Let me tell you why

Elections results are out. This time I too voted as for many years someone had decided to strike me off the rolls. This time wonders of wonders my name was on the list. On voting day I wrote a post entitled to vote or not to vote, because I truly felt that there was an option to arrogant style of politics we have been subjected to over far too long. Yesterday's results are witness to the fact that many of us have had enough of the high handed ways, the corrupt ways and the hubris that seems to have engulfed politics in our land.

I have been on the hit list of local politicos for a long time. The reason? Simply that I had the audacity to empower people who were best left ignorant and subservient and thus easily manipulated. There was time when, because of old links, I had sought the help of the very powers that stand defeated today. What I got was false promises after being sent from pillar to post and treated with contempt. When a community centre was made in the very park we taught in and promised to us but given to a page 3 NGO, I had approached the ruling CEO and still remember being told to continue teaching under trees to which I of course retorted I do not need any one's permission to do that, and would teach on the trees if need be. That is when I decided to find my own ways. The rest is history!

I was asked last week by a friend why I was so disillusioned as Delhi had improved in the last 15 years. My answer was simple: come and see how the other half lives. It is great to talk of the flyovers and malls and other glitzy buildings. But I would like you to look at some pictures which also are from the very city we live in

This is a 'house' where a little girl with brittle bones lived for many years with 7 members of her family. This house is barely 4 feet tall. You had to virtually crawl and tuck yourself in it. No wonder Radha got many broken bones when she lived here as the lack of space resulted in everyone having to walk over the other. The family had to pay 500 Rs a month rent and feed the 'landlord'. There was one saving grace: this house what a street level. When it was razed during one of the famous slum clearing exercise, the family moved into another 'house'. The house they live in is about one and half feet below street level, in other words a hole! Like all slum dwellings there is no window, no sunlight, no fresh air and let us not talk of bathrooms and toilets.

But people who live in such holes are still house proud and that is the most touching factor of the 'survival' story. It is not easy to store your whole life in a hole and yet that is what slum dwellers manage to do with elan. They find space for their Gods, their belongings, their utensils, their clothes and even the odd decorative object. At night, particularly in winter, 6 or 8 people will sleep in this space, but come morning it is transformed into a space than can even welcome guests as the generosity of such people surpasses ours. I am witness to this fact.

This was the Lohar (gypsy blacksmith) camp next to the Kalkaji bus depot. For many years we ran classes there and were witness to the many razing and rebuilding of this camp. It was almost a cat and mouse game. The authorities came and bulldozed the camp. A day or so later when money exchanged hands, the camp was built again and again, till the fateful day before the Commonwealth games when it was destroyed for good. This community is a nomadic tribe and according to the law should have been resettled. The city gave them and identity as they all had ration cards and voter cards and even a postal address! Every election promised were made to them and never kept.

This is the sad saga of the slum dwellers. They come to the city and find some unused land and put up a shelter of sorts. Instead of the shelter being demolished immediately according to the law as these are illegal encroachments, the corruption drama begins. The authorities ask for money and politicians promise to legalise the settlement. This emboldens the slum dwellers who 'build' a better house and even add floors and rent rooms and become 'landlords'. The whole drama can carry on for decades till one fine day the land is needed and the slums demolished. Some people get relocated but not all. Needless to say that on demolition day no politician is available, they have all gone AWOL. Who cares about what happens to the children, the women, the men; to their schools and livelihood. They are just pushed to some faraway place and given twelve and have square yards of barren land.

I love this picture. It was taken years ago at the Lohar Camp. It proves beyond doubt that every one has a destiny that no one can change. The boy behind me in an orange shirt is Sanjay! He is today a model who walks the ramp not only in India but in Paris! want proof? Here it is.

I had to write about this fairy tale story as many still believe that fairytales do not happen! A much needed breath of fresh air.

But let us move on. The reality is that no one looks at the way the poor live, eat, learn, work, in a word survive. Many slums have been erected next to factories that spew all kinds of toxic smoke and discharge strange coloured chemicals in the drains that flow just in front of tenements, with children playing nearby. I wonder if any study has been done on the health of people who live in close proximity to toxic waste. And talking about health, whilst new swanky hospitals mushroom with alacrity all over town (we have a handful walking distance from my home) nothing new has come up for the poor who have the option of going to local dispensaries if any often to be referred to a bigger hospital miles away, or to visit the local quack who will hand you a set of pills in a plastic pouch without telling you what they are. Often I guess the body takes care of the healing! And if you do have to go to that speciality hospital it means spending the whole day or more and often losing wages for that day.

Instead of building new facilities for the poor, the Government came up with yet again a reservation solution. How we love reservation, it seems to be part of our collective genes. So if you have a BPL card, and let me tell you that this is no easy feat, then you can go to the swanky hospitals. The problem is that many of the poorest of the poor do not have these cards, and most of the poor are unaware of this facility.

Most of the programmes for the poor never reach the really poor as these do not have any documents. Think of the homeless, who should be the first in line for these programmes. On the other hand they are many who hold BLP cards even though they are not poor by any yardstick.

And talking of reservation again, when the Right to Education was adopted, rather than building new schools and improving the existing ones, the Government decide to 'reserve' 25% of places in existing public schools from the swankiest to the humblest. Here again the true beneficiaries are either unaware of the scheme or do not have the required documents. However I know of many children from the middle classes who study for free in good public schools as their parents found the ways to get themselves all necessary documentation.

All these populist programmes are just a drain on finances and look good on paper but never reach the intended beneficiaries. If they do, their implementation is a far cry from what is on paper. Just go and visit any of the government run creches under ICDS schemes and you will be horrified.

Corruption is rampant and somehow has become a way of life. Political parties of all hues follow the same practices. Gone are the days of ideologies. It is all about money and power. You will be surprised to know how many bottles of booze and wads of money were lavished on potential voters by all the parties we know.

The arrogance of politicians again of all shades, hues and size is galling. A young widow with three children who works for me told me a shocking tale. When she went to the local Corporator's office to get the widow's pension she is entitled to, she was told by one of the minions that she was young and should get remarried. The poor child left and never went back. The reality is that most of the beneficiaries feel that politicians dole these goodies from their pockets. Forget democracy! Feudalism serves politicians better. I always gall at the 'touching of feet' syndrome politicians so enjoy. Does it give them a sense of false power

I could carry on and on but I think you get the picture.

So when a new party comes by and does not chose their candidates based on caste, creed and winnability, it is a breath of fresh air. When these unknown candidates trounce old hands then we see a glimmer of hope. One cannot tell whether these motley crew will uphold their principles, but there is no place for cynicism or doubting Cassandras. We have an option. It is up to us to grab this once in a lifetime opportunity.