Rahul’s neighbourhood Kalawati

The Vote of Confidence episode last year was high on drama and emotion. Rahul Gandhi invoked the plight of an obscure woman called Kalawati to bring the nuclear issue as close as possible to the issues of the common man. The whole nation sympathised with this unknown lady in a far away village in Vidarbha, who was the beneficiary of Rahul’s benign grace, and Rahul’s speech hit the headlines for all the right reasons.

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)

5 thoughts on “Rahul’s neighbourhood Kalawati

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  1. this is really good.

    It makes me angry at Rahul Gandhi and want to call him names.
    You should also put up some photos.
    Have you sent this to any magazine or daily?
    People should sit up and notice this one..

    Great work, Arjun


  2. hi.. as usual.. write up is very good.

    but do you think Rahul Gandhi is the the only politician in this country who has ignored the plight, existing right behind his back? If we start counting the names, we will get people from all the places and parties, who have hardly bothered to find out the ways to improve their neighbourhoods. and this is what that makes people hate politics and politicians.

    trust me, it just needs one thing to develop slums in India and bring them to a certain level of dignity and development and that is ‘will’.


  3. @ Suresh
    Yes, this has been pulished already in the New Indian Express. People will know it
    @ CIndrella
    Yes, umpteen politicians are apathetic towards these slum dwellers. But Rahul Gandhi's name came here for he takes the entire media brigade with him in his poverty tours across India. Why does he shy away from the poverty in his own neighbourhood?

    Thanks a lot Mahesh..


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