Life in 12 square metres - resettling with hope (Feature)

February 3rd, 2009 - 12:39 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 3 (IANS) A person needs no more than two square metres of land after death. Chandana Das shows how a family of five can live on 12 - and hope.In the day, the ground floor of the house in Savda Ghewra in northwest Delhi is husband Pradeep’s tailoring workshop. At night, it’s the bedroom for his widowed mother and the couple’s elder son.

The first floor is Chandana’s beauty parlour. There’s space just for one plastic chair, two small mirrors, an array of cosmetics, and aginst the wall framed paintings of prominent gods of the Hindu pantheon.

The second floor is the couple’s bedroom. The double bed leaves just enough space to walk to the kitchen alcove, sideways. Younger son Vinay sleeps there too. There’s a toilet too on the second floor. “We don’t have to go outside,” Chandana, 28, says proudly.

There’s no running water. That’s the aspect of life that most irks this family and the 2,500-odd other families that have been settled in Savda Ghewra in the last three years.

Four years back, this remote corner of north-west Delhi was a field of waving yellow mustard flowers at this time of the year. Then came displacements of slum dwellers all over the capital for construction associated with the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and other demolitions too.

Savda Ghewra was the area where they were resettled. The early settlers got an 18-sq m plot each, the rest had to make do with 12. Each paid Rs.7,000 for the plot.

Pradeep says he had spent Rs.150,000 to build his three single-room floors. “I haven’t been able to plaster the walls yet,” he shrugs.

Migrants from a village in West Bengal’s Howrah district, Pradeep and Chandana, are sure of one thing - they don’t want to go back. Why? “There’s nothing to do there,” they chorus.

Pradeep isn’t so sure about their ouster from the slums of Laxmi Nagar in East Delhi. “I had more customers there. This is still a very new neighbourhood.”

Chandana is more sure, not least because of the toilet. Plus, after the move, the woman who had once trained as a beautician joined a three-month Customer Relation Programme course run by Livelihood Advancement Business School (LABS), an NGO set up by the pharmaceuticals firm Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories.

That programme gave Chandana the confidence to set up her beauty parlour. Like her, 105 people trained by LABS in the last nine months are more confident of their future today.

“We have to expand our vocational programmes,” says Srikant Sastri, the founder of the NGO Growth-for-All and the man who has brought together LABS, Child Survival International, Hasmukh Kala and a host of other NGOs, in collaboration with the Delhi government, to help the new residents of Savda Ghewra solve their problems.

As with all slum resettlement colonies in the capital, problems are aplenty - no running water, drains that lead nowhere and are not connected to most houses, a very long commute if they want to go to their old places of work, a government dispensary that opens for just three hours a day, a government primary school under tin roofs that get burning hot in summer…

But as Sastri took a group of visitors from the Salzburg Global Seminar and the 21st Century Trust around the colony Monday, it was apparent that the NGOs had already instilled in many residents the hope of a better future.

It was apparent in the confident steps of the dancing schoolgirls trained by Hasmukh Kala, in the buzzing crowd at the government dispensary which now stays opens much longer because another NGO provides the doctors, in the teacher at the primary school who said “it’s not that bad in the summer; there’s thermocol under that tin roof”.

To ensure that you don’t bump your head on the way down from the Das’ bedroom, there are two large identical posters of a smiling Preity Zinta stuck on the wall. You can see that smile reflected on Chandana’s face.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at

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