I was in a slum of Bangalore city. While I was searching for the right person to talk to for an encroachment story, my eyes fell on an ugly shabbily-dressed woman who must be in her fifties. As I was walking towards her, I observed her night gown was brown in color. It looked dirty. I realized that she was rather too dark to look, repulsively dark. By looking at her clothes one would guess that she hadn’t cleaned it for months, instead perhaps she hadn’t cleaned herself for months. She was severely poor and was standing in front of a tent cum house. That was not the only tent put up there, but there were about fifteen more aligned one after the other. All of them were closely packed and looked in bad condition.
When she noticed I was walking towards her, she gave me a friendly smile. I smiled back. I asked her in broken English “I am a journalist. You understand? Kannada or Hindi?” She smiled wisely and replied “I know fluent English”. While I was about to converse with her any further, I assumed that I should continue speaking to her in broken English. “She will be in no way well-versed in English Language.” I thought.
Me: Can I know your name please? Name?
Me: Since when you here? When? Kab?”
She: I have been living in such a condition for the last ten years, for a decade now.
Me: How do you know English so well?
She: Just because I am poor now, does not mean that I don’t know English.
In a country like India where English education is not everyone’s cup of coffee, coming across a severely poor woman with shabbily dressed clothes who knows good English is a rare sight.
As we continued our conversation, she told me that she was an English teacher in a small school of that locality. Her house was near the school. But as a company bought the land and encroached further, the school was destroyed and so was her house. Now, she has to stay in a tent. Her husband died couple of months ago. By manual labor, she somehow manages to earn a meager amount.
“I am not the only victim of this encroachment. All the tents that you see here have people who have faced the same. Initially, we were promised that better houses will be provided to us in the vicinity. But nobody got that except the selected few. During monsoons, this ground become muddy and water settles here. We don’t have any other option but to live with it. How many times we have complained to the police about how we were tricked to evacuate our houses. But even they don’t care. I am sure they must be getting a fair amount from the company somehow, who knows? Very soon we may be asked to get out from this place too. I don’t know where will we all go then!”
As she narrated me her story, I could notice the pain and despair in her eyes.
Sarcastically she said, “It is the always the poor like us who suffer. We serve the rich and look what we get in return. Fabulous, isn’t it? “
“It is rather true. “ I thought.
I spent almost the entire day meeting several women and men like her. Most of the children who belonged to these families could not complete their education as their school had been destroyed. These families did not even have the money to continue their children’s education from a different school.
One woman stated in Kannada that her husband died of heart-attack as they had lost their house and part of the land that belonged that was theirs earlier. She said, “Also, when initially we were not ready to move out of our houses, at night gangs of rogues would walk in the streets, they would harass and molest young girls. When we tried to complain to the local police, they ignored it. These rogues were of a particular political party, who I would not like to name now. They even kidnapped few men and asked us for ransom. The same rogues would forcefully enter our house and blackmailed us to get out of this place.” They would pick up things and throw them out of our houses. These were almost an everyday thing. Since the police were not acting against these rogues, we did not know what to do. The rogues were taking fullest advantage of the circumstance. We asked for help to many people but who would listen to us? Everything possible was done to throw us out of our houses. This entire undertaking was politically and economically motivated. When we told the company that houses have still not been given to us which were promised before, they told us everything will be taken care of soon. They said it in the most careless way. We had a ray of hope somewhere that maybe something good will emerge out of this. But we lost all our hopes when we got to know the reality. ”
As I spent more and more time with them, I obtained more stories that how they were deceived and tricked, how they lost almost everything they had and how drastically their lives had changed after they were forced out of their houses. I learnt that when changes take place be it of political or economic purpose, it is the poor who are victimized the first. And this is because simply because they don’t have the power to influence the wrong that is happening around them.