The Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath’s Diwali-eve carnival in Ayodhya has rendered over a thousand people, including about 400 sadhus, homeless. On 6 November, the state government held a mega fete of lights and cultural events on the ghats of the Sarayu River, with a high-profile guest list comprising the governor Ram Naik, Adityanath and South Korea’s first lady Kim Jung-sook, with almost the entire state cabinet in attendance. An eviction drive was conducted along the route to the venue, ostensibly to clean-up the area and improve security for the prominent guests. The victims of this clean-up—mostly daily-wagers or sadhus—have lived in Ayodhya’s Manjha area, the local name for the catchment of the Sarayu, for decades.
The ruthless manner of the demolition has left hundreds of families—with children and old members—and sadhus roofless. “The first lot of bulldozers in the area came along with a large number of police force about fifteen days back,” a sadhu, Shankar Das, said. Das came to Ayodhya as a karsevak in December 1992, when the Babri masjid was demolished, and has been living in Manjha ever since. Das told me that the demolitions continued till 5 November and that “we were not even given time to remove our belongings. Those who resisted were badly beaten up and taken into custody.” Shivprayag Giri, another sadhu who became Adityanath’s victim, told me that around 400 sadhus have been living in the Manjha area. “Some of them came in 1992 and stayed back thinking they would one day participate in the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya while others settled in this area because they had no other place to stay,” Giri said.
Rekha Devi, a daily-wage earner from the slum, said the local administration “told us that we had to go because we were a security risk and made the view dirty.” Devi lives in Manjha with her octogenarian mother-in-law, a handicapped husband and three children between one and five years of age. “We prayed to them but they did not stop,” she added. “There is nowhere we can go now. We are dirty because we are poor but I don’t know how we can be a threat to anyone.” Her husband, Bhagwat Prasad, was beaten up by the police when he sought some time to make an alternative arrangement for his family. “A police constable slapped on my face the moment I asked for some time,” he recounted. “Then he dragged me to his officer who told me: ‘If you don’t leave immediately, I will put all of you in jail.’”