Centre tables, wall pieces, mirrors, lamps, chandeliers – for almost a decade, the people in Delhi NCR flocked Banjara Market in Gurugram's Sector 56 to buy beautiful home decor that also suited their pockets.
With narrow lanes and shops lined up in such close proximity that you couldn't tell one from the other, the calls and appeals of the shopkeepers to the people visiting the market could be heard from across the street.
On 5 October, the hustle was still there, the shopkeepers were still calling you out to "come take a look!" However, the calls weren't being made to try to sell you a chic coffee table or an intricately carved mirror, but to show the wreck of their belongings to a mediaperson, caused by the demolition drive of the government carried out just a day before.
Banjara Market, known for its unique collection of home decor, is now facing eviction from the land that belongs to the Haryana government. Around 250 shops and houses, which stood illegally on the land belonging to the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), were demolished on Tuesday.
The shopkeepers, however, allege that authorities came without any notice or prior intimation. The homes and the livelihoods of the ones that helped beautify the living rooms of scores of people, are now at stake.
'Didn't Get Time To Save Personal Belongings'
"They came day before yesterday and asked us to evacuate. We moved some stuff after that. But they returned the next day with a bulldozer and more officers. Some people were able to move the furniture, others weren't," said Alam Gir, who sold furniture at the market and lived there for 16 years.
"These little children are hungry, please capture their faces on your camera. How long can they stay hungry? Did the authorities even bother to ask if we had water to drink? No, they didn't. In fact, they destroyed everything we had. Look, you can see my bed and pillow under that tree, I slept there at night," he said, pointing to a tree on the footpath nearby.
Pinky, who has been selling handicraft rugs at the market for over 15 years and lives in the market with her husband and four daughters, recounted the hardships they faced the night after the demolition
"They came and attacked suddenly, we were scared, so were the children. They did not give us any time to take our personal belongings. Some people saved as much as they could, the ones who couldn't, their stuff was broken," she said, as she cooked food on the chulha that was still intact at one corner of her house. The house, however, had no roof or walls anymore.
"We begged them to give us 10 minutes to take our beds and other belongings out, but they grabbed us and threw us out," Phoola, Pinky's sister-in-law said.
Jeetu, another resident and shopkeeper who sat outside his ravaged house and shop, said that they have been struggling for basic amenities as most of their belongings were destroyed.
"Thankfully, it didn't rain yesterday. How do you think we would have sheltered our children if it had rained? It was supposed to rain yesterday, but it didn't. The Gods thought about us, but the humans didn't. Somebody came yesterday and distributed food to us. Out utensils are destroyed, what do we cook in and what plates do we eat in?" he said.
The electricity connections too were cut off during the demolition drive.
'Took Loans Ahead of Diwali as Sales Are High'
Several vendors said that ahead of the festive season, they buy more products by procuring loans, as sales are higher than usual during the period.
"They had earlier said that we won't be moved until Diwali. But they came and bulldozed stuff anyway. Our Diwali is ruined as well. We buy stuff on loan, where will that go now?" said Monu, Pinky's husband.
"We buy stuff to sell ahead of Diwali as we expect the sales to be up during the time. But all those things are destroyed now. People buy stuff worth Rs 2 lakh, 3 lakh, 4 lakh..." Phoola said.
"We faced a lot of hardships during COVID as well, but we sailed through it. We got the market up and running with our blood and sweat," Jeetu said.
'Don't Want To Encroach, Only Want Rehabilitation'
The shopkeepers say that moving suddenly is a difficult task as they have a lot of furniture and home decor items that need to be shifted. They also demand that the government should provide them with an alternate location to set the market up.
"Where do we go? The government should give us an alternate place to go to. We will go and settle wherever they want us to go. We cannot see our children's lives being destroyed even if ours are," Phoola said.
"Look, we are not saying that we want to keep living on government land. We do not want to encroach on government land. But the government should at least rehabilitate us," Jeetu said.
Contrary to the claims of the shopkeepers, Satya Narain, subdivisional officer (survey), HUDA, as quoted by Hindustan Times said that the land was not being vacated despite several notices by the authorities.
He also said that most shopkeepers had removed their belongings from the shops while many had sought two days' time to shift, which was given to them.
Families living at Banjara Market for almost two decades now stare at a bleak future. With no alternative of rehabilitation being provided by the authorities, many are now considering the option of returning to their hometowns.
"The customers that come to our market, we request them – you hardly have two days to save the market. If you can save it, please try, because the authorities won't listen to uneducated people like us," Jeetu said.