Delhi – the capital of India – is a city of villages!
Don’t believe it? Take a simple test. Next time you’re in Delhi, look around and count -
How many Delhi bus/metro routes cross or end in stations with colourful names like Kondli, Karkarduma, Khichripur, Kotla, Seelampur, Burari, Wazirabad, Timarpur, Badarpur, Jhilmil, Karawal, Badli, Begumpur, Narela, Pitampura, Sahibabad, Shakarpur, Adchini, Katwaria Saria, Ber Sarai… Aya Nagar ! Ancient “villages” all !!
Aya Nagar - the last village in Delhi on the highway to Gurgaon -connecting the capital’s southernmost edge to the planned Cyber City of the future.
Historically named as one of the 400 “villages” of Delhi, Aya Nagar figures today in a list of 1237 “unauthorized” settlements, prepared by the Delhi Government. The official story is that these are illegal, even criminal habitations where only the core village settlement remains to justify its name. All around, land has been sold in contravention of the Delhi Land Reform Act of 1955.
In Aya Nagar, it is true, the farms and grazing lands and forest ravines have gone. Bought up, not by the sarkari developers like DDA, or powerful commercial giants like DLF and Ansals but by poor migrants. Under the British, village habitations had been cordoned off to out-law and restrict their rebellious potential, after the violence of 1857. Now under independent India, the official revenue limit of lal dora (literally “red tape”) works conversely, to keep city villages free of any governance whatsoever! So the landlords of AyaNagar lobby hard today to get the Lal Dora extended, so they can commercially do what they wish, with more and more “village” land!
Early on in the fifties, the Defence establishment had acquired large chunks of prime land. But today it is Aya Nagar village folk themselves who have turned property dealers and “urban developers” and transacted hundreds of quick land sales to build up housing colonies that are “unauthorized” on paper.
Officially unrecognized, denied infrastructural services Aya Nagar remains defiant. An Outpost of Progress if ever there was one, the settlement’s capital value continues to escalate – Crazy but true! How? Why? Because it remains historic, organic “Delhi”, in the faceless new development of the National Capital Region (NCR).
A gaping contradiction in terms, Aya Nagar, as a Delhi socialite remarked is a “bit too ethnic” a bit too real and on edge, for comfort. Its cultural diversity is almost too much to take, feeding as it does into land conflicts, between buyers and sellers, landlords and tenants and between citizens and the state.
The migrant settlers come from all over India – Orissa, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala. They now far outnumber the original inhabitants, the colourful Gujjars, deemed rebellious or “baagi” by the colonial government, their lands confiscated for their participation in the 1857 uprisings. Or simply because they were nomads, wandering gypsies, not to be trusted…?
Purchased back at a price, Aya Nagar land is again up for sale! A growing number of buyers are middle class, well heeled professionals who either cant afford to live, or own office space, in Delhi.
Land prices have made even original Delhi wallahs, migrants of sorts - commuting to Aya Nagar daily to work in spacious studios and workshops or commuting daily to the city, to the offices that employ them.
But as neighbours, they all jostle together, the local and the outsider, the old and the new, the rich and the poor, for electricity, water, drainage and sewage facilities...
Aya Nagar land has entered the market faster than land laws permit. The financial incentive to break the law is irresistible – people, very real people, people like you and me, continue to pour into the capital everyday to live and work there, desperate to own a cheap home of their own in Delhi.
Left half in and half out of Delhi’s life as a modern metropolis, unable to share Gujjar village traditions, these migrant citizens, both the poor and the
Persistently ignored by government and urban planners, Aya Nagar has become a neighbourhood you pass by on your way to somewhere else. Everyone in posh South Delhi has heard of Aya Nagar but the peoples’ lives there are invisible, out of bounds, surrounded by the homes of the property sale rich Gujjars or the thick walls and barbed wires of central and defence installations.
The Flyovers, high rises, hotels, metro stations and malls…..all kinds of development that has happened just across the border in Cyber City has been designed to bypass these places or obstruct the people who actually live there from view….your view…Even their crimes shielded by official indifference or direct involvement ??
So, how do inhabitants of spaces like Aya Nagar live their everyday lives.
The combination of economic compulsion and sheer grit, which has led city migrants to populate Delhi’s villages, has been kept out of public discussion. The official story is that these colonies are illicit, even criminal habitations. But in reality - they are a well-tended political constituency built up of human dependency and fear.
Illegal residents of colonies, trapped in the hope of “regularization” from the same government whose land laws they have broken! What could be more explosive, more exploitative than this situation? Municipal promises made with one hand and broken by the other, provides a field day for local politicians to play with human lives, with peoples’ aspirations for just the minimum amenities needed to live a decent life.
Even the symbolic naming of the Aya Nagar Metro Station is left to State largesse. Petitions and public rallies by the Gujjars to retain the historic village name were ignored in favour of the State’s choice. Arjan Garh was the title given to this new landmark, in honour of Air Marshal Arjan Singh a Hero of the China and Pakistan Wars of the 60’s; and - a Jat by birth! The two communities, Jat and Gujjar, are notorious political enemies. Is the State really as indifferent as it appears? Particularly when it concerns the land grab going on under Authority’s very nose; or is it rather, a deep involvement in the wealth to be made there, that keeps the official silence?
A Thought to ponder...