A Visit to Delhi’s Villages and a Lesson in ‘Punishment’ Without Offence

In Delhi, the ‘Lal Dora’ is a term well known. ‘Lal Dora land’ is red thread property and refers to village land. The practice has its roots in the time of British rule in 1908 when a red line was drawn separating residential and agricultural land. This helped them in revenue collection. Since Independence, the city has expanded to help meet the needs of millions. The city began growing on farmlands of the villages, but the lal dora was kept intact. 

Delhi’s villages are left within the growing and modernising city. Yet, their history and changes – except in a few Mughal and slave dynasty-era records have been rendered less important to the city’s cultural, social, economic, and political life. 

As per a Ministry of Urban Development report of 2007, they had been swept into the backwaters of progress by “the torrent of urbanisation”. The choice before them was either to earn as best as they could from their land or to let their youth take to dubious get-rich-quickly ways of life”. Residents of these urban villages firmly believe that they have been robbed of their own land. Is development keeping such residents out of its ambit? What is missing from the lives of the villagers? 

Naraina was the first village I visited. From the Metro station, I walked down lanes that kept getting narrower, and wires from electricity poles hung low and around the houses. 

Aditya Tanwar’s family comprises three generations living under the same room in the village. Has ‘development’ touched their home? Aditya does not think so. “Does urbanising villages simply mean that our homes will be turned onto a ghetto? No one has helped us make sense of the changing scene around us. We are on our own,” he says.

There is an enormous leap between the prices at which such village land is acquired and sold. The boundaries of the village are restricted and disputed.

The idea of population growth appears to have escaped authorities. Thus, in already fenced land, a house meant for four now has 10 people living there. This disparity between the land allocated and required has led to the expansion of houses onto the roads, congesting lanes. Some of these houses don’t even receive proper sunlight and have no ventilation.

Even in terms of health services, there is one Mohalla clinic for a population ranging from 75-90,000 and a single Jacha Bacha Kendra (maternity and childcare center) which does not serve its purpose to even deliver a baby. Locals claimed that land that was allocated for building a hospital was being used as a private park by some moneyed families. The water bodies have dried up and promises made to revive them are very different from ground realities. 

But above all was the fact that the acquisition of their agricultural lands not only deprived them of the land but also robbed them of their source of livelihood. Neither was an alternative income generating opportunity provided, nor were they given any training for developing skills to sustain themselves. In most urban villages, the majority of the population is dependent on rent as income. The houses in the villages are blacklisted from banks i.e., none of these people are eligible to take loans with their own houses as collateral to start their own enterprise to earn a livelihood. 

Not much has been done in the field of education either. A conversation with Dr. Rajbir Solanki from Baprola village who is leading an initiative of ‘Delhi Moolgrameen Panchayat’ to organise village residents revealed that several residents were concerned about the lack of local education, unavailability of libraries, and lack of easy access to good infrastructure, teachers or administration. Hence, hardly 5% of the village population have graduated Class 12 or have a Bachelor’s degree.

My visits to a number of these urban villages strengthened my belief that the rural population has been fooled in the name of urbanisation. Interactions with people from different villages like Kakrola, Baprola, Nilothi, Ber Sarai, etc. left me with the feeling that there was a pervading sense of anger towards successive governments. “The neglect from the Government feels like a punishment without any wrongdoing from our side,” a villager told me. 

Many said they were also robbed of their culture, practices, and pride. Unable to assimilate themselves into urban culture fully, they are stuck in between. 

While people’s sufferings are many, the patterns are similar – encroachment on land and water bodies, promises made on paper, policies passed without implementation, no accountability by officials and no attention to people’s aspirations and expectations. 

MCD dispensary that has been functioning in such dilapidated conditions in Naraina village for years.

Congested alleys & overhead cables causing several accidents and troubles for residents is normalized

Village alleys that were wide enough to accommodate two way traffic with magnificent old trees for shade in summers have been encroached by natives to deteriorate their own standard of living

Drinking water is a luxury for many households due to erratic water supply and in case of supply the quality of water is worth vomiting.

Akanksha Sharma is a Dentist and is currently a MASW Public Health, 2nd year student from TISS, Guwahati.

Featured image illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty.