Feature: “Houses will soon be bulldozed”: Dalits in UP villages in constant fear

Waquar Hasan

Kalawati, a widow mother of three children, is worried for her home and three children for the last some weeks. Weeks ago, a senior official from Chitrakoot Karvi’s Nagarpalika threatened to run bulldozers on the houses of her colony if they don’t vacate the area.

She was distressed when 20 days ago, an official came and orally informed the residents of her colony Bust Stand, Karvi Super Market that all of their homes will be bulldozed by 20 June. Since then, 12 families from Dalit community are meeting the administrations and showing the documents of their land.

“When we were told about the demolitions, we were distressed about where we go from here…We assumed that since we are living here for decades, we would not face any such situation that we would be asked to vacate the place even orally,” said Kalawati talking to this correspondent.

Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh has adopted the controversial policies to bulldoze houses declaring them “illegal” and “encroachment”. This policy has come under severe criticism as the demolition drive was carried out without following due process of the law. The bulldozer policy also came under fire because the government used it to punish the dissenters and the protesters, specially from those who belong to Muslim community.

Most recently, the bulldozing of Muslim student activist Afreen Fatima’s house by the Prayagraj administration over her father Mohammed Javed ’s role in protest against Nupur Sharma’s prophet remarks has drawn national outrage and international criticism. However, the government is undeterred by the criticism and continues to follow the bulldozer policy. The latest victims are 12 Dalit families in Chtrakoot. They have been running pillar to post to save their homes from the administration’s bulldozer.

Land ownership

Residents of the colony said that they have all the documents related to the land and they have been paying taxes for the land and they have receipts of it which the residents submitted to the concerned authorities. The villagers have also paid the charges for the freehold land.

Freehold land is the one which is free from hold of any entity besides the owner. Hence, the owner of such land enjoys free ownership for perpetuity and can use the land for any purposes however in accordance with the local regulations.

According to Kalawati, they were allotted the land by the government for living in 1976. Around 80 residents, who are from scheduled castes, have been living there since then. They were getting receipts for the land from then till 2018. In 2018, the official stopped giving them receipts.

“We have allotment and other kinds of receipts related to the land. Once, we had also paid charges of freehold but there is no record of it. However, we have all records related to the land till today. We have receipts of the land from 1976. We have shown these documents to the Nagarpalika officials and wherever we had gone with our complaint,” she said.

Administration’s Response

After the Dalit residents were asked to vacate the place, the residents first went to the Tehsil Samadhan Diwas where the administration listened to the grievances of the people.

The complaint filed on 18 June under subject line “In relation to make we people of SC castes homeless” was signed by nine residents of the colony. In the complaint, they said that they have been living in the area since 1976 and have been paying tax to the Nagar Palika till 2018. They have also submitted freehold charges of the land as per the rule regulations. The receipts of these payments were submitted along with the complaint.

After hearing their complaint, the residents were sent to the Nagar Palika where they met the Executive Officer (EO). The officer told them that if they are living for such a long, they would not be removed from there. But the officer also said that he would hold a meeting with them in this regard.

After the meeting with the EO, Vicky, a resident of the colony, feels relieved that their houses will not be bulldozed now.

“The officials were unaware of the legal status of the land. That’s why they asked the residents to vacate the land.  However, when we met the higher officials, they had assured us that their house will not be demolished,” said Vicky.

“The official might have thought that it’s clusters. It might be encroachment,” he said.

According to Vicky, a work of beautification is underway in his area. A park is being built behind their colony.

There are some houses on the way which creates trouble in the transportation. The owners of those houses were asked to vacate. In the process, the houses of his colony were also asked to vacate. Now since those houses were removed from the pathway and the colony’s houses were left, Vicky thinks that now, their houses will not be demolished.

When Maktoob contacted Chitrakoot Karvi SDM Pooja Yadav, she said that the administration is expanding the road width in the area. In this process, if any house will come in the way, those houses will be removed to carry out development activities. She also clarified that all the houses of the area will not be removed. Only those houses which will come in the way of expanding the road will be removed.

“These activities are being carried out by the Nagar Palika,” she said, adding that if all families are feeling threatened, they should meet the Nagar Palika officials and show their land documents.

Fear of losing homes looms

However, Dalit residents are still fearful that their house can be demolished at any point of time. They are waiting for the meeting which the EO talked about doing with them. They are planning that if the EO does not call the meeting, they would go to him on their own.

“We are currently very worried unless the admin does not start to cut the receipt again… even after the assurance, I feel like losing my house. The thought of losing home troubles. We are living at the edge. We hear about the postponement of the demolition drive. The first deadline was 20 June, the second 31 July and the third one is 7 July. We don’t know that these are official dates or rumors,” said Kalawti.

All residents are from Chamar caste. Most of them are the cobbler who repairs shoes and chappals at the footpath. A few of them are also doing business such as Vicky. Kalawati is a social worker who has been working on women issues for the last 15 years. She is doing the work on the fellowship. She said she also makes people aware about their constitutional rights. Kalawati lost her husband to a TB two years ago. Courtesy Maktoob Media

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