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Spa centres, glistening houses, and luxury shops at Majnu Ka Teela? Hindu refugees from Pakistan in Delhi served eviction notices

The notice orders all these Hindu refugees from Pakistan to shift to Geeta Colony and three different rain shelters in Dwarka, Delhi, once again forcing them to start their lives again from the scratch after having weathered the religious persecution in Pakistan and living in abject poverty in slums in Majnu Ka Teela.

In 2012, a case was filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT). This case demanded the removal of encroachments from the area known as ‘Majnu ka Teela’ in Delhi. After about 3 years of proceedings, the NGT issued its decision on January 13, 2015. The decision ordered the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to remove all illegal encroachments from the Yamuna floodplains.

In compliance with this order, on March 7 and 8, 2024, the DDA announced the removal of only the shanties from the western bank of the Majnu Ka Teela area. These shanties are inhabited by Hindus who, troubled by religious persecution in Pakistan, came to India leaving everything behind except their faith.

On Thursday (March 7, 2024), the OpIndia team went to gather ground information at Majnu ka Teela. We saw that at least 250 Hindu families, affected by the order to remove only “shanties,” do not have arrangements for evening meals after having breakfast in the morning. They earn their living by selling vegetables, fruits, mobile accessories, and so on.

However, we were told that administrative obstacles often hinder these activities. Among the residents are elderly people lying on makeshift beds, and young girls and boys who are about to get married. Most of these refugee families have settled here from the Sindh region of Pakistan.

Notice Stuck for 2 Days

The refugees living in Majnu ka Teela told us that instead of informing them, the DDA officials simply stuck a notice in one place. This notice remained stuck for 2 days. Many illiterate refugees said they had the notice read by literate people, and that’s when they realized preparations were being made to evict them.

The notice orders all these Hindu refugees from Pakistan to shift to Geeta Colony and three different rain baseras (shelters) in Dwarka. However, these helpless refugees find these rain baseras inadequate, considering their family situations. Once again, fear has gripped these Hindu refugees about their uncertain future due to the administration’s decision.

Big Game in the Word ‘Etc.’ in the Notice

The NGT’s order clearly states to remove ‘all encroachments’ from the Yamuna floodplains. However, in its implementation, the DDA has only mentioned ‘shanties’ as a token gesture. However, they have also given full attention to their paper security in the future by adding ‘etc.’ after ‘shanties’. OpIndia’s team at Majnu ka Teela searched for this ‘etc.’

In the ‘etc.’, we saw big buildings, spa centres, shopping complexes, luxury cars, a river view from a gurdwara, and other various things like pan shops. We believe that if DDA had prioritized its ‘etc.’ during the anti-encroachment campaign, it would not have faced allegations of one-sided action and harassment of the poor.

Ignoring the multi-storey houses and shops of the Tibetan Market

During conversations with Hindu refugees, it was discovered that their shanties are right next to the Tibetan Market. They claimed that a significant part of the Tibetan Market is in the floodplain area of the Yamuna River. To investigate these claims, we reached the Tibetan Market. We observed that amidst tightly packed solid structures, various businesses were operating in the narrow alleys. Among these were spa centres, restaurants, and clothing stores, among others.

These buildings are constructed on the slopes of the river, which do not adhere to safety standards. As we descended, we found that a boundary wall separates the human settlement of the Tibetan Market from the river and its flood-prone area. Parked next to this boundary wall were luxurious cars and other vehicles. Music from restaurants with river views could be heard. Every day, millions of rupees worth of business is conducted here.

A person farming in the dry areas by the river told us that about 35 years ago, this place was barren, but now it has been turned into a complete settlement. We were also informed that even now, during floods, water enters many houses in the Tibetan Market. Along with Tibetans, many people from Nepal also reside in these settlements. In the middle of the Tibetan Market, there is also a Buddhist temple. There is no mention of the Tibetan Market in the DDA’s notice.

A significant part of the gurdwara is also in the Yamuna floodplain

Where the Hindu refugee shanties are located in Majnu ka Teela, there is a gurdwara right next to it. The boundary of this gurdwara runs parallel to the shanties. Both are separated by a drain. We saw that a large platform of the gurdwara is built next to the Yamuna River. Some locals told us that the gurdwara has also been expanded in between, with some residential buildings constructed. We still saw construction machines inside.

So far, no information has emerged showing encroachments around the gurdwara for the DDA. The condition of the houses built within the boundary of the gurdwara was entirely normal. During our ground report, we even saw people strolling on the large platform built at the mouth of the river.

Preparation to bulldoze educational centres, temples, and cow shelters

The place identified as mere shanties in the DDA’s notice is like a world in itself. Though the Hindu refugees themselves may be living in makeshift houses, they have managed to build a solid temple right in the middle of the settlement through hard work. Here, the idols of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga have been consecrated, and most of the residents of the shanty perform their prayers here.

Additionally, a cow shelter has also been built there. In this cow shelter, there were some indigenous breed cows along with calves. It is not yet clear what arrangements are being made for the cows once these people are asked to move to the designated shelters. The refugees told us that they are worried about the future of the cows they have raised with them.

On the day of the Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha, the entire settlement celebrated like Diwali. During that time, everyone had put up flags of “Jai Shree Ram” in their houses, which are still flying. In this settlement, we also came across an education centre. Here, we found several benches and books. This education centre is run by an NGO called HAI.

Students from Classes 1 to 12 are taught here. When we arrived, the students were absent. When we asked a child playing nearby about the reason for not being in class, he told us that their families were worried about what would happen today and tomorrow. The mother of a child standing in front of their house greeted us with a “Ram-Ram.”

What was endured in Pakistan has now started here

Speaking to various refugees off the camera, we reached the head of the refugee settlement, Sukhnandan. Sukhnandan informed us that he has filed a plea in the Delhi High Court for relief, which is scheduled for hearing this week. Having been previously harassed by DDA officials, Sukhnandan said that the people of the settlement, who endured hardships in Pakistan, are now facing similar issues here.

Sukhnandan also claimed that a part of the Tibetan Market and Gurudwara falls within the flood-prone area. Additionally, Rohingya Muslims who have illegally entered India from Myanmar have also encroached upon considerable land there. Despite this, no action is being taken against them. Alleging harassment, everyone appealed in unison to the government for mercy.

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राहुल पाण्डेय
राहुल पाण्डेय
धर्म और राष्ट्र की रक्षा को जीवन की प्राथमिकता मानते हुए पत्रकारिता के पथ पर अग्रसर एक प्रशिक्षु। सैनिक व किसान परिवार से संबंधित।

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