Slum destruction leaves thousands on the street

 
For the past five days, thousands of people in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, have been living under the open sky, with no food, clean water, or shelter from the nightly rains. They have been evicted from a large section of Karail, one of the city’s sprawling slums and the government has no plans to help relocate them.
 
On April 4, bulldozers razed over one thousand homes, less than a day after authorities came by with megaphones to warn the slum dwellers. Many of them were taken by surprise; slum dwellers say one small child was killed. NGOs say that this is because the authorities had told residents that they would only be clearing homes within 15 feet of a sidewalk, but ended up destroying much more.
 
Poor people have been living in the Karail slum for over 30 years. Local organisations estimate that about 300,000 people lived there before this partial eviction; they believe between 4,000 and 5,000 have had to leave. The land belongs to three government organisations, and is slated for the development of a technology hub. In January, a high court ordered the slum dwellers’ eviction.
 
The day after the eviction, hundreds of slum dwellers took to the streets in protest, blocking traffic on heavily-frequented roads. This prompted the authorities to say they would stop razing the slum for the meantime, but they did not say if and when they would resume.
 
Slum dwellers try to salvage their possessions as bulldozers destroy their homes on April 4.
Contributors

“Because of the rains, many people are getting sick”

Korvi Rakshand is the founder of Jaago, an organisation that works for the welfare of children in the Karail slum.
 
As soon as I heard the news, I rushed to Karail. The bulldozers had already done their damage. Residents told me a child had been killed, so I rushed to the house where the family lived. The father, I learned, is a fruit vendor. Their neighbours told me he and his wife had already left for their home village to bury the child’s body there. Residents reported four more children missing; none have yet been found.
 
A lot of people thought their homes wouldn’t be affected, so they went to work as usual. They came back and found everything destroyed. Understandably distraught, half of them stayed to try to protect what was left and the other half went out on the streets to hold a silent protest. The local media barely covered the whole incident, except to say that the protesters were blocking traffic and keeping students from going to take their exams, scheduled that day. Well, what they didn’t say was that there were lots of students living in Karail, too, and that they had bigger problems – they no longer had a roof over their head.
 
“It’s inhuman to simply cast people out with no plans to help relocate them”
 
Some of the evicted people were able to relocate in other parts of the slum with relatives whose homes weren’t destroyed, but for the most part they’re now living out on the street. Because of the rains, many people are getting sick. For the past five days, volunteers have been feeding thousands every day. Several organisations are also handing out tents and offering free legal representation. But we all have limited means; this can’t last forever. And when we stop helping them out, these people are going to go out into the city and beg, steal, do whatever they have to in order to survive.
 
Sure, people complain that there are criminal activities, such as drug-dealing going on in the slums. This is true, as it is in any poor community. And mafias collect the rents paid by the slum dwellers. But slum dwellers also keep the city running – they are taxi drivers, cleaners, security guards, street vendors. The government doesn’t seem to understand that these people have jobs and can’t just all go back to the villages they once came from – we need this people. It’s inhuman to simply cast them out with no plans to help relocate them. This will just create more crime.
 
Former slum dwellers, now homeless, line up for food.
 
More lines for free food.
 
A volunteer medic administering first aid. All photos courtesy of our Observer, Korvi Rakshand.
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