Millennium Post

Discovering multiple layers of Delhi

When I started off a pre-election survey in March this year, for me, Delhi was one colossal city sandwiched between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. By the time I ended (in August), I discovered numerous Delhies. A rural Delhi comprising 364 hamlets, small and large mainly dominated by jats, gurjars and yadavs, marginalised, overshadowed and tamed by a genie they unleashed some decades ago. A Delhi consisting of over a thousand of unauthorised, regularised-on-papers and hoping-to-be-regularised colonies which have outgrown the villages. A Delhi made of 685 slums and 45 jhuggi jhopri (popularly known as JJ) colonies which have mushroomed on land reclaimed and encroached from drains, sanitary landfills, forests, the Yamuna, forts, local civic and land development agencies, roads and railways. I discovered a Delhi which is parched around the year and fights for every single drop of drinking water it receives. I also came across a Delhi which gets inundated every time the Yamuna rises. During the six-month-long mapping of the national capital, I hit upon two Delhies which are at odds with each other. One squelchy, stinking, squeezed and suffering from the lack of most basic amenities; the other living in swanky spaces with abundant resources and best of amenities at their disposal. One which goes dry in scorching summers or is at the mercy of government tankers and private water mafia and the other getting separate supply even for its manicured lawns.

Delhi vs Dilli

The 225 jat villages which are part of Bawana, Narela, Matiala, Bijwasan, Nangloi, Mundka, Najafgarh, Vikaspuri, RK Puram, Timarpur, Mehrauli and other assembly constituencies have become insignificant due to the mushrooming of unauthorised colonies which have sprung up around them. Considered the original settler of Delhi, the community today has no leaders of repute. While the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 made Sajjan Kumar, the ‘tallest’ leader of the Congress in Outer Delhi, a pariah BJP has failed to find a replacement of late Sahib Singh Verma. The villages mainly sustain on tenancy and businesses supported by it. A few of the villages, particularly the ones in Badli assembly constituency – Libaspur, Siraspur and Samaipur – earn their livelihood from godowns they have built and rent out to wholesale shopkeepers in Old Delhi. Migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states who cannot afford expensive apartments find refuge in the villages. Travel through Munirka, Mohammadpur, Basant Gaon (RK Puram), Budhela (Vikaspuri), Shakkarpur (Laxmi Nagar), Kotla (Kasturba Nagar), Keshopur (Tilak Nagar), Khanpur (Ambedkar Nagar) and Begumpur (Malviya Nagar) and you may not even get to see the sky. The balconies of the multi-storied houses on the either side of the streets hug each other. If you have a four-wheeler, either park it outside the village or forget about entering it. Since there is no space for ambulances and fire tenders to move in, the villages can only look up to divine help in case of emergencies. The lanes and by-lanes have narrowed down considerably due to rampant encroachments. The 70 villages of gurjars, whose ancestors hailed from Rajasthan, face a similar problem. In Tehkhand, an urbanised village now hidden behind industries and an upcoming skyscraper, you hear an interesting story about its origin. It is said that three people from Pushkar including one called Tek Chand migrated to Delhi about 700 years ago. While Tek Chand settled down at Tehkhand, the two others made their homes at other places also named after them. I came across many people in Tehkhand who claimed to be Tek Chand’s descendents. The Gurjar villages are part of Chhattarpur, Tughalakabad and other assembly constituencies.

Ironically Tughalakabad is also the place which was cursed to house Gurjars. The story goes that when Mohammad Bin Tughlak, the founder of Tughlak dynasty, was constructing the Tughlakabad fort, he had ordered all labourers of Delhi to chip in. A Muslim saint named Nizumuddin, who was doing some construction at the Nizamuddin dargah, was forced to stop his work. The infuriated saint cursed Tughlak with Ya rahe hissar, ya base gurjar (either the fort will have ruins or house Gurjars). Gurjars are concentrated in and around Chhattarpur, Defence Colony and Okhla. Yadavs have their pockets of influence in Badli and Najafgarh. Tyagis and brahmins, on the other hand, are in good numbers in Burari and Babarpur respectively. About 35 Delhi villages have yadavs as the dominant caste while two each are inhabited mainly by brahmins and tyagis. Kushak village, which once bustled in New Delhi, has a few offsprings (Kushak no. 1 and Kushak no. 2) in Burari assembly constituency. People in these villages claim that their ancestors migrated to the current place when the British decided to build New Delhi around 85 years ago. My only regret is that I could not find descendents of residents of Indrapatta (believed to Pandav’s Indraprastha) village which reportedly existed till the 1930s behind the Purana Qila.

Landless and homeless

What exemplifies rural Delhi’s neglect by political masters is the fact that people in five villages in Delhi have failed to get ownership of their property back even around a century after this right was snatched by British. The residents of Mochi Bagh (in RK Puram constituency), Todapur, Dasghara (Rajender Nagar) and Tahirpur (Seemapuri) have no ownership documents for the houses they live in. All they have are receipts of tax payments they made to the colonial government. People in Tahirpur claim that the British divested them of the ownership after 1857 because they had supported the uprisiging for Independence.

Five other villages in Delhi Cantonment – Jharera, Nangal, Naraina, Mehram Nagar and Prahlad Nagar – are supposed to be built on land leased by Indian defence. To visit Jharera, one needs to either show identity documents to army men deployed at the village entry from cantonment side or take a long detour from the Delhi-Jaipur expressway to reach it. No wonder, one hardly finds any property dealers in and around Cantonment.

Problems plenty

Be it Palam, Tughalakabad, Mehrauli, Begumpur, Chhattarpur or Deoli, the inadequacy of potable drinking water is what troubles the villagers most. The problem is most acute in Palam, Tughalakabad, Deoli and Begumpur. In Begumpur, a historical village in Malviya Nagar constituency, people allege that their water is being diverted to slums located outside the village. In Palam, the water table has plummeted to over 200 feet below the ground. There are villages which are in Delhi but mainly sustain thanks to jobs in Haryana. Accessibility to these is extremely poor and they do not even have high schools. Over the years many places in Delhi have become unlivable due to congestion, traffic jams and commercialisation.

On arrangement with Governance Now
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