This is Part III of a three Part Series. Part I is available here. Part II is available here. See also: A Pictorial History of Manushi's Struggles or Vendors' Rights.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has taken an active interest in policy reform for street vendors, intervened personally and asked for determined action to save the project from mafia elements. In a letter dated December 18th, 2007 the LG’s office issued written instructions to the Police Commissioner that CCTV cameras should be installed at the earliest possible. To quote from this letter:
"The LG is of the view that installing CCTV cameras in the areas pointed by Madhu Kishwar cannot brook any delay. This facility will help in giving a boost to setting up the projects contemplated to locate vendors meaningfully not only in Sewa Nagar but in other areas of
Unfortunately, the cameras have not been installed so far. Therefore, the gangsters operate freely in the area continuing with their terror tactics.
To give the latest example of the kind of murderous attacks we have had to face, I reproduce extracts from my police complaint of December 31, 2007,
"I reached Sewa Nagar around 12.30 p.m. after duly informing the SHO of the area that I was visiting the area to take some photographs along with Manushi staff member Sheeshpal. He parked the car in front of the park. I got out of the car and began taking some photographs. Ajay Basoya, Babli Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Kuku, Mahipal Basoya, Mohan Yadav along with some of their associates were sitting on chairs laid out in the park plaza. When I started taking pictures, Mahipal’s mother repeatedly stood in front of the camera. I felt that it would be a waste of time to get into an argument with her since she had attacked me on earlier occasions as well. Hence, I proceeded towards my car.
As I turned back, Mahipal’s mother caught me unaware, pulled my hair and hit me repeatedly. She then kicked me and pushed me into the drain in front of the park. As she was punching and kicking me Ajay Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Mahipal, Babli and Kuku also began kicking and punching me. The Basoyas all joined the chorus saying " We will not let this randi go out alive from here."
When Sheeshpal saw me getting beaten up, he rushed to rescue me, but Babli Basoya, Pinki Basoya, Kukku, Mohan Yadav and Ajay Basoya pounced on him and started hitting him with a danda. As they gave him repeated blows I heard them say, "we will not let this harami go back alive today." They hit Sheeshpal on his legs, arms and back with a danda. Pinki Basoya caught hold of Sheeshpal’s neck in a bid to strangle him and I saw Sheeshpal almost choke to death.
Mahipal’s mother pulled my hair and repeatedly banged my head my head against the sidewalk. With the help of my arm and my shawl, I managed to save my head from concussions but in the process injured my right arm. Then Mahipal called out to his men saying: "Snatch away the camera of this randi and thrash her up so much that she dares not enter this area again. Ajay was saying: "today we will tear up her clothes, strip her naked and beat her up in the open. When Mohan Yadav came to snatch my camera, I hid it in my lap and bent double over it to save it from being robbed. ( They had earlier snatched two other cameras of Manushi in similar violent incidents.) Ajay Basoya, Mahipal Basoya’s mother and Mohan Yadav punched and kicked me further…. During this mayhem, Mahipal Basoya’s mother and Ajay Basoya said "Let us shove them into her car and set fire to the vehicle. They will not learn their lesson till their dead bodies are taken out from this market." Saying this they attempted to force open my car door thus damaging my car. Mahipal Basoya’s mother also said " Before I kill her I will strip this randi naked and get her gang raped in front of everyone in the market." While they were beating me Basoya brothers and their mother kept saying: "Let us catch hold of Mehboob and Ishwar and thrash them up as well." Fortunately, Ishwar and Mehboob had gone to the Electricity Board office, otherwise they would have ended up with broken bones.
Even after the police arrived they continued beating and hurling abuses at us, and were not letting us get out of the mob they had collected.When the police took us to the police station, they along with their entire gang, including their drivers and cleaners, reached the police station and created a riotous situation there as well and kept threatening us openly. With great difficulty, the police were able to take us out of the
These people literally shadow me around wherever I go. One of their own associates—Roshan told me that the Basoyas and Bhagat gang have arranged for a supari of Rs 50,000 to get me eliminated. My car has been pelted with huge boulders on previous occasions with an attempt to kill me. "
As a result of this attack, my entire body was covered with bruises and my right arm suffered injuries with several torn ligaments. Even after 6 weeks of the attack, my right hand in severe pain and cannot be used for simple tasks, including writing. On the same evening this gang went and looted the stalls of three vendors (Ram Singh, Manoj Yadav and Angoori Devi) and threatened them with dire consequences if they continued associating with Manushi on dared give testimonies against any of the gang members.
This was meant as an object lesson for all others. All three of them risked their very lives to go and file police complaints against them. Similarly, Yogesh Kumar who had been blackmailed to surrender his stall despite having paid Rs 363000 interest on a loan of Rs 35000 also sought the intervention of the Magistrate’s Court for getting an FIR registered on his complaint. Despite orders from the Magistrate’s court, the police have resisted registering appropriate cases against gang members admitting to political pressure as the reason for non action.
