I dropped by the Lohar camp today and once again was taken in by the warmth and generosity of this proud people. Kamlesh was cooking makki rotis and I got treated to one, topped with sarson saag and oodles of white butter.
From the corner of my eye, I saw that the quantity of dough kneaded was tiny and that maybe what was being offered to me with so much love was someone's much deserved lunch. But then not accepting it would be he ultimate humiliation for this proud people. I sat on the proferred charpoy, on the main road to the amused looks passers by, and savoured this offering of love...
We set down to discuss what I had come for and I was, once again, taken in by the rapidity with which everything I said was understood and improved on.. Then I walked through the basti - just 32 ramshackle tents along the main road - to greet old friends. As I walked I sensed that something was amiss. The smiles were there and the warmth too, but there seemed to be a lassitude, an imperceptible feeling of hopelesness that I had not see earlier. It was more than understandable: it had now been almost 4 long years since we started our project in the basti and launched our legal battle to get the Lohars what had been promised to them: permanent shelter. The Public Interest Litigation is still pending in the High Court. Our plea to the NHRC for the plight of these children remained unheard. These children of India, who enjoy the same constitutional rights as yours or mine, see the light of day in dingy tents, getting their first breath of car fumes instead of fresh air...
They came to the city much before other migrants, over 55 years ago and still live on roadsides. Vague and empty promises were made to them as their tents were given a smart sounding address - rana pratap camp - thus bringing them into the voter's net. But they lie forgotten, waiting for a miracle.
Their children have grown with urban tastes and want to be included in what is their rightful home. But they bear the brunt of labels given to nomads the world over. Yetwhen you ask them what their favourite food is they reply in unison: pizza!
Habitat for the poor is an alarming problem. Haphazard constructions on reclaimed land led to the Bombay and more recent Chennai floods. The sad part is that no real solution will emerge as they would shake the precarious political equations in place.
One has to seriously think of telling people to take back the skills acquired to their habitat of origin to ease out the pressure that will choke our cities to death. Habitat with basic amenities have to be built for those that will remian, as we must not forget that their form an integral part of our society in which they have a vital role to play.
We try at pwhy to make the children realise this by valorising their habitat of origin and tellin them that they need to take back what they have learnt to other children in the villages, as every child cannot come and live in cities. this is one of the reasons the pwhy model is based on in-house resources.
I am not one to beleive that this will not happen some day.. when the people themselves realise what is best for them.. recently the mother of 6 children said in the course of converstaion that in the village her children were in better health as they could have access to vegetables and milk and good water, and run in the fields..
I simply smiled... a matter of time it is.