Gulpsa, a woman in her twenties, sat on a boundary wall that separated Amir Khusrao Park—situated near the dargah of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi—and the footpath next to the road that ran alongside it. The park was the site of a jhuggi-jhopri cluster—a settlement of temporary houses, which, in this instance, were made of bamboo sticks and tarpaulin sheets. The cluster was home to over 200 families. On 16 May 2017, officials from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) bulldozed the jhuggis. The evicted residents of the Amir Khusrau Park jhuggi-jhopri I spoke to said that it was a Muslim settlement. Many of its residents worked as labourers or hawkers, while some begged for a living.
At around 3 pm that day, as Gulpsa stared silently in the direction of the park, several other women sat amid the rubble of the hundreds of jhuggis that previously lay there. Some of them were wailing. Children jumped on the rubble, from one broken bamboo stick to another, to reach the site where their homes previously stood. Some men were still retrieving their belongings, such as steel boxes, utensils or clothes. When I asked Gulpsa where her home used to be, she indicated its direction with her eyes. “There,” she said, “beside the house of the mullah.” As we spoke, a bulldozer in the park continued to crush the rubble that remained after the demolition.
Several men and women sat on the footpath, surrounded by household objects—including broken almirahs, beds, utensils, stoves, gas cylinders and televisions. Nearby, police officers wearing protective gear were stationed with two riot-control police vehicles parked along the footpath.
A fire engine had been brought to the scene to douse a fire that broke out in the jhuggis earlier that day. According to the residents I spoke to, it was the police that was responsible for the fire. Gulpsa said the police beat up her father and mother when they had resisted demolition of their home. “They did not give us any time,” she added. “The police set the house on fire.” All the evicted people I spoke to repeated that the police had set fire to the jhuggis.
Outside the park on the southern side, a woman sat on a bed with her feet touching the footpath. An infant lay next to her on the bed. The sun was harsh that day and the bed was not protected by any shade. Her husband sat nearby on the footpath.“We don’t know where to go,” Sohail, her husband, told me. “We have nowhere to live but this footpath.”