Post-independence, several dams, highways and factories have been set up in our country. We deem them ‘indicators of development’. But whatever happened to the people who lost their land and livelihood to these developmental projects? These people who, until recently, had mastered the skills of herding cattle, farming, devising means to protect their lives from flood or drought have abruptly lost their expertise. All because their lands were acquired overnight for developmental projects.
The ‘compensation’ given to these people is minuscule and barely lasts. Once landowners, they are pushed to find newer means of livelihood. The situation of landless Dalit farm labourers is even worse. They are left with neither compensation nor a livelihood, compelling them to migrate to cities. The worst affected, however, are forest-dwelling tribes, who follow ‘community land ownership’.
If their land is acquired, it is a herculean task to get even that minuscule compensation for lack of ownership documents. However, things have improved after ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’. Developmental activities over the last 73 years have snatched land and means of livelihood of crores of citizen rendering them homeless. The beggars you see in big cities, the families that sleep under a flyover or people in slums are the same people who have lost their land and livelihood to ‘indicators of development’.
Mainstream mindset mistakes them for folks who have come to big cities for its ‘developed’ status, but these are the people who have paid the highest price for the development of Independent India -- development that rendered them homeless. Post-Independence, we have forgotten all about human development and only think of economic development. Increasing slums are a direct result of this narrative.
We ensure basic infrastructure to those who complete their studies and find a job and arrive in cities. But what have we built for the people who build our cities and maintain them? Although they have been living in cities for more than one generation, they continue to live in inhuman, undignified conditions. On one hand, oppressed communities are being rendered landless and jobless in villages, and on the other, their helplessness is exploited to force them into labour for developmental activities.
Those sucked into this vicious cycle are unmistakeably Dalits, most backward classes or tribals. We have to reskill people who have already lost and continue to lose their land, livelihood and skills. Apart from restructuring our urban society into a space where everything is affordable to everyone, making higher-level education free and mandatory for their children will perhaps save at least the next generation from poverty.
The author is Editor of Slum Jagattu magazine