Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hiding the poor from the Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games are about to begin in New Delhi, India. In preparing for the games, New Delhi has tried to clean up the city as best as possible, but some of those efforts have infringed on the rights of the poor.

The city's clean up went as far as erecting barriers so slums can be hidden behind them. New Delhi also began an aggressive campaign to sweep beggars of the streets, but that part of the clean up had to be stopped by judges.

From The Times Live, this Associated Press article explains how far New Delhi has gone to clean up before the games begin.

Officials launched a drive against beggars, slum neighborhoods and the homeless earlier in 2010 that was so aggressive - demolishing thousands of slum homes and arresting or displacing thousands of people, rights group say — that the courts finally stepped in to stop them.

“You cannot just take bulldozers anywhere and demolish anyone’s house in the name of the Commonwealth Games,” a New Delhi court said after city officials tore down a series of homeless shelters and shanty towns. “We think you want to show the foreigners coming for the Commonwealth Games that there are no poor people in India.”

New Delhi, of course, is not the first city to try to hide its rougher edges. The Chinese government tore town and rebuilt large parts of Beijing in the years before the 2008 Olympics, demolishing entire blocks of housing and forcing thousands of residents to move.

But Indian officials like to point out that they govern the world’s most populous democracy — unlike China, its main regional competitor for economic power — and that the needs of normal people need to be taken into account.

But the common man is getting little from these games. Just ask him.

“The government is just trying to hide its ineptitude,” said a now-homeless man named Ilyas, a civil servant who said he’d moved to New Delhi a month ago after a bitter family feud and a battle with depression. He had been living on the streets, near a mosque where free food is regularly distributed. But now he’s hiding in a city park and sleeping in the bushes.

“The police tell us to get off the streets, so we come back here.” P. Sainath, an Indian journalist who often writes about India’s growing economic divide, said he was not surprised by the government’s actions.

“All this captures the elite of India very well,” he said, referring to the government’s proud recitations of its booming economic growth and increasing consumerist culture. “India is not really about ’Slumdog Millionaire.’ It’s about slumdogs versus millionaires, and that’s what you’re seeing in Delhi now.” But on Monday, on a New Delhi street corner, some things continued as they have for years.

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