Rahul Gandhi and Miliband on their poverty tour in UP
But there is a catch. Walk along the Tughlaq Lane in Lutyens Delhi and beside the posh bungalow of Rahul Gandhi is a slum consisting of more than 200 hutments. It is hard to believe that in the island of prosperity, that Lutyens Delhi is, a jhuggi of such proportions can also be found. Perhaps Lutyens forgot to create a separate space for them when he envisioned Delhi.
The jhuggi was no different from any other claustrophobic slum in India. Open sewages crisscrossed the path way, huts had plastic sheets to cover the ceilings, the garbage seemed to merge with its surroundings, naked children ran around excitedly and young men sat aimlessly in the hot verandas. The women seemed outraged standing for hours before the singular tap in the slum, with innumerable buckets lined up like parched fields for a drop of water to fall into them.
As I went closer to talk about the issues they faced, they replied, their answers laced with scorn and anger for I looked like yet another ‘educated, rich, public-service wallah’ who would come, sigh, pity them and leave. Their problems were countless. They had no ration cards. They never got electricity supply on time and the water supply was irregular. The food grains, that the ones with ration cards got, had more pebbles and dust than grains.
They live in the backyard of the crown prince of India, who takes pride in sleeping in the homes of the Dalits in UP. “Has Rahul Gandhi come here to meet you people?” I asked an elderly man who lead me through the slum. “He hasn’t turned to this side. People say we live near an emperor. But what use is it to us if our lives seem seas apart?” he replied with caustic indifference.
Rahul went on a poverty tour of India with David Miliband in the beginning of this year, with extensive media coverage. The poverty and filth of India was examined with sample stays in hutments under the scanner of the camera. Perhaps Rahul saw no incentive in targeting the poor in his own backyard. The poor in Lutyens Delhi cannot evoke the same sympathy evoked by the poor in the parched hinterlands of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. There are different degrees of poverty in different social set ups. This set up doesn’t give a political profit to any politician. After all, who would like to expose the dirt in his own home? This slum was a classic case of the proverbial darkness under the shadow of the lamp.
I came to the end of the slum. The women were still waiting for the buckets to fill, with water filling the drums and buckets at a tortuously slow rate. The water would fall perhaps and they would return in some time. But their non existential existence, right under the nose of governmental prosperity would continue for it would take a really long time for the buckets of sympathy to move man into action. Till then, this slum would continue to exist unknown in the otherwise spotless face of Lutyens Delhi; unknown even to Rahul Gandhi, who would be busy invoking a few Kalawatis in the Parliament Hall. Can these countless Kalawatis get a spokesperson for a while?
(This article was published in the Op-ed page of The New Indian Express on June 2, 2009)