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India Shining India Makes Its Poor Pay Price Of Hosting Commonwealth Games

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"Shining India" Makes Its Poor Pay Price of Hosting Commonwealth Games

by JASON BURKE





The government bulldozers came to the school at 11am, after yoga and before English and Hindi lessons. The children and their teachers had three hours to clear the classrooms. By mid-afternoon, the Yamuna Riverbank school was rubble.

"They told us we were a security risk, so we had to go," the headteacher, Parminder Kaur Somal, said. "All my children were crying. I don't know how we can be a threat to anyone."

Parminder founded the school five years ago for 180 slum children living on the banks of the Yamuna river on the outskirts of Delhi. In recent months, she and her pupils have watched a vast new complex of luxury apartments rise 500 metres away: the athletes' village for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.

"We never thought it could be a problem," she said.

The games, to be held in October, have triggered demolitions across the Indian capital. The competition is the biggest such international sporting event held in India for decades and is seen as an opportunity for the nation to show off its new economic might.

Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi, has repeatedly said she wants to the city to be "world class". There is even talk of trying to host the Olympics.

A particular target of the authorities is anything that could tarnish the "shining India" image.

Organisers of the games are acutely aware that the din and filth of the Indian capital could shock visitors. So, along with the construction of new sporting facilities, roads, flyovers, metro lines and an airport, dozens of long-standing slum communities built on public land, vacant lots, by railways or along rubbish-strewn stream beds have been destroyed; hoardings conceal others.

The children at Parminder Kaur's school came from a community of workers on nearby vegetable farms. The nearest alternative was three miles away, across busy dual carriageways. As the bulldozers destroyed the school, police also moved through the workers' shacks, scattering possessions, breaking down walls and ordering residents to leave.

"The police just started beating me." Said Dharam Pal, a shopkeeper. "They dragged me 50 metres on the ground and then told me: 'If you don't leave here on your own, we'll throw out.' " Pal, 40, said the community was established 15 years ago and that he had nowhere else to go.

Other residents complained of being assaulted. "Not only did they break the school, but they beat us too," said Harpyari Devi, 24, a mother of three children at the school.

Police at the scene refused to comment. Officials from the Delhi municipal authorities were unavailable.

Parminder said she had been told the school, which is run by volunteer teachers and funded by donations, was a "security risk" for athletes in the village, which is ringed by high concrete walls and heavily patrolled. Equipped with its own water filtration plant and helipad, the complex will cost more than £150m, according to local campaigners.

"If we were a security threat, we could have just stopped classes until after the games. But the law here is just 'might is right,' " Parminder said.

Children at the school, still wearing their free uniforms, said they were sad. "I wanted to be a doctor," Ranjeet Shakya, eight, said.

The parents of almost all the pupils are illiterate. Many eke out a living as vegetable vendors in Delhi. None knew what the flats overlooking their fields and the ruined school were for.

"I've never heard of the Commonwealth Games," said Danveer Karan, a 35-year-old farmer who supports his family of four on a daily wage of 100 rupees (£1.30). "I don't know why the buildings have been made. I don't know why the government destroyed our school either."


[Courtesy: The Guardian]

July 13, 2010
 

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