All that land in Bombay is ours. Just beyond Wadala Bridge, Bombay Port Trust Road, that land belonged to my great grandfather and the great grandfathers of most of the people here.
Over 10,000 people marched and blocked roads on New Year in Mumbai. They seemed to be almost invisible though they held a 10-day sit-in at Azad Maidan, as media coverage was parsimonious, perhaps because they represent no political party or ideology. What they want is a roof over their heads, a practical but, to a media fed on mega corruption scandals, a mundane ambition.
The protests remained civilised as delegations politely marched into offices, and finally persuaded the state government to act, though it offered nothing in writing initially. So the protestors left Azad Maidan at the end of 10 days with token promises.
Among the people they represent the reaction was one of muted disappointment, but the protesters have vowed to intensify the struggle in a way that neither the media nor the state can ignore in future: by occupying Mantralaya, Maharashtra’s administrative nerve centre.
The genesis of their grievance goes back to 2004-2005, when the state government demolished over 80,000 homes. On January 1, the victims of that demolition drive decided to march on Mantralaya to demand a right to housing under the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana.
This is the principal aim of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, born in the slum of Mandala, in Govandi, but it has also taken up the cause of working class and middle-class people in their battle against controversial redevelopment projects. It exposed the Adarsh scam, and recently filed complaints against 15 judges and government officials involved in the Nyasagar Co-operative Housing society. The office of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had changed the status of a plot of land meant for the dispossessed, and handed it over to the judges.
This is an impressive record but it becomes more impressive on a closer look. Most Andolan leaders have a day job. These are people who have become activists because there is no one else. The best leaders are often the product of crisis and for these people there couldn’t be a worse one than the threat of homelessness held out by Mumbai’s widespread slum demolition programme.
The crisis has thus become an occasion for a process of empowerment that could prove deeply subversive to Mumbai’s ruling class.