Where city meets the village

While people in east Delhi's Trilokpuri spread venom against each other, they used WhatsApp and Facebook. In Bawana and its neighbouring villages on the northern outskirts of the city, they went with posters – and a mahapanchayat. Both localities have seen communal tension in recently, but they are worlds apart. Bawana is an example of parts of the city with an ethos of a village.  

Bawana is the best known among about a dozen villages which lie on the city’s borders with some parts of rural Haryana. Distance from the main city has distanced these villages in several ways. Not only is the city life yet to seep into these villages, even development has been slow, compared to the rest of Delhi.

Rajeev Sharma needs to make “special plans” whenever he decides to visit any part of central Delhi. Such opportunities generally arrive when there is the need for large-scale shopping before a social event, or when a group of friends decide to party.
Rajeev and his friends rely on public transport, and Connaught Place is about 40 kms from Bawana. These special get-togethers begin early in the day so that they get back home before dark.

The closest Metro station to Bawana is 13 kilometres away and few government buses ply on those roads. Public transport is hard to find after 8 pm, say Bawana villagers, and anyone stranded outside the village at night has to summon relatives to pick them up. Autorickshaw and cab drivers  find the villages too isolated for their safety.
The villages are cut off from the city for most practical purposes.

Industrial hub
“Ironically, we were never a part of the city, nor are we left as a village anymore. The industries that have come up here have done us more bad than good,” says Brahmanand, a retired employee with the electricity department.

About three acres of his land had been bought by the government over a decade ago to bring up Bawana as an industrial hub. “We thought the industries would bring us jobs, but they turned out to be a curse,” he says.

Small-scale industries came up in large numbers, but the jobs offered to the locals limited their monthly salaries to Rs 2,500-6,000. “There are educated people too among us. But how good a job can you land at a plastic or rubber items-manufacturing units. We earned more cultivating our land,” he adds.

It is mostly migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who have benefited from these factories. The villagers at Bawana have tried to milk these labourers by offering accommodation on rent to them. “A single room is rented for Rs 1,000. An entire family lives in that room,” says Bawana-resident Ashok Anand.

He says he received a compensation of about Rs 17 lakh for the land government bought. Much of that he spent on constructing a beautiful house and buying a car. Like several other villagers, he earns his living by lending the remaining compensation amount to fellow villagers. With fuel being expensive and hardly any other source of income, his car rarely emerges from the garage.

Villagers regret splurging the compensation they received for their land. Lesser land left for cultivation has meant more unemployment. “Our children will suffer the consequences of our actions a decade later,” says Anand.

The land left with them is valuable now and villagers are not keen on selling anymore. “With the industrial zone coming up, the price of land in our village has gone up,” says Anand. He has continued farming on the about one acre of land.

To guard against an insecure future, villagers have sought refuge in education for their younger generation. That brings its own problems. The older ones seeking college education are sent away to live in the city: the colleges nearer home are not that sought-after.

“Travelling every day from the village to the college in city is practically impossible. But sending them to the city has meant running two kitchens and more financial burden,” says Banwar Lal, a resident of Dariyapur village near Bawana.

Those seeking primary education for their children go for ‘expensive' private schools in Rohini, if they have the money. Though there are schools offering education upto class 6 in every other lane in Bawana, many parents don't think much of them.

While many are moving to the city to  counter the disconnect, there are several others flowing in year after year. It first began in 2004 when thousands of families from east Delhi’s Yamuna Pushta were resettled in the jhuggi jhopri colony. Trust deficit between the original villagers and the JJ colony residents began soon after and showed up earlier this month when there was a communal flare-up.

The villagers blame the resettlement colony residents of bringing crime to the area along with them. “Till some years ago, we would sleep outside our homes. We could leave copper vessels outside our homes for days together and pick them up later. Today we leave nothing outside even for a moment. We sleep inside now,” says Sunil Kumar Chanchal, a painter.

Incidents of chain snatchings and molestation of women, which villagers say rarely took place till some years ago, are common now.

But the people in the JJ colony, consisting of an almost equal number of Hindus and Muslims, say that the original villagers feel insecure because of them. “They are afraid we will take their jobs. So they make every effort to keep us out of the industries,” says Mohammed Islam, a leader among the colony residents.

He alleges that the actual reason behind the recent communal tension among the two groups was a result of “jealousy”.

“They want to create trouble so that an impression is given out that the slum dwellers are all criminals. Our people suffer when they approach the factories to seek jobs. As soon as their address shows JJ Colony, they are refused the job,” says Mohammed Abdul Rab.

Employment issues
Meanwhile, villagers who have set up a few manufacturing units themselves in the area deny the JJ colony youths any jobs and favour their own people, the settlers claim.
In any case, several industries have seen closure over the past few years, locals say. This has to do with bad transport connectivity, poor education facilities, rise in crime and problems adjusting with the locals, they say.

“If raw material like iron rods are unloaded outside a factory, there will be people from JJ Colony waiting to steal them at night. Children of factory owners cannot seek decent education without having to stay away. They do not understand our culture either and that leads to clashes,” says Sandeep Poddar, a Bawana-resident.

Apart from the problems arising out of poor connectivity with urban Delhi, a host of civic issues plague Bawana and neighbouring villages. While important roads were put back in shape prior to the recent elections, pure drinking water continues to be a problem. Clashes between villagers and factory workers from `outside' are frequent.

A Delhi Public Library and the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium are a few places that the Bawana area is recognised by. But few locals know about the facilities they can avail of.
“Many villagers are unaware that they can book the stadium for functions. Some private school authorities have been using them for private functions,” says Raguveer Singh, a shopkeeper. Some space in the recently refurbished library’s, meanwhile, is often occupied by locals to sell vegetables, he says.

Residents of Bawana village, though, are luckier in many ways than those from neighbouring villages. “Bawana is to us what Rohini is to Bawana,” says Ratna, a housewife in Katewara, a village located about 10 kms from Bawana.
It's a village surrounded on two sides by open fields. No public transport vehicle enters it. The village is more than a kilometre away from the main road on which few public buses ply.

Ratna’s 21-year-old daughter Sneha was forced to turn down a receptionist’s job at a private clinic in Bawana.

“She would have to return home after 8 pm. It would mean walking an isolated and dark stretch of road every night,” says Ratna. A graduate, Sneha is on the lookout for another job within the limits of the village. “I don’t want to relocate to the city,” she says.

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