“They called us dogs, treated us like animals. In an hour’s time, they turned our land into a graveyard,” said Ulfath Jaffar. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she narrated her story. Ulfath is a mother of four children; her husband was an auto driver. She stayed along with her mother and 1600 other families in Ejipura, until that fateful day. Her house was torn down, her family split, her belongings lost, in one day her life changed drastically.
Carrying her daughter in her arms, she explained that her family was living there for 120 years. She was born and raised in that same place. “I am a tenant, I have a voter’s id, Adhar card, all issued in the same address. Unfortunately I was not given the house papers because I did not have money. The leaders made the papers in someone else’s name in front of me just because he paid them 5000 rupees. They did not even let me make a bio metric card. We have been cheated by everybody.”
Ulfath works as a sales woman at a cloth shop, her mother as a maid. Like any normal human being she says she too has dreams, she would like her children to study and stand on their own feet. “I am poor and uneducated but I do not want my children to see the same life. They were all going to school, but now we are stranded, we have no place to go, no roof over our head, I feel helpless,” she cried.
People gathered around us, eager to tell their story. They wanted their voice to be heard. Ulfath could not speak but the pain in her eyes spoke loud enough. The moments of silence was broken by the voices of the people around. Strangely there was no one consoling her, they all abused the political leaders, called them every name in the book, but nobody even rubbed her back. It was a group of angry, frustrated, hurt and most of all broken people, who had lost all hope and had nothing but their voices to support them.
“The media reports facts; everybody knows that we have lost our houses, they know of the bulldozers mowing our houses down but who really knows what we are going through? Until somebody comes and throws you out of your house and leaves you lying on the footpath, you really wouldn’t know our pain,” said Pande, one of the former residents at Ejipura.
Gaining her strength Ulfath spoke again. The past few months have been frightening for each one of us, she said. We abuse our leaders because they broke our trust. We had faith in them but all they cared for was their life and their money. Being deserted and helpless is one thing, being hurt and betrayed is another. I do not see even a slightest ray of hope.
“I do not know what my rights are, I do not know the things the government speaks of. All I know is, I have been wronged. It wasn’t a doll house that they brought down, we are human beings and those ‘so called’ tents that they destroyed, were our houses.”
That afternoon Ulfath had gone to work, she returned back after a hard day’s labour only to find bulldozers tearing down the houses. Her first reaction she said was that of panic. “I looked for my children, people were screaming, the police were beating everybody irrespective of whether they were men or women. I went in, my house was already broken, I ran to my brother in law’s house. He is handicapped, he cannot walk. The police were dragging him. I stopped them, and told them that he could not walk and that I would take him out. They did not heed to my requests, I had no other go, I yelled at them. They hit me on my hands and legs and lifted my brother in law and threw him down, they then dragged him and threw him out. I did not know how to react, I was shocked at their heartless behaviour, sad that I had to go through something like this and angry at everybody around,” she said fuming as she recollected the brutal incidents that had occurred.
She also said that her sister in law’s hand was swollen by the way the police beat her. Everyone who tried to resist the cops got a good whacking she said. After a while people got scared, nobody tried to go against the police.
“I turned only to find my children taking shelter at the petrol bunk. There were many children there. All of them were frightened. I went to them and asked if they were alright. All thanks to Allah they were fine. The cops did not hit the children,” she said.
Syed Fardeen is Ulfath’s eldest son. The nine year old volunteered to talk when he heard his mother describing the scene. He said everybody were running hither and thither, his siblings and he were bawling not knowing what to do. “I held my younger sister’s hand and ran towards the petrol bunk, I wanted my mummy but she was at work so we sat and waited for her on the steps. There were many other children with me but I was still scared. My house was broken, I kept thinking, where would we stay after this.”
Ulfath called her husband, Syed Jaffar. He sat with his head down, and said “I was angered by what I saw. I did not want my children to sleep on the footpath. I took out the top covering of the auto and covered them. The next day my auto owner found out about what had happened, he took the auto away. He did not think twice about me or my family. My children and many others took refuge inside a huge pipe. It was a gutter, we found it difficult to breathe. There were a lot of people inside, it was suffocating. My son fell ill because of the dust and the bad conditions in which we stayed. We could not take him to the hospital because we did not have money. We lived like that for 9 days until somebody told us about a place in Sarjapur and I came here.”
