the day did dawn

The day did dawn. The lohar camp was raised to the ground courtesy the commonwealth games. And this time we knew it would not be allowed to be rebuilt no matter how large the tithe. The camp had been in existence for over 35 years. Over time it had acquired what we could rightly call civic recognition: a postal address - Maharaha Pratap Camp -, ration cards and voter's ID card for all its inhabitants, electricity etc. Over the years promises were made by all and sundry - politicians, social do gooders, administrators - that the camp would be relocated and its inhabitants given proper plots with space to carry on their trade. Let us not forget that these are nomads and nomads were promised rehabilitation by none other than our first Prime Minister. I would also like to add that in most other states they have been properly rehabilitated.

For the past 35 years they have lived in this camp. Children are born, they grow up and get married and have their own families. Sanjay and Vicky both teachers at project why were born in this very camp. Over the past 35 years their camp has been raised regularly and then allowed to be rebuilt after payment of an adequate bribe. It was almost a game that we too have watched from the wings helplessly as for almost five years we ran a small creche and primary outreach and got to know and admire this proud clan.

A few years back the head of the clan affectionately known as Tau - elder uncle - brought some papers to me. These were bits and pieces of a file, very official looking with green sheets and heaps of bureaucratic notings by senior officials. A quick look at the papers showed that a rehabilitation plan had been mooted and surveys done. The Lohars of Delhi should have got their place in the sun. But that was not to be. The plan got hijacked probably by land mafias as is always the case and the Lohars remained where they were. We decided to do something and try we did! A PIL was filed in the High Court and a case was also filed with the National Human Rights Commission. Had not the rights of these proud souls been hijacked with impunity. They had been used and abused by all and sundry: hungry politicians prowling for new vote banks, uncaring bureaucrats, greedy land grabbers and so on. No one seemed to care.

The Lohars continued to live with their head held high refusing to give up, their legendary resilience intact watching impassibly the will it won't it game that was enacted in front of their tiring eyes. And somehow each time we thought the game was over, some extra time was doled out to meet some new wily agenda. Till yesterday when the final blow was dealt courtesy the commonwealth games and the tiny camp was finally destroyed forever. Our Lohar friends are now scattered all over this uncaring and insensitive city.

I will miss them. Over the years I had learnt to love and respect this proud people. I often found myself walking to their camp whenever I felt in need of a shot of optimism. I would spend hours over cups of tea talking to Tau and imbibing his age old wisdom. I would watch the beautiful children playing in the dust breathing the fumes of the cars revving up at the red light. Were they not children of Indian born with the same rights as others, then who had usurped and hijacked their rights! What could one do. The PIL in court was lost in translation.

Sanjay and Vicky have not come to the centre for the past few days. They are busy picking up the pieces of their shattered life and building a new one. I know they will succeed as they have the wisdom of the gypsies in their veins. I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to have your home and life destroyed in front of your helpless eyes. I just feel angry and sad at the way those in power play with innocent souls and ultimately always win. Is this the India our freedom fighters fought and died for? I just think we have let them down. Is there a way out. I do not know.