“If we go or we don’t go, what problem do you have? Have we beaten up people, have we murdered, have we robbed, has anyone complained as such? Show us such a complaint?” Ramchander calmly asks the police, who have picked him up late in the night between 1 and 2 am. There have been constant police patrols in the vicinity. On this night, when Ramchander has been illegally detained, the police have only one question for him and his community: When are they going to pack up their belongings and leave? Living on a small patch of land in Agarwadi, near Mankhurd, for the past 22 years and now facing forceful eviction, justice seems to be just out of their reach.
The homeless community residing in Agarwadi came to Mumbai way back in 1984. They belong to Buriya Jangam and Mashir Jogi communities from Karnataka and Maharashtra respectively. Originally artisans and theatre performers, they left their old professions for labour work to make ends meet. Around 1992, they shifted to Agarwadi once they received a contract to work on the building as well as the barricade walls of the Children’s Aid Society. Not having been paid their dues, they decided to stay back in the vicinity. The current group consists of 113 persons, of which 18 are employed in informal contract work at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). The community is organized under the leadership of Ramchander.
In the past eight to ten months, Ramchander and members of his community have been picked up illegally by the police several times. A banquet hall is to be constructed on the land next to the where the community resides. The banquet hall owner, not wanting his establishment to look aesthetically displeasing, complained to the police for the removal of the makeshift homes the community were residing in. In August, early in the morning, the Municipality with the help of the police, without prior notice engaged in a planned eviction of the community. Their homes were systematically dismantled and shuffled away in a truck. They were thrown out on to the pavement.
The land they were living on is fenced and beautified by plants and grass. All this takes place within hours. Private security is hired to ensure they do not return. A CCTV camera is installed, ensuring 24/7 surveillance of the community. Later on, eight women and eight men are rounded up by the police. The pretext, that they’re to be questioned by seniors back at the police station. Instead, they’re detained illegally for five to six hours. The police proceed to charge them with “gandegi failana“(Spreading dirt). Each person under detention is fined Rs. 1,200. The community pool in money from their meagre savings and through credit taken from their employers pay up the fine. Afterwards, they’re told by the police that the money is refundable at Kurla court. At Kurla, an entire day is wasted. No money is refunded. Instead they receive a receipt for the fine they have paid. Five hundred rupees shorter from travel expenses, a sudden realization dawns that they’re fighting an uphill battle.
The photographs revolve around the community and the students of TISS who have been actively involved in helping the community resist in several small ways — from spreading awareness through the media to taking up their cause with the human rights commission and the Municipality. These photographs depict the struggle of the community as they move their whole world to a small patch of pavement, having been evicted from the small strip of land they used to reside on.