the residents were left to pick up the pieces of their homes
Admitting that due process wasn’t followed, BBMP commissioner Anil Kumar said that ‘the engineer had acted on his own.’
"There is a protocol for clearing encroachments. Residents have to be served a notice and given a chance to have their say. The police acted thinking the letter was a bonafide one from BBMP. Even if they were Bangladeshi immigrants, that is for the police to handle, not BBMP,” he told The Quint.
‘They Kept Saying We Were Bangladeshi’
Bilal, originally from Delhi, was asked repeatedly if he was from Bangladesh and told not to live in a ‘Bengali-dominated area’.
“I told them that there are no Bangladeshis living here but there are people from Assam, Tripura who also speak Bengali. All the migrants from Bangladesh who were living in the city have already been chased out, due to the NRC fears. So, among people from across the country, I am also living here and making a living but they said we all have to take our stuff and leave,” he said.
“Where are supposed to go? If I return to Delhi, I will lose all my money here. Where is a poor man supposed to go? We feel like the sky is falling on us. We all earn barely Rs 10,000 from our work here. By living here, we can save some money at least.”Bilal, from Delhi
Living in the Ruins
Zakhir Hussain, a native of Assam, begged the police to give him a few minutes to clear out his shop, all his documents in hand. He spent the day sitting in front of his broken down home, toddler in his arms, unsure of what to do next.
“I fell on his feet, begging for two minutes to clear my things. The JCB tore my house down. I have everything, from Aadhaar card to Voter ID, I have lost all my rations. Seventy people used to eat from my shop daily, I said all this. They didn’t listen. Just asked us to get out. I have built this house with hard work, they could have told me two months earlier. I have to search for a new home, but they ask for deposits like Rs 50,000-Rs 1,00,00, where will I get the money from? For now, I am sitting here,” said the 28-year-old.
Without a roof over their heads and seeking respite from the scorching sun, some took shade under the surrounding shrubbery.
Everywhere, one could see bare frames of huts, scattered belongings and the day-to-day objects that make up a home. Attempting to pick up the pieces of their now destroyed homes, families could be seen gathering drums, mattresses, television sets, etc and moving them to a safer space.
Several adults were at work, coming home to the horror of a life destroyed in hours. Employed largely as domestic help, guards, parking attendants, etc, working in nearby software parks and apartment buildings, the earning average at Rs 10-15,000 per month. “We are living here out of compulsion. If we are chased from here also then where do we go?” asked one senior citizen.
Unable to make immediate arrangements, some continued living in the ruins of their homes.
Under Pressure for a Week
Riyadh ul-Islam, 24 years old, who ran a small shop said that the electricity had been cut one week ago and private tankers had also stopped supplying water to their locality. Many people have been unable to cook for days.
“I told them to check all my documents. They said they didn’t care and threw us out. We told them we are Indians, but they did not check the proof.”
Residents also said that government officials had been coming to their homes, demanding to see their identity proofs for about a month.
“They asked us to take them to where the Bangladeshis live but weren’t happy when we said there are none here. They just wanted us out,” said one man.
Mohammed Ahadur said that the apartment complexes had complained.
“What wrong have we done to deserve this? They are rich so they can afford to have us thrown out even though we work here. We need help here. We are all Indians. I am earning here to send money to my family. We are all scared,” said the 20-year-old.