I hear people using words like “evacuation” or “eviction” when describing what is happening in Ejipura. But it’s neither. People are not being rescued from a natural disaster. People are being kicked out of their homes for being delinquent with their rent. They are being forcibly removed, dispossessed, uprooted. They are being uprooted like the trees the bulldozers tore down yesterday along with the homes, trees that are now serving as firewood to keep families warm at night.
When I returned to Ejipura this morning it was even more of a wasteland because the bulldozers flattened so much of the land. Families were searching for apartments to rent. On average they need 10,000 rupees (less than $100) as a security deposit. But by day’s end it turned out that some of the people they rented from did not actually own the apartments they rented and 30 families were locked out from housing once again in a nearby area.
The last family holding out yesterday, hoping the bulldozer would somehow skirt around their home or postpone demolishing it was gone by morning. When I left yesterday evening they were the last house on the edge of the plot of land. Today they were gone. I saw the elder matriarch in the street asking for blankets–they relocated on the outskirt of the slum.
After breakfast was distributed we delivered tea to the remaining families. One woman approached me with her son. She is a widow and cleans people’s homes for a living, but the woman she normally works for has been on vacation so she has no money. She said she wished she had poison to serve her small family instead of lunch.
There were some dirt barricades created between the slum and the street today that the bulldozers obviously made. It impeded passage between the various families who had been removed and made distributing food, water, and blankets more challenging. By evening when we passed out dinner it was even harder. On the previous days auto rickshaws were filled up with the food parcels and delivered directly to the families. By evening there were so many more barricades inside the area that this became more difficult. And at one end of the slum there was a police barricade with a policeman standing guard.
I met a doctor tonight who lives in the area and who knows this community. She described them as typically quite healthy. But in the last few days a number of health problems began to emerge. There are now cases of diarrhea, hepatitis, and jaundice. There are problems with thyroid and blood pressure because people lost or are not taking their medications. And respiratory infections are increasing, possibly because people are exposed to the cold night air and inhaling so much smoke from the fires burning at night in order to stay warm and have some light. Girls are not eating and drinking because there is no place for them to go to the toilet. Men are taking their frustrations out on their wives. Some families have had their belongings stolen. Some husbands are selling family belongings even though their wives are opposed to it.
And one of the worst stories I heard today is that some police stole blankets from families last night. They also threatened other families, saying that if they accepted blankets from us they would be arrested.
In the midst of all of this politicians and businessmen continue to play political football with people’s lives. Supposedly there are funds for helping families relocate and get settled in the government, but those funds have gone missing somewhere between the government and a politician’s pocket.