City Inside City: Depending On Garbage!

Darbhanga city is not one! Then, one city reflects the rule of the king and has a fort-like palace or structures symbolising European artistry. The other city Laheriasarai where there exists a government office, market, hospital, bus-stand, series of shops for selling spare parts required for four-stroke bikes – all mundane necessities for regular survival. Also, there is a sad statue of Gandhiji. “You will surely miss the train if you see this statue on the way to station”, says my local friend.

But Laheriasarai has more cities. In front of the TV center power house, 80-85 dalit families reside in the slum of Alpatti. Some of the residents lost everything in the flood of Bagmati and Koshi rivers. The villages of Darbhanga face flood every year. The dead bodies of unidentified people or cattle drift in the flood. People who have land return to their villages for sowing. But dalits do not have any land. So they do not have any reason to go back. They migrated to cities. Some people of the slum in front of the power house, came for sweepers’ jobs which were accepted in the Maithili society. But the majority of the inhabitants of the slum do not remember the reason for their migration. They only know that they migrated.

Series of rooms or huts and all of them are attached to one another. The roofs of those rooms are nothing but the polythene sheets or tarpaulin. The walls are not made of cement and sand but built with anything available to somehow manage a demarcation.

“Do you have any electric connection”? To this, Harikishore Paswan, a 'resident' of the slum, told, that the angry eyes of the municipality officials, police and sometimes even bulldozers constantly stare at them. “In this background, electric connection is just day-dreaming”, he said. Often 'people' shout that these slums are encroachments on the government land or they say that these slum-dwellers are thieves and snatchers. “If there are two thieves among the four hundred people of the slum is it justified to evict”? Asks Harikishore. He offers ‘private tuitions’ even beyond the slum and treats common diseases in the slum.

Fortunately there is a drain in the backside of the slum. Small potholes have been created around the drain with knee-level enclosing – frames made of bamboo-straw. These are the toilets. Just a flash with a mug of water and it will be cleared. And who cares if these are dirty? Even the women have to use these ‘toilets’. The tube-well is situated 300 meters away. That too is not for the slum dwellers and is situated within another locality. The slum-dwellers have to get their drinking water from there. Not a day goes without a quarrel with each other.

Dukhini Devi and Sita Shaw work as sweepers in the ‘big houses’. Saraswati Devi works as a nurse-mother – “poor nurse-mother of the poor slums”, she herself says. But the children of the slum have been admitted to a school. Harikishore laments that only two litres of kerosene per month is so inadequate. The price of kerosene is Rs. 50/- per litre in the market. “You can manage with less chapattis, but cannot manage anything in dark”, says Harikishore. Nathni Shaw supports Harikishore, who talks to me with folded hands because he was talking to a ‘gentleman’ or a 'bhoddorlok'. Another inhuman practice taught to them as a tradition that needs to be practised in order to survive.

The garbage around the city is their reliance. Betagami Pokhra dalit slum, with almost 250 huts, is much bigger than the power house dalit slum. You can hardly identify the existence of services provided by the municipality there. These slum dwellers are called for cleaning of this huge garbage. “jitni janjal utni kaam, uohi bharsa, ram ram” (regularity of job depends on the volume of garbage), says a boy whose name I’ve forgotten.

They too dwell with the regular threat of eviction. Seven years back a fire suddenly broke out in the power house slum. But they doused its spread. These days, police and anti-socials are regularly coming to the slum. They ill-behave with the ladies and in this instance, obviously forget to keep distance from the dalits. The dwellers think that the frequent visit of anti-socials is an indication of the existence of businessmen behind them. Their eviction will satisfy the business interests. The unending hunger of the market tries to swallow them. Their battle of existence is a daily affair since 2001.

Only one political party supports this battle fought by Harikishore and his like. They are not very well organised in Laheriasarai, but they exist. They come with red flag whenever the bulldozers appear and resolutely stand in front of that.

Is this only the story of Laheriasarai? Or does it resemble Kolkata, Mumbai or any other in India?