Gurgaon’s jhuggis: Do the poor deserve a life of constant insecurity? Sep 28, 2012
Everything about Gurgaon is unique. It is a city that thrives on being different and often that difference is about a lack of empathy. There is this brazen, wannabe streak here that is disturbing. So many of us live here and continue to not see its underbelly.
Why this sudden negativity? Well, I just spent the evening driving around town touring it’s shanty settlements. Jhuggis that existed a few months ago we found barely a trace of. This was the jhuggi we had helped rehabilitate after a fire burnt it down. Turns out the owners, two brothers, quarrelled and the jhuggi was asked to be pulled down. Another site where a large jhuggi settlement had been disbanded in 2010 before the Commonwealth Games was now the scene of much excavating and concrete pouring. Makes one wonder about how the lives of the poor migrants in this city are putty in the hands of politicians, land owners and builders, a lot of the times working hand in glove with each other. And certainly all on the same side.
How do these people deal with these tremendous uncertainties? Especially those migrants that work as domestic help and I have encountered many families in which the wife swabs and sweeps in homes while the man washes cars or sweeps roads.
The construction labor seem to live in contractor-built shanties. These are dismantled once the building is complete and the workers move to a new site. Even so, there are many amenities they simply go without and they continue to dream a future of prosperity for their children in situations when they cannot even send them to school! Yet, they smile and welcome us into their jhuggis. They apologise for not having chairs, they talk to us with a sense of dignity. These are people poor in resources but scarcely poor in culture or etiquette. They do not deserve to live like this.
How much we take for granted something as basic as shelter. It’s because we have a relatively permanent address and quality housing that we remain largely healthy, our belongings remain safe, our kids go to reputed schools and are able to study well and sleep in peace. Even with our nation firmly rooted onto a path of capitalistic growth, I do believe there are some basic needs the state and society must strive to provide, in whatever way. So the poor have opportunity to exit the trap of poverty and despair.
As the research for my fellowship commences, I find myself part excited and part scared by the many truths I will discover, the many voices I will hear. I hope to, and this is a tall order, find some reasonable ways to deal with migrant housing for a city like Gurgaon. I hope to build a case for inclusiveness.