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June 26, 2000
Turkman Gate can't forget the bulldozers
Swapna Khanna in New Delhi
Twenty-five years have not erased the memories of those monstrous bulldozers.
Residents of Turkman Gate in old Delhi, which over the years has emerged as a symbol of India's brief dalliance with Emergency, have not forgotten how they were dispossessed of their houses, beaten up and jailed so that somebody could enjoy a clear view of India Gate from the Jama Masjid.
A new generation has taken over the reins of life at Turkman Gate. But along with shops, houses and family furniture they have inherited a life forever scarred by a brutal force - some call it politics, others Sanjay Gandhi.
Many of the younger generation here have seen Sanjay only in pictures. But they have grown up on stories of how he stood in the balcony of a distant hotel watching through his binoculars as bulldozers razed Turkman Gate.
Union Development Minister Jagmohan, who was then the vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority, had ordered the demolitions under a programme chalked by Sanjay to beautify old Delhi.
"The residents of Turkman Gate were all Muslims...Sanjay Gandhi saw this area as a small Pakistan," says Mohammad Sulaiman.
The demolitions changed the life forever for Sulaiman and his neighbours. Most of them have spent a better part of the last 25 years running from one government office to another to get possession of the land promised by DDA.
They have even paid upto Rs.1, 23,883 each for these houses. "Our houses which were demolished covered an area of 250 sq. feet. After DDA built flats here, the area allotted to us was just 80 sq. feet. They promised that that the remaining 80 sq. feet of land would be allotted later. I have met every government official concerned with the case, but to no avail."
Sulaiman used to run a fabrication business from his shanty. "How does anybody believe that I can run my business out this 80 sq feet pigeon hole."
The demolitions not only destroyed their houses and businesses, but ruined their family lives too.
"Our's was a joint family. But these small houses have forced us apart," he said
Mohd. Shafee Dehlui, convenor the All India Teli Conference, says they meet every year to recollect their past. "We have no demands...but we can't also forget what took place here," he adds.
"Of the 780 houses demolished, which included some havelis, only 450 families were allotted flats. However, the size of a family was not a criterion and families of 25 members got only one 80 sq feet flat.
Suraiya Bano (60) says she can still hear children wailing and the muted thud of tear gas shells exploding near her house.
"It was a nightmarish experience...I have seen perfectly respectable families begging for food," remembers another resident of Turkman Gate.
"A chill runs up my spine when I think about it even today," Bano says.
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