Friday, January 1, 2016

Railways wants its land to grow, people who live by the tracks say they have nowhere else to go. Abhishek Angad tracks the talk on both sides.
Written by Abhishek Angad  New Delhi Published:Dec 21, 2015,

A family sits inside the demolished slum cluster in Shakurbasti. (Express Photo by Oinam Anand)

In the late winter afternoon, children gather near a golgappa stall. Next to it, a vendor has spread out sarees. Senior citizens sit on plastic chairs, basking in the sun. It is as residential a colony as any, except that there is little authorised about it.

A ride from New Delhi to Adarsh Nagar railway station and a closer look than usual reveals more about lives lived on the railway tracks.


The train I board passes a row of jhuggis close enough for me to touch if I lean outside. Toddlers play along the tracks, not particularly worried by the train rattling by. On a parallel track, a game of gilli-danda is in progress. So is a game of cards, whose players seem to prefer the comparatively cleaner space between the tracks over the garbage-strewn pathways. Goats are tied to poles nearby.

But the loco-pilots (drivers of the train) whose job it is to steer the train through these crowded localities every day, narrate a different story – one of fun and games taken too far.

“Youngsters often perform stunts on the tracks. On November 19 last year, a youngster died. He stood in the middle of the tracks before an approaching train, apparently to jump away at the last moment. This event was being video recorded by his friend,” says a 45-year-old loco-pilot who does not want to be named.
“The boy was not able to jump away and came under the train.” Court hearings are still being attended in the case.

His 25-year-old colleague says sometimes children are seen playing cricket on the tracks. “If we blow the horn, they throw stones at us. I was driving Sarai Rohilla – Udhampur AC Express once through Daya basti and locals threw stones on the train.”

The drivers say, at night it is the elders who spread their cots strategically. They hurl abuses every time loco-pilots blow the horn.

As the train moves on, I spot a signal covered with clothes hung out to dry. A little ahead, children are busy stealing coal from a stationary freight train.
One of the drivers is also afraid of jhuggis being near the tracks. “If a train derails, I am horrified to think what will happen.”

For these loco-pilots, the danger is not in driving through the areas alone. A 37-year-old loco-pilot says he had stepped out of the train briefly near Wazirpur once at night, at a stationary signal, and his mobile phone was snatched away.

The encroachment does not just stop at the tracks. As the train stops at Azadpur platform, a few jhuggis and even shops are permanent structures. There is defiance in the tone of jhuggi-dwellers, who fight the dangers and threats of eviction and demolition. It is summed up by what a girl less than 10 years old shouts at me as I lean out a bit, camera in hand. “Jhuggi nahin tootegi (Jhuggi won’t be demolished)”.

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