Describing the whole situation she said that the entire 15 acres of land on which their homes stood was now ruined. Fences were built around the land in a few hours and all the people were warned to stay 100feet away from the fence. “They treated us like animals, when food was being distributed to us the MLA called us dogs and said why are you distributing food to these dogs. If you give them food, they will not leave this place. Treat them how they must be treated he told the police,” we were all a witness to it said the others as Ulfath spoke.
Ulfath’s family has split her mother stays in the servant quarters at her employer’s house. I was curious to know how Ulfath and her family came to Sarjapur road, when I asked her she replied, “None of the government officials told us about this place. Some of the people who saw how miserable our condition was, informed us about the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) Quarters at Sarjapur Road. The mosque was giving money to Muslim families. Each one was given a coupon and on display of the coupon, money was provided. I received 5000 rupees. At that time the expenses were too much, all the money was spent on travel, food and other basic necessities. Now I do not have a penny in my pocket.”
Jaffar has been trying to look out for a job, if he does not go to work the family will starve. He says that though all he knows is to drive an auto, he is ready to do any kind of job for his family. He is trying his luck everywhere but hasn’t got a job yet. “I want my children to go back to school, at no cost do I want them to suffer. If they study they will not have to face the kind of life I am facing. They can be happy.”Even as the family moved to Sarjapur they encountered a lot of problems. Truck drivers and Lorry drivers were dropping us off for free, she said. “Many of us lost our vessels during the demolition. I lost 7000 rupee worth of belongings, there were a few things that I carried along but was stolen on the way. I realised that by sitting in Ejipura and crying, I wouldn’t get my house back. So we decided to move on and start doing what we have to. Only when I came here did I realise that there is no hope.”
Jaffar said that the thought of his future scares him, every time he thinks of tomorrow, a million thoughts cross his mind, a million questions for which he would never get answers. “I have lost all faith in humanity. There is no one who would help us, no one we can trust. Everybody we once looked up to and trusted be it the leaders who made false promises of giving our houses back or our religious leaders or the people around, everyone is selfish. We feel betrayed and lonely. It’s a huge world out there yet our world is so different, homeless and helpless,” he added.
Talking about the future, Ulfath looked up towards the sky and said that it is only hope that is keeping them alive. Hope of a better tomorrow, faith that god can do miracles. But then again after a long pause, she looked at her daughter and said, “If things still don’t get better, we have only one option. We will take poison and die. I’d rather die than live a life like this. Full of pain, fear and anger. People don’t cry anymore because their tears have dried up. Life has taught us so many things.”
At the end of our conversation, one lady tapped me on my knee, I turned to look at her. She introduced herself, her name was Fathima. She asked me you heard our story, you recorded our conversation, will this help us? So many people have written about this issue, will your writing bring a difference? I was speechless, I had no words to say and then I replied, “It is not my writing that would bring a difference to your life, it is your story, your truth that would make the change. I believe, humanity hasn’t died away. There is still a streak of hope.” I did not want to tell them to hang on or to be optimistic because no one could replace their loss. As they rightly said, until you stand in their shoes, you will really never know their pain.
As I got up to bid goodbye, I overheard a one woman saying, “We cannot help it, after all it is our fate. I only hope God does not abandon us.” Her words struck me deeply, the pain I saw in their eyes, their distrust towards the system and the aura of hopelessness that surrounded them brought out the dual face of our society.
It was then that a thought struck my mind, “They say it is god who writes our fate. But who really writes the fate of the poor, is it the government? Is it the media? Is it the corporate world? Who really writes their fate? I wonder…”
This story should have garnered far more attention that it has. This article was written for a book that was on the stories of those who were brutally evacuated in Ejipura. The project was dropped in between, but I sent it across to the Tabor Kirana. If you have anything to say or would like to know more, you can send me an email.
The article was originally published in The Tabor Kirana.