helter shelter

A class is in progress in the Lohar camp. The camp has over 40 shanties along a main road. It has been in existence for over 25 years and even has a name and postal address. Most of its 250 odd inhabitants, all gadiya lohars - iron smith gypsies - have voter ID cards. It is reasonable to say that they have a civic identity. There are over 90 such camps across the city some in existence for more than 50 years.

These 1000 odd families stopped wandering and settled in Delhi over half a century ago. Their abode remained shanties along side roads where one often sees them beating the iron and selling their ware.

We began our classes in this camp more than five years ago.Since we have witnessed many a demolition that seem to take place with regularity. The next day the shanties are rebuilt after a few palms are greased.

Nomadic tribes were promised relocation at the time of India's Independence. We even found some official looking papers to prove that some semblance of resettlement had been initiated. WE helped the lohars file a writ petition in the high court and brought the plight of these lesser citizens to the NHRC. But as proceedings dragged the lohars got weary and lost interest or sunk back into the legendary resilience of nomads.

A few hours after this picture was taken the camp again demolished. This time the authorities did not spare us either but left with the usual: kal phir banalena - you can rebuild it tomorrow-! But we know that this cat and mouse game cannot continue for much longer as this camp comes in the way of the Delhi Metro project and the day is not far when our lohars will lose their shelter.

The future of these proud people we have learnt to love and admire is in danger. More than any of the migrants who have been given shelter or relocated over the years, these 1000 families need to have their basic constitutional rights restored in a city the made theirs much before others. However we fear that once again they will remain invisible and their voices unheard.

The picture above was one of the class yesterday; this is the same class today

Note: this camp has been in existence in this very place for over 25 years! Our classes began five years ago