The police did register an FIR on the basis of my complaint of Decemebr 31st and some earlier attacks on me, but they also allowed the attackers to lodge several false complains against Manushi including "attempt to murder" charge against me alleging that I had tried to kill one of their aunts by ordering my driver to ram my car into her. They also alleged that when they protested, my "henchmen beat them up." This has been their standard strategy. After every single attack on Manushi members, they lodge all manners of fraudulent counter cases against us. They are even able to buy newspaper space for spreading these lies by influencing reporters through money or political influence. Two such fabricated reports appeared in Midday and another one in Tehleka. While Tehelka offered an unconditional apology in their issue of February 11, 2008, for their reporter having been misled by mafia elements, Midday continued with the falsehoods despite repeated warnings thus forcing Manushi to sue the paper and the reporter for criminal defamation.
The message of the mafia is clear: they want Manushi to withdraw from the market so that the mafia can take over the project stalls and other assets unhindered. Manushi has filed a Criminal Writ in the High Court on May 22, 2007 to seek protection for the lives of our members and against the forcible takeover of project property through force and fraud. After the December 31st attacks on me, I have been provided round the clock police security and a police picket has been posted in the Sewa Nagar market. That has enabled our core team members--Mehboob, Ishwar Lal and Raj Kumar to return to Sewa Nagar to resume their business but their lives are still under threat. The Lt Governor had ordered that leading members of the Bhagat-Basoya gang be externed from Delhi since even after registering of some cases against them, they seemed to be running amok.The police did serve an externment notice to them but no follow up action has been taken due to political pressure from local leaders of both the Congress and the BJP. Leave alone externing them from the city, the Bhagat-Basoya gang are seen openly socialising with the police picket on duty. Most worrisome of all the police has resisted filing FIRs against this gang despite solid complaints by several affected vendors and despite clear written instructions from the LG’s office.
It is a telling commentary on the state of our law and order machinery that a project:
- Undertaken by the Municipal Commissioner of
with sanction of the Supreme Court. Delhi
- Strongly supported by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India as well as the present Lt Governor of
- Funded by the MPLAD Fund of a senior minister in the Congress Government,
- Backed by the present Deputy Commissioner of the concerned Zone.
- Endorsed and appreciated by senior leaders of both the Congress and the BJP, (Mr Advani, Dr Harshvardhan among others) the two national parties that rule
- Managed by a well known and conscientious organisation like Manushi in the heart of
South Delhiin the vicinity of elite colonies like Lodhi Estate and Defence Colony
can be taken over by a bunch of local criminals with such ease, simply because for months on end the police did not stand up to the might of goondas and several politicians provide them active support.
It is noteworthy that Manushi has executed and administered the Sewa Nagar pilot project for four years without taking any grants from the government or any donor agency. The entire planning, administrative, advocacy and legal expenses were met with donations from Manushi friends and members of the pilot project. However, instead of allowing it become a role model for the city, the local mafia has endangered its very existence.
Larger Significance of the Sewa Nagar Project
We bring the plight of Sewa Nagar project to public attention because the fate of the National Policy for Street Vendors is linked with the fate of this pilot project. For example, as per the mandate of the National Policy for Street Vendors, the MCD has announced that it will be allotting 3,00,000 tehbazari licenses and vending sites in
The manner in which the National Policy for Street Vendors is implemented has implications that go far beyond the right to livelihood of street vendors. When vulnerable citizens see the police join hands with extortionist mafias, they lose respect for laws and law enforcers leading to greater crime in society. Today all our markets are in control of criminals with political links.They don’t stop at preying on the poor. The growing political clout and money power at the disposal of criminals renders every one unsafe, no matter how many security guards they position outside their homes. Safety is indivisible and we all have a stake in ensuring the security of livelihood of all citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable.
We have demanded the following:
- An empowered independent Commission headed by the Lt. Governor of Delhi should be set up to institutionalize a rational, honest and accountable system for legalizing the status of street vendors and to prevent extortionist mafias and vested interests from capturing vending kiosks and stalls in hawking zones.
- A citywide computerised database should be created by a credible and independent agency to identify those who are actually operating on the streets, their exact location as well as the total number of street vendors actually operating in
as a first step towards determining who qualifies to get tehbazari. Delhi
- Appropriate punitive action against criminal mafias who are out to destroy and grab the pilot project.
- Installation of CCTV cameras in the project area to keep local criminals at bay and provide safety of life to project members as well as prevent the project stalls and other assets being taken over by mafia elements.
The time, energy and money spent on work for street vendors has virtually bankrupted the organisation and compelled us to suspend the publication of Manushi Journal which was widely respected as a pioneering readers-supported magazine on women’s rights and human rights issues. Manushi Journal not only lived for 28 years without accepting advertisements but also generated resources for our research and activist interventions on various issues, including work for street vendors. Our commitment to making our work self supporting, meant that so far we have refrained from accepting government or other grants and therefore, relied largely on voluntary, unpaid work. When we started work for street vendors, we knew we would be upsetting deeply entrenched vested interests but we had no idea that it would become so life threatening--both for our volunteers as well as for the organization itself.
We seek your help and support in carrying forward the work of policy reform for street vendors to its logical conclusion.
[Written by Madhu Purnima Kishwar. Originally published here]