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Slum society conflict

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By Sidharth Mishra

The 'maid raid' in Sector 78 Noida last week, where domestic helps laid siege to an upmarket housing complex, brought rushing back memories of similar incidents which I have encountered in a nearly quarter-of-a-century-long career as a reporter. The first memory is a rather hilarious one. There was to be a slum camp in Kusumpur Pahadi in South-West district of Delhi close to Vasant Vihar. During one of the demolition drives, the Pahadi residents were shifted to a rehabilitation colony quite far away. I recall a reporter coming with an amusing story the very next day. The bungalows in Vasant Vihar went without cleaning and stoves in the kitchens did not burn as all the maids and cooks had been carted away in the demolition drive. News reports the day after the Noida incident mentioned that the apartments decided to put off their kitchen fire but not let the maids in until those guilty of violence were identified.

Before I move to a harsher and sadder story, let me quickly recapitulate the Noida incident for you, as it has unfolded so far. A maid working in a house in an apartment block stole money. She was caught. She owned up asking the amount be adjusted against her payments. Her employer said that she will tell others also, meaning where all she worked and also the security that she was caught stealing as employing somebody with a bad record can be dangerous.
This scared the maid, who ran away, informed her husband and hid in somebody else's house in the apartment block. When she did not return, the husband, who is alleged to be fully in the know of facts, rustled up a crowd, vandalised the society, and alleged that his wife was beaten up by the owners. The police registered the case by both the parties but found on medical examination that she wasn't beaten up. This story has been given a rich versus poor twist by some like Swati Maliwal, who dispatched an official team of the Delhi Commission for Women to look into the matter where she has no jurisdiction. NGOs of similar interest have also taken up the case on behalf of the maid. On the other hand, right-wing groups have pointed that the slum dwellers are Bangladeshi migrants, who now frequently find mention in the crime bulletins of Noida police. The maids from the nearby slum laying siege of the apartment block, however, has once again raised the question of poor-rich conflict, as had risen when a dentist Dr Pankaj Narang was pulled out of his house and lynched in west Delhi sometime back. Why are Delhi and its suburbs becoming a venue for such incidents? Delhi-NCR remains the El Dorado for several of us. And in seeking our fortune we are often overcome with frustration. The large numbers of migrants coming to Delhi come to the megapolis with dreams for prosperity, to improve their economic and social standards. Talking of American Dreams, Leara D Rhodes, who teaches Journalism at the University of Georgia, made an interesting interpretation which can also be replicated in the Indian context. In her book "The Ethnic Press: Shaping the American Dream" (Peter Lang Publishing; 2010), Rhodes says, "The Dream includes the opportunity for a career without artificial barriers." We have slums inhabited by those uprooted from their social grounds, by school dropouts taking to various vocations, not necessarily crime, in search of quick prosperity. When we have young minds in plenty who are not properly mentored or educated but looking for prosperity, we also have frustrated souls in equal numbers. Without condoning the crime committed in Noida, we would have to concede that such frustrated young minds lead to the situations of conflict, mostly social. A few years back, a roughly-driven taxi had scraped past my vehicle and my driver just about managed to avoid a crash. We overtook the taxi, brought it to a halt and were taking the driver to task when suddenly a crowd emerged from nowhere in defence of the driver. In fact, we were held hostage before a police van came to rescue us. As I wondered where the crowd came from, my driver pointed to a slum nearby. I was not amazed at the aggression of the slum dwellers but the fellowship of the poor. The big question facing the society is how to control this social conflict and anger in the slums. Certainly not by subsidising the water and power supplies with an eye for easy electoral harvests. The successive governments have followed a flawed policy towards the rehabilitation of the slums. The focus of the policy so far has been to shift people with their habitat from a prime location to a less prime site. Thereafter pamper them with subsidies and create a vote bank. So do we let the slums remain and add to the metropolitan misery? Not the least. The policies should be such that people on their volition move out of the slums leaving these ghettos deserted. Such social empowerment would not come through policies of subsidy but a push for development. A case in point is Delhi Metro. It has acted as an engine of development. Wherever it has gone it has created social and economic energy. Thanks to the Delhi Metro, Seelampur and Welcome are no more distant god-forsaken colonies in Delhi's underbelly. A lot of business activity is visible in the area. Police records could vouch for the shrunken crime graph. To view the Noida incident merely as a rich-poor conflict would be incorrect. As a longtime friend from the profession mentioned, "generalisation doesn't work in real social life. A rich can be noble-hearted, a poor can be a crook and vice-versa. Study the facts of the case and judge by it." 
(Sidharth Mishra is Editor, CapitalKhabar)

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