Published: 01st August 2021
These young students lost their homes in the Khori demolition. Now, they’re helping their neighbours stand up
It takes a lot of grit to come back and try and help your community rehabilitate itself, when you've lost your home. These students have managed just that
Even as their homes are in shambles, their families injured, their books lost, and frequent heavy rains make life difficult — many young students from the Khori village in Haryana's Faridabad, which is currently being demolished because the homes have "encroached" on Aravalli forest range, have been helping people in their neighbourhood as much as possible.
A 21-year-old volunteer, Abhishek Kumar, who lost his home to the Supreme Court-ordered demolition in Khori, like lakhs of other working-class residents in the area, says, “We are living like insects right now. If the plan was to demolish everything, they should've at least made sure we are rehabilitated immediately. We wouldn't have cared if we had a place to go. Where will we go now?” While news reports have suggested that the government plans to rehabilitate them to EWS flats in Dabua and Bapu Nagar, residents like Abhishek seem all at sea.
The day the music died
The Supreme Court recognised the land where Khori stands as forest land belong to the Arvalli range on June 7 and then directed the Faridabad Municipal Corporation to clear all encroachments within six weeks. However, residents weren't willing to move because there was nowhere else to go. And just like that, by mid-July, police and army personnel were deployed in the area to carry out the large-scale demolition. During a hearing last week, Haryana's Additional Advocate General Arun Bhardwaj told the court that 74 of the 150 acres had been cleared and the administration sought another three weeks to complete the demolition - which the court has granted.
Things have gotten worse since the rains started pounding the area. Abhishek, a first-year student of the Computer Operator and Programming Assistant course offered at the Industrial Training Institute, is determined to help others in the area build makeshift shelters using bamboo and tarpaulin like the one he is living in with his family of six. "The administration [Faridabad Municipal Corporation] has been maintaining that there is a team of doctors sent, but there is no medical professional here," says Abhishek. "Instead of doing this, they should've just killed us. We are slowly dying right now anyway," he adds.
A life worth living?
He says that the administration has put up a board in Khori that tells residents that food and shelter shall be provided. “But when I called them, they said that it is for a limited number of people and only till the demolition is on. They also said that local IDs are required for it, which many don’t posses.”
His exam might start in August but online classes have stalled ever since the demolition. He alleges that the local police have set up jammers in the area leading to poor connectivity.
An advocacy group called the Basti Suraksha Manch has gathered a team of young volunteers to help distribute food and tarpaulins in the area. While the food has been arranged by the Akshaya Patra Foundation and the tarpaulin is supplied by the Jeevan Stambh Foundation through a fundraiser on Milaap.
With nowhere else to go, many in Khori have set up tarpaulin shelters amidst their broken houses. Pic: Abhishek Kumar
How many people are actually affected? Well, multiple media reports and Edex sources on the ground state that the village has more than one lakh people. According to an article published in The Wire by the Centre for Policy Research fellow in collaboration with a PhD scholar who has been studying Khori, there are more than 5,000 lactating women in the village and over 20,000 minors.
When we tried to put a figure to the fatigue, Garima Mittal, the Commissioner of the Faridabad Municipal Corporation said, “We have received [at least] 445 applications for our rehabilitation plan. We have also taken a drone survey on June 9 , 2021, and we have the data. We have the number of houses, everything to the resolution of 10 cm on the ground. We have reasonable data to depend upon.”
The anatomy of being uprooted
Just like Abhishek, Shabnam is a young student volunteering in the area. Her father is a tailor while her mother is a homemaker. She has three siblings, and all of them are minors. From a house of their own that took several years of savings to build, her family has now taken up a small room for rent at Prem Nagar. There is now an additional expenditure of Rs 8,000 a month. She travels for 30 mins via an e-rickshaw to Khori to help others who can’t afford to rent a new place. "People are falling sick. There is no COVID test done here, neither are there doctors deployed," she says. Her third-year BA exams start in August. However, all her books have been lost with the age-old house that dwindled away to nothing last Sunday during the demolition, "We couldn't stop crying seeing our home broken down to nothing in front of our eyes. We tried taking out as many things as possible," she says.
But there's only so much you can carry.
The teacher soldiers on
Shiv Kumar (21) has been taking tuitions in Khori since his Class 12. He single-handedly emptied his house of all his belongings when the demolition drive reached his doorstep and his father got his hand injured amidst the chaos. The family of five managed to get a small room for rent in the nearby Panchmukhi Mandir area, which is about 15 minutes away from Khori. “I teach all subjects to students up to Class 12,” he says. Earlier, he used to hold group tuitions of students in the area at a dedicated tuition centre which was also broken down. However, ever since the demolition, he has been taking “home-tuitions”, visiting children in Khori living under makeshift shelters.
He says that even schools in the area have been torn down. “Group classes worked better for children. They no longer have a home to study, and neither do they have their tuition center. Most children who live in Khori come from lower-income families,” he says. Apart from teaching children in this difficult time, he is also a student. He now stays about 15 minutes away from Khori. The rent eats up Rs 3,000. As the conversation with him comes to an end, he asks, “Will this interview benefit us in any way?”
Khori village is a broken promise of jahan jhuggi wahan makkan (in-situ slum redevelopment). With demolitions set to begin again, perhaps it can supply the old and young of Khori that even if their homes are razed down, the spirit of their young cannot be toppled as easily. And therein lies their legacy.