In 2012, Kiran Singh Sankhla, then a teenager, witnessed government authorities evict her family, and demolish their makeshift house in west Delhi’s Khyala area. The family had been evicted from temporary accomodations many times, but this eviction was particularly harsh on Sankhla—she was appearing for her tenth-standard examinations at the time. Some of her books went missing during the eviction and some were damaged. “It affected my career badly,” Sankhla, now 23 years old, told me. “Our entire community has been suffering from such evictions,” she added. Sankhla’s family hails from the Gadia Lohar community, a historically nomadic group of blacksmiths with its origins in Rajasthan.
Like many Gadia Lohars in Delhi, Sankhla and her family spent a good part of their lives recovering from such demolitions while they struggled to make ends meet. Some of the challenges they have faced are the basics of everyday life, such as access to toilets and drinking water. “Mainly, male members spent their time in arranging food every day,” Sankhla said. In such a scenario, “who cares about education?” she added. Despite this, Sankhla aspired to become a lawyer while growing up. She studied even “in odd hours, in the light of lamp post.” But Sankhla could not fulfil her dream—she ended up completing a bachelor’s in arts through a correspondence course from the University of Delhi. She told me that she has not come across any other graduate in her community barring herself and a friend, Reena Gadia Lohar, a 25-year-old woman.
In 2018, Reena and Sankhla started participating in a study by the Housing and Land Rights Network, a non-profit organisation, on the Gadia Lohars in Delhi. HLRN surveyed fifty eight settlements of the community, with an estimated population of at least twenty-five thousand. It published a report titled, “Mapping the Marginalized: Delhi’s Gadia Lohar Community,” in September 2019. The report bore out Reena and Sankhla’s lived experiences—it stated that 64 percent of the surveyed Gadia Lohar settlements did not have access to toilets; 44 percent did not have access to schools; and 41.4 percent did not have access to drinking water.